Transformational Agroecology Across Food, Land, and Water Systems


Climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, depletion of water resources, and pollution are all impacted by, and act as a major contributor to our degraded food, land, and water systems, exacerbating vulnerability to extreme events and other shocks such as COVID-19. In many settings, sociopolitical and economic conditions have favored agricultural practices that have undermined these systems, with: (i) 40% of arable land degraded; (ii) 64% of agricultural land contaminated by agrochemicals; and (iii) forest and biodiversity loss reducing healthy diet and livelihood options for men, women and young people. Smallholders play a critical role in global food and nutrition security, yet 95% of published agricultural research is not relevant to smallholders’ needs with regard to rural poverty alleviation and food insecurity reduction.

Agroecology, which is understood as an approach to shift food, land, and water systems towards equity, resilience, and sustainability, has the potential to transform elements of these systems to reduce hunger and malnutrition, decrease land and water degradation, and contribute to social inclusion and job creation. However, although the multiple benefits of agroecological options have been demonstrated in specific contexts and are gaining prominence in scientific, agricultural, and political discourse, enabling mechanisms for widespread implementation remain limited.


This Initiative aims to develop and scale agroecological innovations for small-scale farmers, and other agricultural and food-system actors across different socio-ecological contexts in seven low- and middle-income countries in the Global South.

This will be accomplished by:

  • Improving ecosystem health through (a) reduced impacts from environmentally disruptive inputs; (b) a 20% increase in the use of environmentally sound inputs; and (c) redesigned agricultural systems and landscapes that conserve biodiversity, reduce soil degradation, and improve water quality, availability, and productivity.
  • Increasing social inclusion and equity through inclusive participation of women, men, and youth in seven business partnerships that improve profitability of agroecology innovations and generate jobs.
  • Improving innovation processes that value local knowledge and favor social inclusion and local governance in all Initiative sites.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Small-scale farmers participate in an international network of “agroecological living labs,” bringing together farmers, researchers, and other partners for multi-stakeholder dialogues and co-developing, testing, and scaling context-relevant agroecological innovations within the milieu of intertwined food, land, and water systems.
  2. Researchers, farmers, communities, policymakers, and investors use knowledge gained from science-based assessments to implement agroecological innovations that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially inclusive.
  3. Investors, trading partners, NGOs, and farmer organizations participate in at least one strategic business partnership established in each agroecological living lab and co-develop or adapt business models and financing modalities, linking bundled, contextually relevant, agroecological innovations to markets and investment.
  4. National and regional policymakers and representatives of sectoral organizations co-develop and promote recommendations to effect horizontal (across sectors) and vertical (across scales) policy integration required to mainstream agroecological principles in food, land, and water systems, in targeted countries and beyond.
  5. Key actors re-orient or adjust their strategies and action plans based on knowledge gained from scientific studies about the mechanisms driving behavioral change and capacities of farmers and consumers to implement effective agroecological transformation.



Enhanced food security and improved nutrition and health through greater production diversity and reduced use of harmful agrochemicals. Increased accessibility to, and consumption of, diverse foods.


Mechanisms created for generating revenues and jobs that help to sustain livelihoods supported by agroecological principles.


Contribution of agroecological innovations to improved social inclusion on farm and in business models evaluated. Adaptive scaling strategies and dialogue platforms within agroecological living labs increase the agency of women, youth, and marginalized social groups to benefit from expanded options.


Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon sequestration from reduced dependence on external inputs and energy requirements, reversal of soil degradation, enhanced water management, and reduced pressure on forests. Enhanced household resilience and adaptive capacity from the diversification and strengthening of livelihoods.


Protected terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, reduced soil erosion, improved soil health, and improved water availability and quality from the conservation and active management of biodiversity and ecosystem services.


For more details, view the full preliminary outline


Header photo: Nepali farmer Sita Kumari walks in her field. Photo by C. de Bode/CGIAR.