From social theories to agri-food system transformation practice: Summary of findings presented in the Delhi conference 'From Research to Impact'

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By Eva Marina Valencia Leñero, Erin McGuire and María Boa-Alvarado*

Agri-food system sustainability challenges

Despite the global commitment to sustainability outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, our agri-food systems are far from being sustainable, resilient, and just. Social inclusion and environmental protection, which are essential pillars of sustainability, are currently lagging. Despite agri-food systems remaining a primary driver of environmental damage, there is still a global increase in undernourishment, according to the Global Hunger Index. This contributes to pushing the planetary boundaries out of a “safe” zone for humanity, as highlighted by the findings of Campbell and colleagues. For this reason, a group of women from different disciplines and countries collaborated to develop the “X Equity Principles for Societal Transformation” to address the social inclusion challenges of agri-food systems. We presented our results for discussion at the conference “From Research to Impact: Towards Just and Resilient Agri-Food Systems,” organized in New Delhi, India, from October 9th to October 12th, 2023, as part of the CGIAR GENDER Impact Platform activities. The paper abstract has been accepted and submitted to Agricultural Systems in 2023.

About the Delhi conference ‘From Research To Impact: Towards Just and Resilient Agri-food Systems’

The purpose of the conference in Delhi was to increase the knowledge exchange among diverse stakeholders involved in learning and implementing inclusive approaches within spanning academia, NGOs, government, and funders. The event underscored that, in addition to global gender research and evolving organizational mindset changes and political support on social inclusion, there is an increase in tools to enhance the capacities of individuals and teams interested in having more inclusive initiatives. Notable participants, including the Ministry of Agriculture of India, CGIAR centers, USAID, FAO, and GIZ, engaged in panels and capacity-strengthening sessions that utilized tools such as the Woman Empowerment Index in agriculture. The conference featured an open stream and poster sessions showcasing comparative research studies focused on promoting inclusivity in agri-food system cases from all around the world. Our contribution included both social theory information, and capacity-building for practice. Our participation consisted of an open session titled “Proposed X Equity Principles for Transformative Innovation”, providing a critical analysis of agricultural innovation systems frameworks and tools. The session aimed to present the X Equity Principles, a set of rules guiding inclusive research projects to support social transformations in the agri-food systems while seeking expert feedback and contributing to a broader discussion with attendees.

Presenting the equity principles for social transformation

During our panel, we shared the findings of our research, which involved the application of social theories to agricultural innovation development tools. The objective was to identify principles for social transformation that could be applied in practice. We conducted this research to address a gap in the development of agricultural innovations. In practice, the focus had traditionally been on technological advancements, with positive social outcomes typically neglected and treated as external factors rather than being integrated as intrinsic components of the innovation process. In response to this, our research delved into various social theories, such as feminism, decoloniality, human rights, power dynamics, institutionalization, and social capital. Throughout our study, we examined three tools and frameworks that are commonly used in Agriculture for Development Research to develop agri-food system innovations: the Multi-Level Perspective, the Product Lifecycle from USAID, and the Scaling Readiness. We demonstrated that by incorporating social theory considerations, these tools could also be effectively employed during innovation processes that contribute to social transformation. These three tools could be used to intentionally innovate and scale for positive social outcomes if some social theory considerations were incorporated. As we reflected on this, we emphasized that these tools should incorporate considerations such as:

  • Who is involved?
  • What are the power and cultural relations to be acknowledged in the development of agri-food innovations?
  • What are resources required to develop social transformative innovations?
  • What can different stakeholders do to develop more inclusive innovations?
  • What is the social transformation that the innovations aim to contribute to?
  • What are the anti-goals or non-negotiables?
  • What has been done before the innovations have been developed, and what safeguards can be done after the innovations have been developed?
  • How can we engage decision-makers inclusively for these innovations’ implementation?
  • What types of training are needed not only for the implementers but also for the facilitators of the innovation so that they can themselves be transformative?

Thus, in this conference, we presented our analysis of what are the social science gaps in these tools. Finally, as part of our conclusions, we observed the similarities and differences in how to apply social considerations in practice, and this resulted in a framework of 10 principles.

To offer a glimpse into our forthcoming paper, here the ten principles that resulted from this research are:

  1. Define your goals and anti-goals.
  2. Recognize power dynamics.
  3. Build horizontal partnerships.
  4. Be local.
  5. Acknowledge differences among innovation users (and non-users).
  6. Innovate and curate innovations appropriately.
  7. Consider equally the process and outcomes.
  8. Anticipate risks and acknowledge trade-offs.
  9. Assess Impact and Reflect
  10. Agile and Appropriate Resource Allocation

We look forward to sharing the full extent of the X Equity Principles in the forthcoming academic article. However, working with experts at the conference gave us valuable feedback to improve the arguments and principles before the paper was released. Thus, We would like to highlight the positive feedback gathered during the conference, to continue our research on the X Equity Principles to bridge the chasms between innovation development and social transformation. This feedback also emphasized the ongoing efforts and building of capacities needed to boost the development of conditions and mindsets that trigger inclusive innovations for agricultural research for development.

Feedback and use of the X Equity Principles and learnings for future research

As part of the panel, we also heard the opinions of two external experts, and we developed focus groups to discuss, validate, or question the principles further. From these discussions, we recognized the versatility of the X Equity Principles, as they can be applied collectively or individually in projects, depending on the context, challenges, and ultimate project objectives. Additionally, there was significant interest in utilizing these principles not only within specific projects but also as a valuable resource for capacity building. Many individuals expressed a desire to use them as an educational tool to exemplify how social science considerations can drive the development of innovations that facilitate positive social outcomes in agri-food systems.

Additionally, some inputs highlighted room for improvement in the principles. The principles could still be simplified to increase their clarity and simplification. Also, we found that these capacity-building challenges should not only apply “externally” in projects but also to build capacities internally as part of the institutions and organizations. Another point of feedback was a stronger need to include environmental considerations along with social considerations.

We have then concluded that the development of the principles can be useful for both developing innovations for social transformative innovations and also to increase awareness of why we should be inclusive to develop innovations effectively. There are never perfect recipes, which is why the principles are key to socializing and adapting to each context.


We would like to first thank our co-authors on the X-Equity Principles: Maha Al-Zu’bi, Thi Thu Giang Luu, and Janelle Sylvester. We are thankful for developing the X Equity Principles together with them, as well as to thank them for the support they gave us to present these research results at this conference.

Moreover, we would like to thank the USAID Horticulture Innovation Lab, University of California Davis, CGIAR Low-Emission Food Systems Initiative (Mitigate +), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, International Water Management Institute, Alliance Biodiversity and CIAT, University of Bonn and Cornell University for their support to develop the X-Equity Principles and present the work in this Conference.

* Note: The authors presented the X equity principles research done together with their co-authors Maha Al-Zu’bi, Thi Thu Giang Luu, and Janelle Sylvester.


See more information on the CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems.


Photo credit: Moderation of Maria Boa of the experts feedback Elizabeth Bryan and Janelle Larson on the X Equity Principles / Eva Valencia / International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

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