Action Area focus

Systems Transformation

Systems Transformation (ST) contributes to the transformation of food, land and water systems in support of CGIAR’s five Impact Areas, with an emphasis on supporting key policy and decision-makers at global, regional, national and sub-national levels with timely, policy-relevant impactful insights. ST research combines tradeoff and synergy analyses across Impact Areas aiming to identify sustainable pathways and enabling investments for the food and agriculture sectors along with the development of transformative approaches to address specific challenges in the climate, environment, nutrition, poverty and gender domains in ways that are compatible with goals in other Impact Areas. Initiatives implement their work at multiple connected scales and target focus countries, regions, jurisdictions, and basins where they engage with partners to identify and carry out research and scaling activities in support of geography-specific priorities (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Top 20 countries by number of results. Source: The CGIAR Results Dashboard based on results for 2022 submitted through the Performance and Results Management System (PRMS). The map is filtered by Global South countries as defined by the United Nations Finance Center for South-South Cooperation.


In 2022, the ST Initiatives delivered 852 results, including 520 knowledge products (of which 130 are journal articles), 105 innovations and 76 capacity development outputs, and contributed to 35 outcomes (20 were policy changes, six innovation uses, and six capacity changes). The ten countries which have the most results are, in order of highest to lowest by continent, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, Egypt and Zambia in Africa; India, Viet Nam and Bangladesh in Asia; and Colombia in South America (see Figure 1). Gender equality is a significant component in 32% of ST results, of which 8% had a principal focus (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Number of results tagged 1 (significant) and 2 (principal) for gender, by type. Source: The CGIAR Results Dashboard based on results for 2022 submitted through the PRMS. Principal (score of 2) means that gender equality is the main objective of the result and is fundamental is its design and expected outcome. Significant (score of 1) means that the result contributes in significant ways to gender equality, even though it is not the principal focus of the activity. No gender tag means that the result does not target gender equality.


Nearly 60% of ST results had a significant or principal focus on climate change (about half had a principal climate change focus) (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Number of results tagged 1 (significant) and 2 (principal) for climate, by type. Source: The CGIAR Results Dashboard based on results for 2022 submitted through the PRMS. Principal (score of 2) means that the result is principally about meeting either one of the three CGIAR climate-related strategy objectives – namely, climate mitigation, climate adaptation and climate policy and would not have been undertaken without these objectives. Significant (score of 1) means that the result contributes in significant ways to either one of the three CGIAR climate-related strategy objectives – namely, climate mitigation, climate adaptation and climate policy, even though it is not the principal focus of the activity. No climate tag means that the activity does not target climate mitigation, adaptation and climate policy goals of the CGIAR as put forward in its strategy.


For a research organization to contribute to food, land and water transformation, impactful partnerships need to be formed and nurtured at different scales. ST seizes opportunities to inform major policies and decisions (the demand driven part of the portfolio) while also generating new ideas and evidence that influence global discourses and future policies and decisions. Key global partners are FAO, GIZ, and the World Bank on policy and scaling, and WUR, the World Vegetable Center, Leibniz Centre for Agricultural Landscape Research and CIRAD on research. National policy, scaling and research partners are numerous; national partners with the highest number of results include the Kenya and Viet Nam Ministries of Agriculture, the Kenyan Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis, and Addis Ababa University, reflecting the importance of Ethiopia, Kenya and Viet Nam in the ST portfolio.

Use of ST research

At the national level, key partnerships were formed or strengthened with policymakers, think tanks and a large number of research and implementation organizations. These led to several outcomes and strengthened collaborations towards future outcomes. For example, the CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems contributed to the signature of Colombia’s dairy value chain zero deforestation agreement by five new stakeholders and to the inclusion of the “Alternate Wetting and Drying” technique to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Viet Nam’s Nationally Determined Contributions. Research by the CGIAR Initiative on Nexus Gains supported development of a nexus guidance policy that was formally adopted by the Niger Basin Council of Ministers. The CGIAR Initiative on Agroecology contributed to a new biotrade strategy in Peru’s Ucayali region and in Guatemala, and the CGIAR Initiative on Climate Resilience contributed to improving coordination among the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food (MAGA) and other actors involved in climate risk management to strengthen and scale up the Local Agroclimatic Committees (MTAs) in the country (19 MTAs covering 100% of the national geography), enhancing proactive climate risk management from local to national levels. CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets research supported the Ethiopia government in publishing its first Food-based dietary guidelines. In response to the crisis in Ukraine, many governments in the Global South and funders approached CGIAR to undertake analyses of likely impacts (for example, on food and fertilizer prices) and potential policy responses. The CGIAR Initiatives on Foresight and National Policies and Strategies pivoted portions of their portfolios in response to government requests to address these pressing concerns, mobilizing tools and partnerships for joint engagement, leading to numerous joint outputs including briefs and meetings targeted to policymakers.

ST Initiatives also entered into strategic partnerships to ensure their research was well embedded into decision-making processes. The CGIAR Initiative on Agroecology (and the CGIAR Initiative on Nature-Positive Solutions, from the Resilient Agrifood System [RAFS] Action Area) are contributing to a National Strategy on Agroecology in Kenya under ministerial leadership of the Intersectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology. The CGIAR Initiative on Foresight formed a strategic partnership with ANAPRI and its member policy think tanks in 16 African countries. The CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies engaged other CGIAR Initiatives and Centers in discussions with national governments to develop or contribute to science-policy interface mechanisms, and policy coherence. The CGIAR Initiative on Climate Resilience helped to integrate climate security as part of the objectives of the Kenya Climate-Smart Agriculture Multistakeholder Platform, and to establish a science policy platform on climate in Mali. The CGIAR Initiative on Low-Emission Food Systems partnered with the Institute of Environmental and Sustainable Development in Agriculture at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences to develop national guidelines for GHG emissions accounting for livestock and dairy farms. The CGIAR Initiative on Nexus Gains supported the Niger Basin Authority with guidelines on cross-sectoral assessment of planned projects. The CGIAR Initiative on Digital Innovation supported the Limpopo Watercourse Commission to develop the transboundary water management workplan using real-time monitoring of environmental flows and decision-support systems.

ST also facilitated CGIAR visibility and impact in 2022. The CGIAR Initiatives on Low-Emission Food Systems and Climate Resilience organized and participated in dozens of sessions at COP27 and the G20 Agriculture discussions (for example, see blogs from Low-Emission Food Systems and Climate Resilience); the CGIAR Initiatives on Climate Resilience, Low-Emission Food Systems, Livestock, Climate and System Resilience and Transforming Agrifood Systems in West and Central Africa supported the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES) to effectively engage in the international and national climate change policy processes. The CGIAR Initiative on Nexus Gains also participated at COP27 and contributed to IPBES and the Biological Diversity COP15; the CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality convened a high-level dialogue in Kenya to deliberate about solutions for gender equality and climate resilience in Africa, while the CGIAR Initiative on Fruit and Vegetables for Sustainable Healthy Diets supported a workshop at the Global Child Nutrition Forum, and the CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets supported national actions in follow up to the UN Food Systems Summit.

Research highlights by Impact Area


About one-third of ST outputs had a significant or principal gender equality component. Here we highlight a few of the efforts where gender was the principal objective – where research focused on enhancing gender equality, often through increasing women’s empowerment. The CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality is dedicated to gender research (over 90% of its outputs have gender equality as a principal component). Identifying approaches for improving women’s access to vital information was the subject of studies to advance social equity in climate-resilient agriculture, and its finance; develop the GenderUp tool for equitable scaling; and champion gender in agricultural services. Significant attention was also paid to understanding women’s empowerment in agrifood system governance, including an evidence review and a review of public policies.


As noted earlier, climate change research predominates in the ST portfolio. A few notable areas are mentioned here. First, ST advanced a portfolio of research and outreach on climate security, including a dashboard and observatory, analyses of climate security policy coherence such as in East Africa and country profiles such as for Sudan. A second area is on improved measurement and metrics to inform decision-making, including the South Asian Drought Monitoring System, improved emission factors for national GHG reporting, and improvements to the Global Food System Sustainability Index. A third area is on the development of innovations that can be used by farmers and communities such as improved water management through solar irrigation and risk contingent credit. Finally, analysis to support national and regional policies were generated for the Great Green Wall (for example in Ethiopia), for food loss and waste (for example in Colombia), and impact investment in Africa, developing a traceability system for zero deforestation value chains.


Researchers developed several innovations that stakeholders can use to strengthen natural resource management, including an agrobiodiversity hotspot solution tool, environmental flow tool and a groundwater governance toolkit. Learning (or living) labs (or landscapes) have been established by the CGIAR Initiatives on Agroecology and Low-Emission Food Systems and are embedded into local institutional arrangements. Important publications chartered the way forward for how research can best support agroecological transitions and the role of water in transforming food systems. Recognizing that many Initiatives aimed to work with local multistakeholder platforms, those two Initiatives, along with the CGIAR Initiative on Nexus Gains, formed a community of practice on multi-stakeholder platforms that has attracted interest from more than a dozen Initiatives.


ST nutrition research encompasses the entire food system and uniquely contributes to improved understanding of consumer behavior and food environments. Key areas of research include (i) the consumption patterns of marginalized groups and their individual and food environment drivers (food safety concerns and consumption and out of home consumption behavior in Nigeria); (ii) promising solutions to improve consumption of sustainable healthy diets and/or overcome barriers limiting the provision of sustainable nutritious foods (for example in Ethiopia and Kenya); iii) a particular focus on vegetables and fruits (on fruit and vegetable biodiversity, and the processing sector).


By far, the major ST research effort focused on poverty was the collection of country level analyses of the impacts of crisis in Ukraine on poverty and other economic variables (20 separate country analyses, and a summary). Another body of work was around the lesson learned on COVID-19 impacts on food systems and poverty and the role of social protection in mitigating such poverty worsening effects. Lastly, researchers engaged with governments and local think tanks to identify areas in which research could support the implementation of priority economic plans and progress was made to support the implementation of Kenya’s Bottom-up Economic Plan.

Capacity strengthening

ST Initiatives were active in strengthening the capacity of national partners and other stakeholders, at both institutional and individual levels. Among ST outputs, 76 were designed to strengthen capacity. During 2022, slightly over 10,000 individuals were trained by ST Initiatives, of which 54% were female. Activities included the strengthening of policy modeling units in 16 African countries in collaboration with ANAPRI, the delivery of e-courses on food system governance for 250 government ministry participants in three countries, the development of a training guide on gender equity and social inclusion in water, energy, food and ecosystems nexus, the organization of training of trainer courses on use of drones, real-time data collection and digital agriculture and extension applications, support for the Climate, Food and Farming, Global Research Alliance Development Scholarships Programme, and training on climate security for the AGNES Leadership Programme.

Collaboration among Initiatives

Several have been mentioned above (such as the collaboration between the CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies and the CGIAR Initiative on Foresight on the effects of the crisis in Ukraine) but others include the CGIAR Initiative on Digital Innovation’s inter-Initiative implementation approach, the CGIAR Initiative on Gender Equality embedding gender equality interventions into living labs of two other Initiatives, the CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies launching efforts to improve policy research coherence within CGIAR, and a collaboration on nutrition research approaches between the CGIAR Initiatives on Fruit and Vegetables for Sustainable Healthy Diets, Sustainable Healthy Diets, and Resilient Cities (RAFS) and the CGIAR Initiative on Transforming Agrifood Systems in South Asia (RAFS/Regional Integrated Initiative), and efforts spearheaded by ST climate Initiatives to identify opportunities for collaboration on CGIAR’s climate change portfolio in Kenya, Senegal and Zambia.


Header photo: Nelore short cycle cattle at the Hacienda San José sustainable cattle ranch in Colombia. Photo courtesy of Hacienda San José

PREV Genetic Innovation
NEXT Resilient Agrifood Systems