Systems Transformation


Managing Director, Systems Transformation, and Director General, IFPRI

The world faces complex, interconnected challenges in agriculture, the environment, climate, nutrition, and society across food, land, and water systems. CGIAR’s Systems Transformation Science Group brings together researchers from many different disciplines to address these multiple challenges from local to global levels, working to identify transformative and inclusive strategies, develop innovative responses to challenges and risks, and provide policy and institutional recommendations.

Through this work, CGIAR commits to forge, with partners, ambitious new multi-sectoral policies and strategies for food, land, and water systems transformation in 50 countries across six regions, via a set of 12 ambitious Initiatives, to:

  • improve access by the poor in low- and middle-income countries to productive resources, knowledge, and finance and stimulate creation of decent jobs in food systems;
  • generate innovations and strategies to shift food systems toward healthier diets, especially for the poor in LMICs;
  • develop appropriate landscape institutions, national policies, and global actions to address the climate crisis, environmental degradation, water mismanagement, and loss of biodiversity; and
  • build resilient food, land, and water systems, including effective crisis response systems to respond to shocks and conflicts, which are major drivers of food insecurity.

Partnerships with policymakers, the private sector, and civil society enable the use of CGIAR’s innovative tools and data for decision-making – including those developed by CGIAR’s two other Science Groups, Resilient Agri-Food Systems and Genetic Innovation – to transform food, land, and water systems.


The 12 Research Initiatives led by the Systems Transformation Science Group form a balanced portfolio that targets CGIAR’s five Impact Areas.



Ten of the Initiatives in this Action Area address key structural barriers to systems transformation and aim to improve market systems, decarbonize food production, enhance resilience, advance water security, improve diets, and address gender and social inequality across value chains.

Two cross-cutting Research Initiatives, Foresight and National Policies and Strategies, contribute to systems transformation by improving data and tools, enhancing foresight, measuring impacts, and identifying investment priorities, thus supporting national transformation strategies at global and national levels and informing public and private sector decisions.

Together, the 12 Systems Transformation Initiatives leverage areas of CGIAR’s comparative advantage to deliver a diverse but balanced set of actions to trigger broad transformation at system level, while providing meaningful engagement at a local level with specific food, land, and water system constituents and delivering tangible outcomes and impacts.

View the Systems Transformation Science Group theory of change here.


Agroecology: The Initiative develops and scales agroecological innovations in eight countries. In “Agroecological Living Landscapes,” diverse food system actors are convened to work towards commonly agreed agroecological transition pathways with focus on evidence building, the development of agroecological business opportunities and financial mechanisms for local enterprises, strategies that support behavior change oriented towards agroecology, as well as suitable agroecological policies and policy integrations. 

Climate Resilience (ClimBeR): This Initiative is working to transform the climate adaptation capacity of food, land, and water systems in six countries, with spillovers into other countries and regions, ultimately increasing the resilience of smallholder production systems to withstand severe climate change effects such as drought, floods, and increasing temperatures. Researchers are working to reduce risk for producers’ livelihoods; understand climate security risks and identify pathways to climate-resilient peace; ensure policymakers have the necessary evidence to develop holistic, context-specific adaptation strategies; and enable governance for resilience at multiple levels, while collaborating to scale climate finance and ensure social equity to enhance resilience through locally led adaptation.  

Digital Innovation: Digital innovations have the potential to transform food, land, and water systems, but research is needed for these transformations to be inclusive and sustainable. The Digital Innovation Initiative focuses on three flagships: a Digital Co-lab to generate research-based evidence and applied digital solutions to overcome the digital divide, “Digital Twin” case studies that incorporate real-time data and modelling in decision-support systems, and a Digital Inclusion Framework to measure the digital divide and promote gender equity in digital ecosystems.  

Foresight: The CGIAR Initiative on Foresight combines state-of-the-art analytics, innovative use of data, and close engagement with national, regional, and global partners to offer better insights into alternative transformation pathways that can inform choices and sharpen decision-making today, leading to more productive, sustainable, and inclusive food, land, and water systems in the future.  

Fragility, Conflict, and Migration: This Initiative aims to enhance the resilience of food, land, and water systems in fragile and conflict-affected settings, where migration-related challenges are prevalent. By taking a systems approach and working in partnership with local stakeholders, the Initiative seeks to generate evidence to inform effective policies and programs that promote social and gender equity, climate resilience, conflict mitigation, and peace building in these settings.  

Fruit and Vegetables for Sustainable Healthy Diets (FRESH): FRESH researchers are working to address constraints that contribute to low fruit and vegetable intake in low- and middle-income countries. FRESH takes an innovative, holistic, end-to-end approach that begins with consumers and works back through the food system to improve year-round availability of a diverse range of safe and sustainable nutrient-dense vegetables and increase the accessibility, affordability, and desirability of both fruits and vegetables.  

Gender Equality: Under this Initiative, researchers aim to inform strategies to achieve climate resilience through gender equality and social inclusion. They use impactful gender research to address the four dimensions of structural gender inequality in agrifood systems by applying gender-transformative approaches to harmful norms, bundling socio-technical innovations for women’s empowerment, leveraging social protection to increase women’s access to and control over resources, and promoting inclusive governance and policies for increased resilience.  

Low-Emission Food Systems: Food systems represent approximately 30 percent of global emissions, but also offer significant opportunities to reduce these while improving human wellbeing. This Initiative supports countries in meeting their emissions reductions objectives (NDCs) through transformative food system change, without compromising food security and while delivering environmental, social, and economic co-benefits. Researchers work closely with key actors at multiple levels in target countries to develop, implement, and scale low-emission food system socio-technical innovations. Their “Living Labs for People” approach facilitates innovation co-development, co-production of knowledge, and participatory multi-stakeholder platforms for sustainable, low-emission food system transformation.  

National Policies and Strategies: Addressing the food, land and water systems-level challenges facing LMICs requires in-country analytical capacity, strong institutions, and decisive and effective policy action. This Initiative aims to improve the lives of millions of people by identifying ways of building stronger policies and strategies with greater coherence and capacity sharing, integration of policy tools, and helping countries address current policy demand, crises, and future development needs.  

NEXUS Gains: The CGIAR Initiative on NEXUS Gains promotes the integrated management of water, energy, food, and ecosystems for sustainable, resilient, and inclusive development. Investments in water, energy, and food are often disconnected from each other, resulting in sub-optimal solutions that, in some cases, undermine development objectives and sustainability, with adverse impacts being borne disproportionately by the poorest and most marginalized. NEXUS Gains aims to realize multiple benefits across water, energy, food and ecosystems through application of systems approaches that identify positive synergies and manage trade-offs.  

Rethinking Food Markets: his Initiative aims to identify the obstacles to improving smallholder and medium- and small-sized enterprises’ returns to participation in higher-value food value chains and to adopting sustainable practices. Researchers are engaging with stakeholders to identify, test, adapt, and scale bundles of game-changing innovations, incentive schemes, and policies to create more equitable and inclusive sharing of income and greater employment opportunities in growing food markets. Researchers are also working with partners to empower women and youth and encourage their participation within agrifood systems while reducing the food sector’s environmental footprint.  

Sustainable Healthy Diets: This is the only CGIAR Initiative with the main goal of ensuring sustainable healthy diets for all through food systems transformation. Starting from an innovative, consumer-food environment focused perspective, this Initiative aims to identify effective policy options through research; strengthen capacity; and develop robust metrics and tools that support stakeholders’ decisions when developing, implementing, and monitoring national pathways to transform food systems toward sustainable healthy diets, while supporting improved livelihoods, gender equity, and social inclusion.