WLE Phase 2: Innovations for greening our agri-food systems

The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) is currently drafting a proposal on the program’s second phase. Many partners have already been involved in the process, but for the next 10 days (March 7-17), we are sharing the latest draft proposal more widely, both to seek feedback and to inform additional stakeholders. 

Read the main parts of the draft proposal

We all want to have healthy and nutritious food to eat. This not only depends on keeping up food production by improving crop, livestock, and fish systems but also on increasing the  resilience of smallholders and ensuring the natural capital and health of landscapes on which they depend. Unfortunately, agri-food systems are under increased stress and risk from competing demands from other sectors, urban migration and an increasingly unpredictable climate. Can we successfully balance such competing demands?

WLE Phase 2 (2017-2022) is designed to identify synergies between increased agricultural productivity and economic prosperity, while achieving environmental sustainability. WLE will complement research on specific commodities and value chains by focusing game-changing solutions and innovations that will transform both agro- ecosystems and the institutions that manage them. Building on the significant set of solutions and approaches from its first phase, WLE supports communities, policymakers, investors and the private sector to make better decisions when planning and implementing development efforts that impact on landscapes .

WLE will launch five exciting new features that complement other programs in the CGIAR portfolio on specific commodities and value chains by exploring the unintended consequences of introducing new crops or practices at landscape scales.

1. Focusing on sustainability and social equity

Increasing productivity and sustainability of agro-ecosystems will be a high priority in efforts to realize the newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). WLE will build upon the progress made in its first phase to incorporate ecosystems approaches into agricultural development and resource management decisions at the landscape scale. WLE will, along with the CGIAR agri-food systems research programs and national partners, develop a sustainability framework that identifies and validates mutually agreed upon sustainability indicators that complement and inform the SDG process.

Sustainability also requires equity. WLE recognizes that for any technology to be adopted at scale, institutional and social innovation are required. WLE’s research will analyze how to design better enabling environments and incentive frameworks, including by building capabilities of women and lowering institutional barriers. WLE will develop tools to understand how men and women use productive assets and are included in decision-making processes. This work will be carried out across WLE, but particularly through the Enhancing Sustainability across Agricultural Systems Flagship and the cross-cutting theme on Gender and Inclusive Development

2. Renewing emphasis on soils and landscape restoration

The rapid degradation of soils, water and biodiversity in agricultural landscapes seriously compromises ecosystem services and reduces the resilience of food systems and livelihoods. WLE will support governments and people to restore degraded landscapes, thereby contributing to vibrant agro-ecosystems and the benefits they provide, including food, energy, clean water and even cultural assets. This work feeds directly into a growing political momentum for large-scale commitments to prevent degradation and to restore or regenerate degraded natural resources. This work will be mainly carried out through the Restoring Degraded Lands Flagship.

3. Building resilience within agri-food systems

Sustainable intensification of agriculture is expected to increase land and water productivity as well as to drive agricultural growth and poverty reduction. But, agricultural development, particularly in Africa and South Asia, is increasingly at risk of being affected by climate change. WLE will focus efforts on developing solutions for climate adaptation and increased resilience in agri-food systems. The program will consider how multiple interventions (technologies, practices, policies) fit into agro-ecological landscapes, aiming to transform vulnerable farmer livelihoods, nutrition and incomes. This work will be mainly be carried out through the Land and Water Solutions for Sustainable Intensification Flagship.

4. Exploring rural-urban linkages

Urbanization is the preeminent global phenomenon of our time. It carries significant implications for food and water security, but can also be an opportunity for new markets and business models that can foster well-being and economic growth, including for rural farmers. WLE will focus on reducing the growing environmental footprint of urbanization by identifying, testing and promoting practical solutions on recovery and reuse of water, nutrients and energy, which is currently lost through poor urban waste management. Much of this work will be carried out in the Rural-Urban Linkages Flagship.

5. Reducing risk and variability

Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms make farming an increasingly risky activity. In its second phase, WLE will work with partners to scale up solutions and tools that reduce risk and can be applied by communities, governments and the private sector. Such solutions include developing underground flood storage capacity, the explicit introduction of livelihood aspects into water storage management, the exploration of insurance options against disasters, and the launch of a new program on sustainable use of groundwater management in the major breadbaskets of Africa and South Asia. This work will be carried out in the Managing Resource Variability, Risks and Competing Uses for Increased Resilience Flagship.

Finding the right levers of change: WLE’s research-for-development approach

WLE has developed a unique research-for-development approach that emphasizes the co-design of research with partners and stakeholders along the impact pathway. WLE’s theory of change acknowledges the inherent complexity of working on agro‑ecosystems at scale. This requires multiple linkages and feedback loops among different sectors and actors as well as between the social and biophysical sciences.

Considering this complexity, WLE has identified four mechanisms for change:

  1. Developing evidence: WLE carries out research to help understand trade-offs and synergies of integrating and scaling sustainable natural resource management practices and technologies.
  2. Designing solutions: Drawing on evidence produced through its analyses and impact evaluations, WLE develops scalable, gender-sensitive solutions and tools for sustainable intensification of agriculture at landscape scale.
  3. Changing perspectives: WLE engages with multi-sector actors (public and private) through national, regional and global dialogues to share learning, develop and foster investments in mutually agreed on solutions.
  4. Putting research into use: WLE actively works with different stakeholders to strengthen capacity development, institutional innovations, and incentive frameworks.

Please contribute to a global movement.

This is your opportunity to help shape a global agenda for change by giving your comments and thoughts on WLE’s proposal for its second phase.

We invite you to participate in two ways:

  1. If you would like to provide specific feedback on the main narrative, flagships, or annexes, you can find all sections of the proposal text and feedback forms.
  2. If you would like to participate in the discussion on the relevance, logic and coherence of WLE’s second phase, please add your comments below. We are especially interested in hearing your thoughts on the following questions:
  • Part of WLE’s theory of change is to identify game-changing innovations that will transform agro-ecosystems and the institutions through which they are managed. What do you see as innovative approaches that will help WLE achieve its goals?
  • What do you think is still missing in WLE Phase 2 to achieve transformation of agro-ecosystems and institutions?
  • Do you think that the proposed theory of change will be effective in helping WLE achieve its goals? What are the critical capacities and research-for-development mechanisms necessary for WLE to implement its agenda effectively?  
  • How do you think WLE could better or more clearly addresses social equity issues in its second phase?

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