Big Questions

Compelling discussion, commentary, stories on agriculture within thriving ecosystems.

Big Questions

Should we build more large dams? Land sparing or land sharing? Does farm size really matter in Africa? Can Africa afford to save its soils? Are large dams better than small dams?

In agriculture and in development, there are often (if not always) more questions than answers.  What a businesswoman thinks will vary from a hydrologist, which may well vary from a decision maker.  We want to hear from individuals from all corners - from conservatives to environmentalists to policy makers to scientists to the private sector. 

THRIVE created this debate space to understand perspectives from a number of sectors, to provide an open space for debate and dialogue.

What should we be asking to understand gender dynamics in irrigation?

How many of us want to address gender in our work, but when it comes down to the specifics, aren’t quite sure how? In this Big Question, we are trying something new. We are using a series of training workshops in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Tanzania on gender and irrigation from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small-Scale Innovation, to develop a collaborative diagnostic toolkit for practitioners to investigate gender in their agricultural water management projects. Join the discussion.

What would it take to strengthen women's land rights?

The evidence base is growing: strengthening women’s land rights contributes to women’s empowerment and household welfare. But strengthening women’s land rights isn’t that simple. Unfortunately, there’s also evidence that changing property rights is not an easy process in any case.  There are always vested interests to protect the status quo along with the additional layers of gender norms, that make it even more challenging to bring about changes. 

So how do you think can we improve women's land tenure? Join the discussion

Sustainable intensification of agriculture: oxymoron or real deal?

With a projected increase in global population to 9 billion by 2050, many questions need to be answered to understand how to meet the rising demands for food within the current constraints on available resources in agriculture. One major suggestion calls for a paradigm shift in the way we conduct agriculture - sustainable intensification. But whether or not this is entirely feasible is up for debate. Join the discussion.

Can Africa afford to save its soils?

Communities dig terraces to stop soil erosion in Lushoto, Tanzania.

On the fertilizer-starved continent of Africa, the discourses about soil fertility revolve around the availability of inorganic fertilizers, and how policy can be made to support their use. Supporters say that poor farmers are not able to make investments in restoring degraded soils because it takes too long to see yield increases.

But in degraded, low-input and low-output systems so prevalent across the continent, agro-ecological approaches, including principles of organic farming – if properly managed – can increase yields immediately and restore soils to support productive farming. Join the debate.

Should we build more large dams?

Akosombo Dam, Ghana.

A new report on the effectiveness of large dams (Ansar et al) gained a lot of international press recently. The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and its partners  are working extensively around water and energy related issues and large dams feature prominently in our work particularly in the Mekong.

The new report asked the question “Should we build more large dams”.  In celebration of World Water Day (March 22), we asked this to a number of different thought leaders to stimulate discussion and dialogue around this issue. Visit our large dam debate page to see what they had to say and join the debate.

Can large-scale land initiatives fulfill their promises?


Large-scale land interventions are on the rise. Investors are aiming high with restoration projects such as the new 20x20 initiative and the Bonn Challenge, or through direct foreign investment. Land conservationists and agricultural protectionists along with companies and governments are realizing the potential returns available, or costs avoided, through investing in the health of the landscapes they manage. In addition, sustainable development of rural landscapes is largely dependent on the nature of these investments. But are large-scale land investments always the best choice? Join the debate.

Does farm size really matter in Africa?

The debate about farm size in Africa, kicked off by Stephen Carr’s blog post “African Agriculture: Does farm size really matter,” has sparked discussions far beyond the “size” issue.  With over 100 comments generated on LinkedIn groups, we’d like to share some of the prominent points made with our larger blog audience. Join the debate on farm size in Africa. 

Why focus on ecosystem services in rural communities?

Ecosystem Services

Agricultural development has progressed in leaps and bounds to feed the global population, but not without environmental and production costs. These costs have limited the ecosystem services on which we depend, including agricultural production as well as access to clean water. But can we rethink our approach to achieve an integrated solution that boosts crop yields while concurrently benefitting the environment and improving the resilience of rural communities? Join our discussion.

If you want to start a debate, email the debate question and a short paragraph describing the topic to a.waldorf(at)