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A gathering of the Drylands Farmer Research Network in Kenya. Photo credit: Carlos Barahona

Our Approach

The McKnight Foundation’s Global Collaboration for Resilient Food Systems (CRFS)—formerly called the Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP)—cultivates resilient food systems globally by bridging farmer-centered agroecological research, action, and influence.

Two intertwined strategies, one regional and one global, advance this goal. We believe that by bridging grounded knowledge and initiatives to global and cross-national processes, we will increase the likelihood that agroecological transformation will be supported by global funding flows, policies, and research norms and agendas.

  • Strategy 1: Accelerate local and regional food systems transformation by scaling co-created agroecological knowledge and practice.
  • Strategy 2: Influence global and cross-national funding flows, policies, and research norms and agendas to enable agroecological transformation.

The program primarily funds participatory, collaborative research on agroecology. Grants support research and action in three regional communities of Practice (CoP) in Africa and South America. Regional projects typically link international, national, and/or local organizations with communities of smallholder farmers, researchers, development professionals, and other stakeholders. The program also funds cross-cutting projects that support aspects of work across the three regions or address global opportunities to influence the enabling environment. Our projects generate technical and social innovations to improve productivity, livelihoods, nutrition, and equity for farming communities. Large-scale impact is realized when new ideas, technologies, or processes are adapted to different contexts, when insights from research catalyze change in policy and practice, and when innovation inspires further success.

Communities of Practice & Cross-Cutting Efforts

We focus on three regions of inconsistent food security, funding projects that complement and enhance regional and programmatic grant portfolios. We use a Community of Practice (CoP) approach, in which grantee partners and other people and organizations with a common commitment to agroecology interact regularly to improve their work. Our CoP model emphasizes networking, learning, and collective action. More specifically, the regional CoPs aim to facilitate collaboration, knowledge co-creation, and innovation/information exchange. They also help strengthen capacity at regional, institutional, project, and individual levels. Learning exchange occurs within, between, and beyond the three geographic CoPs. In each CoP region, farmer research networks (FRNs) bring together farmer groups, research institutions, development organizations, and other relevant stakeholders in a co-created process of sharing and building knowledge.

women sitting down and having a drink

Andes CoP (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru)

Collaborates with a diversity of farmers, researchers, organizations, and decision-makers across the highland regions of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Our work supports continuous learning for action, resulting in resilient and productive landscapes and territories. This region is supported by Claire Nicklin and Roberto Ugás

family standing together and sorting their crops up

East & Southern Africa CoP (Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, and Uganda)

Aims to improve farming systems performance through greater crop diversity, to enhance local diets and livelihoods. This region is supported by Prudence Kaijage, Sara Namirembe, and Kate Wellard.

an African man looking through standing between his plants

West Africa CoP (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger)

Strives to enhance productivity and nutritional contributions of sorghum and pearl millet-based production systems via increased agroecological practice that includes diversification with legumes and minor crops, improved tree-livestock integration, and development of local value chains. This region is supported by Bettina Haussmann and Batamaka Somé.

two men walking next to bicycles with their crops

Cross-cutting grant portfolio

Supports aspects of interest across the regional CoPs and in global influence. These focus on new ideas or technical innovations of relevance to agroecology research, both regionally and cross-regionally. They also relate to CRFS’ global strategy to influence global and cross-national funding flows, policies, and research norms to enable agroecological transformation. Cross-cutting grantmaking is supported by Jane Maland Cady and Paul Rogé.

Expectations for CoP Involvement

Our grantees frequently report that the program’s CoP approach is one of the most unique and valuable parts of the program, contributing to improved research quality as well as sustained relationships and partnerships among stakeholders. However, it is a resource- and time-intensive approach. Expectations and benefits for grantees’ participation in the CoP include:

  • Attend the regional CoP’s annual grantee convening, which typically involves presentations, interactive or modeling exercises, peer exchange and feedback, collective reflection/idea generation, and/or immersive field visits. (Funds to cover travel and related expenses are included in grant project budgets);
  • Support by and partnership with our regional team of consultants in the development and execution of grant projects, including inception meetings, peer review and publication support, and ongoing communication and technical assistance;
  • Support to develop and strengthen evaluative thinking and practice, including skills and methodologies around developmental evaluation and adaptive action;
  • Help to strengthen research planning, design, execution, and analysis, including workshops, webinars, meetings, and hands-on guidance from our research methods support (RMS) teams;

Additional opportunities throughout each year, such as conference sponsorship, cross-project meetings and exchanges, thematic group work, and access to a host of technical experts as well as other resources and tools.

Theory of Change

We use a “theory of change” to represent the ways in which we intend to contribute to better livelihoods, productivity, and nutrition for farming communities.

Our theory of change maps two interrelated and distinct pathways through which our work is intended to make an impact. One is support for agroecology research that aims to improve performance at the farm and landscape level. The other is support for capacity strengthening for individuals and institutions that increases the relevance and quality of agricultural research and development efforts, which provide a foundation for sustained improvements in farming.

The theory of change helps us to accomplish the following: identify funding strategies at the project, regional, and program level; identify research priorities and appropriate partners; and determine the lens through which to evaluate our work. The theory of change provides a unified framework to understand how our research outputs and our grantee support processes combine to create impact.

We continually test, revise, and refine this theory of change both to improve our own programming as well as that of our grantees and to use what we learn to leverage greater resources for communities. Grantees are also asked to develop their own theory of change documents.

How to Apply

Grants are selected based on criteria that include alignment with program and regional priorities and strategies, quality, innovation, and awareness of local context. Learn more on how to apply.

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