The McKnight Foundation’s Collaborative Crop Research Program (CCRP) funds participatory, collaborative research on agroecological intensification (AEI). Grants either support regionally based research projects that are grouped into four regional communities of practice (CoPs) in Africa and South America, or are cross-cutting in nature. Regional projects typically link international, national, and/or local organizations with communities of smallholder farmers, researchers, development professionals, and other stakeholders. Cross-cutting projects support aspects of work across regions. CCRP 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.
Agroecological Intensification (AEI) is defined as improving the performance of agriculture through integration of ecological principles into farm and system management. Depending on the context, improved performance may mean any or all of the following: increased productivity, enhanced use of local resources, better diets, improved livelihoods, and increased equity, with associated increases in resilience and environmental service provision from farmed landscapes. Characteristically, AEI:
- Uses local and global knowledge to improve efficiency and effectiveness of crop, tree, livestock, pest and disease, and soil management;
- Enhances soil health and fertility, increases functional diversity, and reduces pre- and post-harvest losses;
- Contributes to the development of local value chains and diverse and nutritious diets;
- Is flexible and responsive to local conditions, including farmers’ access to inputs and markets;
- Is based on evolving understandings of biophysical, socioeconomic, cultural, gender, climate, and other contexts;
- Reduces risk and increases productivity through enhanced resilience and adaptation;
- Requires cross-sector collaboration that considers power and equity.
Local people and organizations are recognized under the CCRP’s place-based approach as having a nuanced understanding of the challenges their regions face. In CCRP-funded research, grantees develop quality, long-term partnerships among stakeholders. Knowledge sharing among partners reinforces local agency and increases the potential for collective action and sustainable solutions.
CCRP’s Regional Communities of Practice
The CCRP focuses on four regions of high food insecurity, funding projects that complement and enhance regional and programmatic grant portfolios. The CCRP uses a Community of Practice (CoP) approach, in which people and organizations with a common commitment to AEI interact regularly to improve their work. CCRP’s CoP model emphasizes networking, learning, and collective action. The regional CoPs aim to facilitate collaboration, knowledge co-creation, and innovation/information exchange, as well as helping to strengthen capacity at regional, institutional, project, and individual levels. Learning exchange occurs within, between, and beyond the four geographic CoPs.