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Our Approach

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

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.

Regional Strategies and Teams

For more information about the work supported by CCRP, visit

women sitting down and having a drink

Andes CoP (Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru)

Supports integrated and diverse production systems that embrace conservation and native agricultural biodiversity. This region is supported by Julio Postigo and Claire Nicklin.

family standing together and sorting their crops up

Eastern Africa CoP (Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda)

Aims to improve farming systems performance and, through greater crop diversity, to enhance local diets and livelihoods. This region is supported by Beth Medvecky and Linnet Gohole.

people analyzing their crops

Southern Africa CoP (Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania)

Targets research on constraints to legume productivity and also to improvements in crop productivity and post-harvest practices. This region is supported by Kate Wellard and Prudence Kaijage.

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 agroecological intensification, 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 Some.

two men walking next to bicycles with their crops

Cross-cutting grant portfolio

Supports aspects of interest across the regional CoPs. These may relate to global dialogues of relevance to AEI and global food security, or new ideas or technical innovation of relevance to AEI research. Cross-cutting grantmaking is supported by Jane Maland Cady and Paul Rogé.

CCRP Expectations for CoP Involvement

CCRP 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 scientific 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 CCRP’s regional team of consultants in the development and execution of grant projects, including inception meetings, mid-year review 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—with assistance from CCRP’s Integrated Monitoring, Evaluation, & Planning (IMEP)  consultant team;
  • Help to strengthen research planning, design, execution, and analysis—including workshops, webinars, meetings, and hands-on guidance from CCRP’s research methods support (RMS) team;

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 such as frameworks, handbooks, guides, videos, sensors, databases, and GIS technology provision.

Theory of Change

The CCRP uses 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 (below) maps two interrelated and distinct pathways through which our work is intended to make an impact. One is support for AEI-centered research that aims to improve performance at the farm 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 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 the CCRP’s 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 explicit 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.