Cross Cutting Themes


Agricultural biodiversity contributes to productivity, resilience, and diets. Over the past decade, CCRP-funded teams have conducted research across the value chains of the diverse crops below. Work has ranged from studies to better understand, document, and utilize local biodiversity, to support for breeding programs and seed systems, to agronomy, post-harvest management, enhancing markets, and utilization for improved nutrition.

Legume crops: common bean, groundnut, cowpea, pigeonpea, soybean, Bambara groundnut, lablab, lupin, Desmodium

Cereal crops: sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, fonio, tef

Other: quinoa, amaranth


Building the resiliency of smallholder agriculture in the era of climate change

Global environmental change (GEC), including and largely driven by climate change, threatens many aspects of life on earth. Agriculture has been among the first sectors to feel its devastating effects, with smallholder farmers among the hardest hit. The food system is both a key contributor to GEC and key part of the solution. Agroecological intensification (AEI) is central to both climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The CCRP addresses urgent climate issues by funding research on agroecological solutions by, with, and for smallholder farmers. Approaches include diversification of farming systems by investing in drought-tolerant species and varieties, many of which have been neglected by formal research systems; building soil health, including organic matter; linking formal and informal climate knowledge systems; and using seed balls and partial weeding to reduce the vulnerability of Sahelian farmers.

Partnerships link the research across local, regional, program, and global scales. The McKnight Foundation, through the CCRP, is part of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food (GA)  ( The CCRP’s cross-cutting Soil Toolkit and Soils thematic groups, as well as many of its regional projects, contribute to an emerging effort to realize the potential to store carbon in the form of soil organic matter, both reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases and improving the water-holding and nutrient-cycling capacity of agricultural soils.


Soil health

The basis of agricultural productivity, soil health is essential for healthy diets and thus for human health. Organic matter is the engine of soil health, so it is also critical to planetary health through carbon sequestration and ecosystem services. A range of factors, including agronomic practices and landscape features, influences soil health.

CCRP strategies related to soil health range from the level of the seed to the landscape, and from farmer-friendly assessment methods to social innovation processes that incentivize and inspire farmers to use them. The various aspects work together through regional communities of practice to build agronomic systems that support the regeneration of soil health.

The CCRP’s work around soils is animated by interconnections between work at the global and local levels. The program’s thematic group on soil health has held several workshops and training events on soil-related tools and assessment methods suited to participatory approaches. Additionally, regions are developing agroecology hubs for projects to come together to share learnings that focus on soil health.

Starting in 2016, the CCRP has funded a cross-cutting grant to develop and promote a soil health toolkit that can be used in field settings to give insight on a range of soil properties. Its ease of use and practicality for farmer situations complement the CCRP’s efforts to support farmer research networks that facilitate farmer-driven experimentation.

As part of the program’s cross-cutting and global efforts, the CCRP supports other international organizations that include soil health in their priorities, such as the Global Alliance for the Future of Food, the AgroEcology Fund, and the FAO’s Agroecology Knowledge Hub. Through these international organizations, the program hopes to influence policy at a global scale and interact with other large-scale actors to create positive impacts on soil health, including its role in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Ecological pest management

Smallholder farmers face substantial challenges from the diverse insects and pathogens that attack their crops and the weeds that compete with or feed on them. The prioritization activities of many CCRP projects have found that pests (insects, microbes, and plants that negatively affect production and quality) significantly constrain crop production. Legumes are particularly vulnerable to pests, so diversification through legume integration is also limited by pest challenges.

Farmers either lose a great deal of their crops and/or apply synthetic pesticides under conditions that are unsafe for people or pests natural enemies. Pests and diseases (P&D) are important sources of crop losses both before and after harvest, and pose special challenges for legumes, which are particularly susceptible to biotic stresses. CCRP-funded research on P&D has included surveys to identify and characterize particular problems; the identification and/or production and deployment of resistant germplasm; botanical pesticides; the use of diversity to manage biotic and abiotic stresses; solarization; and work with FRNs to integrate these methods. Several projects have been working to address post-harvest losses, which farmers in FRNs have identified as one of their most critical problems.