Program at a glance

Humidtropics, a CGIAR Research Program, aims to help poor farm families in tropical Africa, Asia and Americas to boost their income from integrated agricultural systems’ intensification while preserving their land for future generations.

Why focus on Humid and Sub-Humid Tropics?

d tropics typical landscape

The humid tropics with 2.9 billion people, most of which are poor farmers on about 3 billion hectares of land, are critical to local, regional and global food supplies, and central to the maintenance of global biodiversity. A typical system in the humid tropics such as in the image above, has people (the farmer) in the center; and utilizes, water, land, labour, cash and knowledge to grow, process and market various commodities (crops and livestock) to meet livelihood needs such as income and nutrition. However, productivity of the farming system is often poor, natural resources degraded, and markets and institutions flawed to tap into the potential that exists in the wider system to meet their needs. Furthermore, access to and benefit from the limited systems resources often differs between men and women at all ages being more detrimental to women.

Basic Theory of Change

The Humidtropics Basic Theory of Change is based on the hypothesis that the potential inherent in the region is best realized through an integrated systems approach involving participatory action across all stakeholder groups. Humidtropics addresses these systems challenges by enhancing the capacity to innovate at farm, institutional and landscape levels resulting in systems interventions that improve markets, natural resources and productivity to contribute to delivering on the four CGIAR System Level Outcomes (SLOs) to reduce rural poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and health, and sustainable management of natural resource. Overarching Theory of Change Figure 1 shows that: A) a baseline situation exists (red circle with variations within the red zone as demarcated by the curved red-line) among the axes of poverty status and ecosystem integrity with characteristics related to systems productivity, natural resources integrity and institutional effectiveness (markets, policies, etc), B) systems interventions and innovation need to be developed and introduced that lead to C) the idealized position (white circle) of an improved poverty status and ecosystem integrity based on an improved system with high total factor productivity, high natural resources integrity and effective institutions. The three main Humidtropics Strategic Research Themes (SRTs) support this theory as follows:

  • SRT1: Systems Analysis and Global Synthesis explores A) and synthesizes progress towards C) based on interventions by B).
  • SRT2: Integrated Systems Improvement innovates the systems B) see Figure 5, in a gender responsive way by mainstreaming promising systems interventions related to productivity, natural resources and institutions. This covers the entire research to development spectrum, and includes scaling-out dimensions.
  • SRT3: Scaling and Institutional Innovation focuses on co-evolving institutions via social innovation with the technology from SRT2. As such is improves systems stakeholders’ capacity to innovate A) and B) and supports the scaling of interventions at farm, national and global levels to position C).

Program Logic

The program logic is presented in the below figure where the Strategic Objectives (SOs) are realized together in an interactive and integrated fashion. Each SO relates directly to one or two IDOs with 2027 targets (see Outcomes tab) The realization of these IDOs is then accomplished through a number of “Flagship Projects”, which are seen as the main vehicles through which the research of Humidtropics partners is carried out to ensure impacts of the program.

Program Logic

Strategic Objectives and Outcomes

The following Strategic Objectives (SOs), Intermediate Development Outcomes (IDOs) and indicative Targets are further being developed during 2014.

SO 1: Livelihoods Improvement: “Improved livelihoods in terms of income and nutrition for rural farm families.”

  • IDO 1 – Income: “Increased and more equitable Income from agriculture for rural poor farm families, with special focus on rural women.” The target is that 3 million poor households are lifted above the poverty line by 2027 in the Action Areas. This IDO is strongly linked with IDO 3 on Productivity and IDO 4 on NRM. It is based on generating total farm income through both sustainable intensification and diversification of production systems to improve the livelihoods of rural women and men. Realizing the IDO will require improving institutional effectiveness with integration of commercialization principles and value chain and business model trade-off analysis to improve market linkages and income generating outcomes.
  • IDO 2 - Nutrition: “Increased consumption of safe, nutritious foods by the poor, especially among nutritionally vulnerable women and children.” The target is that dietary variety of 3 million poor households in the Action Areas is increased by 2027. This IDO will be accomplished through research for the diversification of high quality crops and livestock leading to enhanced consumption of diverse nutritious foods by the poor. Humidtropics will focus on food consumption as the main indicator for this IDO. Three key areas in which targets and outcomes will be assessed are:
    • Changes in the diversity and quality of diets.
    • Attitudes toward better nutrition, payment and trade for diverse and quality food.
    • Food/crop diversity in farms, markets, and on the plate (household consumption).

SO 2:  Sustainable Intensification “Increased total farm productivity respecting natural resources integrity.”

  • IDO 3 Productivity / Yield: “Increased total factor productivity of integrated systems.” The target is that 2 million poor households in the Action Areas will have increased total factor productivity of integrated systems by 60% in 2027 while sustaining the natural resources for future generations. Sustainable Intensification includes elements of productivity, sustainability and diversity in the farming/production system. The overall aim is to optimize the returns from the plot of land, while respecting the natural resource integrity.
  • IDO 4 – Environment: “Reduced adverse environmental effects of integrated systems intensification and diversification.” The target is that 3.5 million hectares of degraded land is restored to sustainable management in the Action Areas by 2027. This IDO seeks to ensure that the yield of farm land is more than just the commodities, and includes the ability of the land to remain productive for the future and to produce positive impacts on the environment. Soil degradation, both in terms of fertility loss and erosion, and water management are key elements in this.

SO 3: Gender Empowerment: “Empowered women and youth with better control over and benefit from integrated production systems.”

  • IDO 5 – Gender:Increased control by women and other marginalized groups over integrated systems assets, inputs, decision-making and benefits.” The target is that Women and Youth in 1 million target households in the Action Areas perceive that they have better control over assets, input and benefits by 2027. Gender analysis research cuts through all the IDOs, and can be seen through a number of gender-disaggregated targets and technologies. This dedicated gender IDO, will aim at undertaking strategic crosscutting gender-in-development research, within the R4D paradigm, with links to all the Action Areas and Sites.

SO 4: Systems Innovation:  Enhanced capacity for systems innovation.”

  • IDO 6 – Innovation:Increased capacity for integrated systems to innovate and bring social and technical solutions to scale.” This is an enabling IDO supporting systems interventions in such a way that the other IDOs are supported and that impact is achieved at scale in an equitable and sustainable way by influencing the social technical regimes. System innovations are comprehensive changes in society that do not only include new technology, but also significantly reorganized social relationships, processes and modes of thinking. System innovations are coherent combinations of ‘hardware’ (i.e. new technical devices and practices), ‘software’ (i.e. new knowledge, modes of thinking and mindsets) and ‘orgware’ (i.e. new social institutions and forms of organization). Indicators relate to: growth in change coalitions, institutionalization of innovation methods, processes and strategies, improvement of knowledge development capacity, reduction of constraints for technology uptake, improved access to and diffusion of knowledge, and autonomous continuation of innovation networks.

Strategic Research Themes

The following strategic research themes guide the research in the flagship projects.

  • SRT1 Systems Analysis and Synthesis
  • SRT2 Integrated Systems Improvement
    • Value Chains, Institutions and Markets
    • Increasing System Productivity
    • Natural Resource Improvement
  • SRT 3 Scaling and Institutional Innovation

The program structure depicted below is based on three strategic research themes and linked through monitoring and evaluation processes.

Humidtropics Program Structure

Flagship Projects

The Flagship Projects are developed as place-based integrated R4D programs based on Action Areas with main agricultural production systems nexus, where all three SRTs produce research outputs from partner collaboration. In phase 1 there are 5 Flagship projects. Four relate directly to the Tier 1 Action Areas  and one to Cross-Cutting Research.

Flagship projects based on Action Areas produce solutions relevant to the area’s characteristics (Table 1) and potential for innovation The geographical aspects, landscapes, and crops may be similar but the people, socio-technical regimes, farm practices, livelihoods and living conditions vary significantly. This provides scope for cross learning and sharing of solutions across Action Areas. Four additional area-based Flagship Projects will be launched in 2017 (Phase 2, Tier 2). These are the West Africa Moist Savanna project, the Southern Africa Moist Savanna project, the northern Andes Transect project, and the Indonesian Humid Lowlands project. A summary introduction of the Action Areas with general entry points in which the Tier 1 Flagships are implemented following the program logic where partners work in SRTs in these Areas contributing to IDO targets that lead to the SOs and program goal supporting the SLOs is provided on the next pages. Specific impact pathways with targets contributing to the IDO targets based on R4D Platform and Systems Analysis will be included in the full proposal as a result of current work in the Action Areas.

 Table 1. Selected characteristics of each Tier 1 Action Area.

Action Area Table

The East and Central Africa Humid Highlands Action Area includes the humid and sub-humid tropics of west Kenya, southern Uganda, the Ethiopian Highlands, eastern Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. There are more than 78 million people living on 29 million ha with a very high average population density of 263 persons per km2. Land degradation averages 40 to 90% of the area. Poverty levels are relatively high and persist as 28 to 71% of people earn less than US $1.25 per day.  Smallholders cultivate a variety of crops, including maize, grain legumes, banana, cassava, sorghum, sweet potato, groundnut as well as minor leafy greens and other vegetables, as part of their system. The major cash crops include coffee, maize, sugarcane, banana, soybean, Irish potato, cotton and tobacco. Main known constraints in the system include soil degradation, fertility loss and degradation on the slopes, the challenge of the parasitic weed striga (in Kenya and Uganda), decline in the production of cooking banana (in Uganda and Rwanda), widespread incidence of pests and disease, poor distribution and high costs of farm inputs, and poor infrastructure and access to markets and institutions. Women farmers still carry a disproportionate burden of farm and household responsibilities, and yet have limited rights to land and other resources and assets.

The West Africa Humid Lowlands Action Area includes the humid and sub-humid tropics of Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire that are inhabited by 145 million people and cover 206 million ha. The project includes intact humid forests in South-eastern Cameroon to completely deforested and extremely degraded areas in southern Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, and many conditions in-between. The West African Guinea Rainforest is a vulnerable biodiversity hotspot and poses an urgent environmental challenge in relation to helping people to raise their standard of living. The socioeconomic situation is highly variable between and within countries, but all are characterized by large populations of both rural and urban poor seeking better livelihoods, with 28% of the population living on <1.25 USD day-1. Most of the soils are highly weathered, inherently poor and prone to rapid degradation. Rainfall is generally sufficient for two annual cropping cycles per year as the growing period exceeds 200 days. A total of 46 million ha (47% of the cultivated land) is under tree crop systems, a further 29 million ha (30%) under root crop systems and 23 million ha (23%) under cereal-root crop mixed systems. Cocoa is the most extensively grown tree crop and is almost exclusively managed by smallholders. Oil palm is the next most important and is grown on both large estates and smallholders. Together, these two crops account for approximately 90% of total tree crops. Other tree crops include rubber, robusta coffee, kola nut, citrus, mango, and avocado. Cassava is the most important staple crop with maize, yams, plantains, upland rice, and cocoyam widely cultivated. Livestock densities are low often due to presence of trypanosomiasis but small animal enterprises are particularly important to the poor and women.

The Central American and Caribbean Action Area includes three main sites in the humid and sub-humid tropics of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Poverty and food shortage remain major problems in rural areas. Over 20% of the population is malnourished while food insecurity, especially among pregnant women and children <5 year of age, has increased between 2001 and 2006. Throughout these countries, poverty is a predominantly rural problem. Gender relations remain male-dominant through persisting unfair cultural norms, but women are free to operate within local markets. The North-Central Nicaragua is characterized by poor access to markets, high concentration of poverty, vulnerability to the effects of climate change, including catastrophic incidents like hurricanes, and the impact of degradation (deforestation in particular). It encompasses large variability in soil types with hillsides susceptible to erosion. Mixed crop-livestock systems are dominant with maize, beans, rice, root crops grown for food, coffee, cacao, banana, and vegetables grown for income. Animal enterprise includes cattle (30% of households), poultry and swine. Another sector of this Action Area is the Haiti-Dominican Republic border area, which provides a unique opportunity to contrast extremes of resource integrity, institutional capacity and social cohesion between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Haiti faces an extreme serious threat from environmental catastrophe and natural resource deterioration. Productivity is very low, less than one-third is arable, with a density pressure of over 1,000 people per km2 and an annual loss of 3% to erosion. Farms are often homesteads, with a typical size of 1 hectare. Agriculture in the Dominican Republic is more productive with large areas of forest cover of 50% (compared to only 4% in Haiti). In both countries agricultural systems are based on the same crops: maize, beans, sugar cane, root crops and plantains. The abundance of fruits and farm animals also varies with resource conditions. Fruit trees include bananas, mangos and avocados. Livestock consists of some cattle, goats, pigs, and poultry.

The Central Mekong Action Area in Southeast Asia lies above the delta and below the high mountainous temperate zone, and is a critical site for exploring agricultural development in a region undergoing dramatic ecological, social, and economic transformation. The Area is rich in biodiversity that is threatened by rapid economic change with many uncertainties surrounding its sustainability. The project is situated within the larger 260 million ha geopolitical boundary of the Greater Mekong Sub-region which includes Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam plus the two southwest provinces of China. It includes two of the poorest countries in the world (Cambodia and Laos) where over 29% of the population live in poverty. The primary focus of the Central Mekong Action Area will be on the complex of rice and non-rice cropping and farming systems (plus areas with other land uses) in the non-flooded lowlands, uplands, and highlands. “Green Revolution” agriculture in the last century contributed greatly to staple food production, and food self-sufficiency in the region to the extent where Thailand and Vietnam engage in massive export rice production but this success has environmental tradeoffs in terms of land degradation, eutrophication and water pollution. These are further confounded by increasing free range cattle production on steep slopes. Benefits are unevenly distributed with infrastructure improvement, farm input distribution and farmer services focused upon delta and lowland communities and bypassing rainfed uplands and highlands. With physical access to markets still varying greatly, the development of regional transport corridors is one of the most important drivers of change. Improvements in transport and communications translate into benefits for the poor, even as these developments remain highly variable. Economic development has resulted in large shifts in consumption and expenditure patterns and these changes are set to continue as the project is situated between the two emerging economies of China and India.

The fifth Flagship project (will continue in all phases) has a strategic, global and crosscutting nature, and derives from key research domains including aspects of innovation, gender and capacity development, requiring study and analysis across locations. Examples of the kind of research related to Innovation Systems and Innovation Capacity address questions such as:

  • What is the contribution of different types, configurations and operationalization of R4D platforms (under different conditions, and for different categories of beneficiaries) in developing, testing and adapting social and technical options that benefit Humidtropics target audiences?
  • What is the value and different scaling strategies (ranging from classical extension, innovation platforms, Farmer Field Schools, mobile communication and mass media) in scaling discourses, processes, knowledge and technology, among farmers and relevant players in the value chain and in policy circles (i.e. at both niche and regime level)?
  • How do institutional and other determinants of a behavior change towards sustainable intensification interact with each other?
  • To what extent do newly developed modes of thinking, methods, processes and approaches for embedding research in development become institutionalized in national and international innovation systems, and what factors that hinder or enable the implementation and institutionalization of the Humidtropics in different contextual settings?


Partnerships are at the core of Humidtropics. The program can be considered a formal knowledge-based network of R4D Partners. Partnerships are at global, regional, national and local levels. They include partners from the various organizations along the research-development impact pathways. There are a full spectrum of partners from both research and development organizations (including direct partners and boundary partners). Categories of current partners are as follows:

  • CGIAR Centers: currently the program involves seven CGIAR centers (Bioversity, CIAT, CIP, ICRAF, IITA, ILRI, IWMI) with links to others through the CGIAR Research Programs.
  • Non-CGIAR International Centers: A number of non-CGIAR centers are principal partners in this program and receive W1 and W2 funding in support of their partnership operations. These include AVRDC, Wageningen University, icipe, and FARA.
  • Advanced Research Institutions: Strategic and technical engagement are essential to deliver on the innovation agenda. Current partners in this category include CIRAD, CSIRO, CATIE, SLU, Wageningen, Stirling, Purdue, and FAO.
  • National Research and Extension Systems (NARES) institutions: Several national research organizations in all the Action Areas are partners in Humidtropics.
  • Development organizations: NGOs, CBOs, etc. are key and central as boundary partners
  • Civil Society: Farmer Organizations, Women Groups, etc.
  • Private sector: Agribusiness, Suppliers, Traders, Banks, etc.
  • Regional and Sub-Regional Organizations: These include organizations such as FARA, the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA), SADC, FORAGRO, IICA, APAARI, etc. Formal links with a number of these parties still need to be established.