Reforming Financing to Truly Enable Agroecology


Dear Friends and Colleagues

Reforming Financing to Truly Enable Agroecology

Meeting the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires a dramatic transformation of how we organise food systems. To many, it is clear that agroecology is the best approach to guide this transformation; it is widely viewed as an approach that is well suited to family farmers and is a vital to confront the ecological crises of our times.

It is however clear that both the quality and quantity of how we finance agricultural research and development, and food security is woefully inadequate. First, there is a huge shortfall in the amount of funding for sustainable food systems generally. Second, almost all of this funding is allocated to encouraging farmers to adopt detrimental forms of high-energy, high-input industrial agriculture. Third, funding that is allocated towards sustainable agriculture and agroecology is often delivered in unhelpful and even damaging ways.

A recently published policy briefing focuses on the third point, on how we can ‘make money move for agroecology’. It makes the case for reforming the way agricultural and food systems development is financed so we can achieve the transformations that we desperately need by answering this question: When donors do decide to target sustainable agroecological food systems, how can we transform the modes and approaches of financing so that it actually enables agroecology?

Twelve different areas through which donors can focus their methods and approach to financing to support more just and sustainable food systems are identified. These are organised through five sets of recommendations: (1) Engage in iterative reflection and examination of donor practices; (2) Transform relationships between funders and recipients; (3) Change funding modalities, methodologies and foci for delivering funding; (4) Create and adopt more appropriate measurement and evaluation tools; and (5) Address the big picture issues that undermine a more just and sustainable food system, including especially shifting funding away from detrimental forms of agriculture.

The Recommedations of the briefing are reproduced below.

With best wishes,

Third World Network
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 Colin Anderson, François Delvaux, Faris Ahmed, Vincent Dauby and Nina Moeller
19 April 2021


Based on our analysis of these areas, we propose five sets of recommendations that can help move donors towards more transformative approaches to financing agroecology.


We recommend that donors engage in an ongoing evaluation to:

  1. a) Examine and increase the quantity of funds that are allocated towards agroecology (see Policy briefing 1: Finance for agroecology: more than just a dream?);
  2. b) Examine their approach to funding, using tools such as table 1 to think critically about the nature of funding approaches and programmes, and how that relates to their organisational theory of change:
  • Include farmers and communities in this process: this is best done in dialogue with food producers and organisations to ensure these reflections and the resulting adaptations are grounded in their realities and priorities.
  • Socialise this process: engage with communities of practice including donors, critical friends and other actors working to reimagine and reshape agricultural financing.


  • Co-governance: be accountable to food producers, their organisations and movements by establishing participatory and multi-stakeholder governance of funding agencies, donor organisations and projects. Make sure there is a reciprocal accountability between donors and recipients. Some refer to this as a process of co-governance.
  • Participatory decision-making: establish and adopt direct and innovative ways for the genuine participation of food producers – and more specifically of women food producers – and their organisations in the design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and projects. This can be through programme advisory committees, having donors and communities on governing bodies. It can also be done by establishing grants managed by communities themselves that give the community financial agency. This has been referred to as solidarity ‘revolving funds’ where food producers and their organisations have their own pot of money to regrant.
  • Be connected to the places and processes you are funding: agroecological transitions are specific to the place they occur in and are a part of much wider political and historic processes. Donors need to be mindful of the historical context in place. The most effective donors were well connected in the places they were granting funds to and had developed long-term trust-based relationships with recipients.


  • Decentralise access to funding; focus on small-mid scale funding programmes through civil society organisations closer to the ground: the large-scale grants that are often made through large funding programmes are mostly unsuitable for the scale of agroecology initiatives and projects. More funds need to be allocated to small-medium sized organisations and networks in civil society – especially organisations of smallscale food producers working at a community and territorial level. Ensure that control over decision-making and access to funds sits with those most directly affected by and best able to identify strategies to cope with current and future crises.
  • Provide long-term funding: processes of transformation take place over long periods of time and require long-term commitments from donors. For example, one well-regarded donor provides funds for up to 10-12 years, using phases in a longer-term process that shifts from more contained interventions/projects to a more holistic project approach. Part of the challenge is that donors are expecting long-term outcomes (visible over 10-15 years) while funding short term projects (3-4 years) which they expect will already yield concrete results.
  • Allow for flexibility: agroecology transitions are complex and often messy processes that are best supported by funders that allow for flexibility and adaptation throughout the granting process so that grantees can respond to emerging issues and opportunities.
  • Evaluate through an equity lens all funding programmes: programmes should focus on explicitly addressing inequity related to gender, class, caste, disability, ethnicity and other dimensions of difference. Failing to evaluate through an explicit equity lens is highly likely to exacerbate inequity.
  • Where farm-level interventions are concerned, focus on supporting farm re-design: farm-level interventions should focus on re-designing processes (level 3), not minor tweaks or input substitution (levels 1-2).
  • Focus on collective territorial processes: move from individual technical support to supporting transformation of farm-level practices [and beyond] as a part of wider civil society processes. Any funding to enhance practices should be embedded in collective, social processes including farmer-led, participatory research, peer-to-peer learning and community seed systems, customary laws and biocultural practices, etc. Funding programmes should be targeted at multiple levels of transition, included multiple “domains of transformation” and include a systemic and integrated approach. Transitions at farm level should be integrated into broader socio-cultural, economic and political process of transformation and civil society organising at the local and territorial levels.
  • Focus on ‘immaterial’ interventions, political work and movement building: these processes are vital to long term transformation, yet are often undervalued. Examples include: dialogues; awareness raising; knowledge sharing exchanges; strengthening peasants, womens’ and farmers’ organisations, cooperative structures; building synergies in funding between research, movements and practice; agroecological education through agroecology hubs; supporting communities of practice and agroecology schools; and investing in intergenerational and intercultural learning.
  • Ensure that food producers are the protagonists: funding is often led by ‘experts’, institutional actors and policy-makers. Agroecological transitions are best enabled through funding that enables the protagonism/agency of food producers and their organisations where these other actors are rather the ‘supporting cast’. Focus on funding participatory processes led by food producer oganisations and civil society in territories. Pay particular attention to power dynamics between actors and within communities to ensure that gender equal and culturally appropriate change methodologies are applied.
  • Strengthen farmer organisations and introduce budget lines granting directly them and their own initiatives – especially organisations led by women, youth, and Indigenous food provisioners.


  • Evaluate and adapt monitoring and evaluation processes: develop and/or work with commonly agreed measurement and evaluation tools for agroecology and embed them in programmes to enable to document performance of agroecology. Many of the current approaches to monitoring and evaluation of funding programmes are highly problematic because they prioritise short-term outcomes and milestones, lock projects into rigid plans (through tools such as log frames), fail to account for the social, political and cultural dimensions of agroecology and are incapable of taking a view of long-term transformation processes.
  • Adopt participatory assessments: redesign and develop innovative ‘monitoring and evaluation’ methodologies that allow communities to develop their own metrics of change and of resilience, to assess their own change processes and based on their own ways of knowing.


Whereas recommendation sets #1-4 focus on adapting the quality and focus of donor practices, a range of more profound and wide-ranging big picture issues are vital to consider.

  • Move agroecology into the centre, rather than the periphery of the funding portfolio: agroecology has been marginally supported and donors are considering how to shift towards agroecology. Learn from donors and peers who are funding or receiving funds, to apply methodologies that allow the mainstreaming of agroecology in international assistance envelopes. This also includes integrating agroecology components into other, potentially larger funding envelopes relating to climate change, gender, sustainable livelihoods and community economic development.
  • Ensure that systemic political and cultural change is a central target for change: changing the quantity and quality of money flows is a necessary but insufficient condition to food system transformation. Such objective need to be accompanied by “political, socio-cultural, economic, environmental and technological shifts in rules, practices, institutions and values, leading to more sustainable modes of production and consumption”21. This calls for “major shifts in policies at international, national and local levels and the active encouragement of innovation across these scales”22. It is vital to promote food system governance and policy making from local to global levels which builds on the inclusive and transparent participation of public(s) in policy making – taking into account power imbalances by explicitly focusing on bringing the voices of often excluded groups and priorities to the fore. We can’t keep just funding African CSOs to be fighting this goliath in our backyard!
  • Repurposing funding and policies to shift away from funding detrimental forms of agriculture and development which are not supportive of transformative agroecology is equally important as increasing funding and policies in favor of agroecology. Many of our research participants pointed out the vital need to stop funding and supporting industrial agriculture, which can cancel out any gains made by the (also vital) agroecology-focused funding. Donors should also shift resources away from false solutions, such as carbon farming and climate smart agriculture.
  • Always incorporate a transformative perspective, even in the midst of crises: as crises are part of our day-to-day life, how can we connect what is usually a “humanitarian response” with transformative responses and projects? Sometimes crises represent ‘change moments’ that open up pathways to accelerate the transition to a more equitable system23.
  • Transform professional culture: the ways of working and worldviews of professionals in institutions, science and policy-making have been identified widely as highly problematic in terms of creating a top-down dynamic that is antithetical to agroecology. Professional culture needs to be transformed to refocus on giving a central place to the agency, voice and wisdom of people, food producers and their organisations. This entails a greater focus on transdisciplinary approaches, farmer-led interventions, genuine participation and ‘dialogues of knowledge’.
  • Beware that agroecology itself doesn’t exclude and marginalise: in the absence of an approach rooted in feminism, equity and radical participation, agroecology in the development machine risks reproducing exclusive, colonial and oppressive relationships with peoples in different contexts. Many vital approaches in different territories are carried out using language and worldviews that do not use the language of agroecology.
  • Agroecology, in its transformative form, is deeply attuned and emergent from particular people in particular places (territories) with their languages, cosmovisions and life worlds. Agroecology is fundamentally about respecting and enabling this and programmes and development must not force peoples into cookie-cutter approaches driven by the Global North. We have to begin by recognising that other approaches [e.g. indigenous sovereignty] that exist must be valued in their own right.
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