The CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, ‘CRP-GLDC’ is a complex undertaking. Scientists in seven CGIAR centers (ICRISAT, IITA, ICARDA, ICRAF, ILRI and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the CIAT) and three non-CGIAR centers (CIRAD, IRD and CSIRO) along with the private sector, civil society and National Research Institutes strive to improve the production, productivity and marketability of 10 under-researched legumes and cereals that are critical for world food security and nutrition. They focus on 17 countries in the dryland regions of South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Latin America. In these regions, solutions to poverty, malnutrition and environmental degradation are most needed. To account for changes that have occurred in CRP-GLDC over the past three years, it was imperative to update its Theory of Change to truly reflect the delivery pathways of its impact.

A Theory of Change (ToC) describes the theory-guided transformations and system changes necessary to achieve development outcomes. It represents the best understanding or hypothesis at a given point in time, of how multi-actor interventions can bridge the gap between research outputs and outcomes in development. It allows for continuous examination and adjustment of the design, implementation, management and assumptions based on the need [i].

The CRP-GLDC was designed with five Flagship Programs (FPs) working along two impact pathways to develop, scale and sustain cereal and legume varieties suited for dryland agro-ecologies. It aims at enabling between 4.4-11.8 million people to get out of poverty and another 12.7-24.8 million people to meet daily nutritional requirements. While this is a big strategic development goal to which CRP-GLDC contributes significantly, it will not be the only mechanism to achieve it.

How then should the necessary transformation of agriculture and dryland food systems take place in practice? Breeding of drought-tolerant cereals and nitrogen-fixing peas and beans alone is insufficient. System transformation requires investments into the development of markets and trade, related institutions and targeted measures to enhance consumer demand for dryland cereals and grain legumes (GLDC crops).

It is understood that while such transformations cannot easily be engineered, the best scientists can do is to identify and remove bottlenecks and help to change path dependencies that prohibit transformations. Rather than prescribing the change, the relevant food system actors must formulate plausible assumptions to guide the transformation. For the CRP-GLDC, the core assumption is that farmers convert to improved crops if there is a demand for GDLC crops in their communities as well as the markets. Therefore, demand-oriented development of value chains, supported by crop improvement to increase the adaptability and quality of GLDC crops has become a central assumption of the theory of change.

While the program’s demand-led orientation has not changed in this update to the ToC, it fosters better integration of decentrally organized flagships making the impact pathway (causal chain from research output to development impact), clearer, more realistic and reflective of the operational mechanisms of the CRP-GLDC. FP2 on transforming agri-food systems, which received no funding, has now been positioned as a scaling mechanism for CRP-GLDC. Moreover, FP6 on Common Bean for Markets and Nutrition has been integrated with the CRP-GLDC to offer strategic insights from the commercialization of beans for other GLDC crops. There is a lot that CRP-GLDC can learn from the Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) – especially the development of markets and thus an increase in demand for GLDC crops [ii].

However, not all GLDC crops are sold through traditional markets; sorghum and millet are still subsistence crops. Across the Sahel, for example, both cereals depend on informal markets and home consumption. Beyond fostering the production efficiency among producers, integration of smallholders into the market system, sustaining and scaling benefits of the system are paramount. In the revised Theory of Change, researchers seek the best possible integration of markets and substance-oriented strategies.

The CRP-GLDC shows how dynamic a Theory of Change is in reality. It necessitates adaption if the economic or technical conditions for programs change. For instance, not funding FP2, meant that impact pathway 2 (scaling and sustaining) could not be implemented as originally anticipated. In response, CRP-GLDC introduced a cross-cutting theme on Markets and Partnerships in Agri-Business (MPAB). As a part of the ToC revision, the scaling and sustaining impact pathway was removed while MPAB and FP6 were integrated into the ToC. FP outcomes were realigned incorporating FP6 outcomes along the impact pathways of FP1, FP4 and FP5 given their congruence. This left CRP-GLDC with only one distinct impact pathway [integrative solutions] (see Revised CRP-GLDC impact pathway diagram below).

The success of the revised ToC, will depend on the formalization, coordination and support of cross FP linkages with requisite resources. A ToC differs significantly from traditional program planning. Traditional programming only links activities to a goal, paying more attention to quantitative performance and assumptions about external factors without effort to involve key stakeholders and networks to support the realization of impact. Inspired by review of the CRP-GLDC in 2020 by the CGIAR Advisory Services (CAS), we have now taken the GLDC ToC a step forward that while helping to close the current phase of this CRP in December 2021, it provides learning on how to best prepare for scaling strategies beyond 2022.

Authors: Michael Hauser, John Mugonya (Team, FP1: Priority Setting and Impact Acceleration)


PK Thornton et al., “Responding to Global Change: A Theory of Change Approach to Making Agricultural Research for Development Outcome-Based,” Agricultural Systems 152 (2017): 145–53.

Michael Hauser and John Mugonya, “Internal Working Note: Revision of the Theory of Change Underpinning the Implementation of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC)” (ICRISAT, 2021).

This work was undertaken as part of, and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) and supported by CGIAR Fund Donors.

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