Water Land and Ecosystems Innovation Fund Call

WLE Innovation Fund


In order to support innovative research that advances the concepts of sustainable agricultural intensification and supplements WLE’s existing Strategic Research Portfolios (SRPs) and upcoming Focal Region programs, the WLE Steering Committee agreed in 2013 that funding should be allocated to the WLE Innovation Fund (IF), with $4.2 million for projects occurring in 2014 and 2015.  By design, the WLE IF supports the frontiers of research, development, and communications in areas core to its mission.

WLE seeks to inform and enable sustainable management of the suite of goods and services derived from ecosystems in agricultural landscapes vital to human well-being.  These include production of crops, livestock, and natural products (including provision of pollination and pest control); conservation and improvement of soil resources; water purification for drinking, irrigation, and hydropower; flood mitigation; disease regulation; climate stabilization; protection of genetic and other dimensions of biodiversity; and support of culturally important assets and practices.  Equally important within this framework is understanding the societal demands placed on these resources, and the ability to use them equitably and sustainably. This includes understanding sustainable governances of ecosystems, management of common pool resources, and inherent trade-offs amongst different groups at different scales. WLE’s vision is to sustain and fulfill the lives of people in well-functioning, resilient landscapes capable of supporting human livelihoods, health, and security. To this effect WLEs overarching vision is a world in which agriculture thrives within vibrant ecosystems, where communities have higher incomes, improved food security and the ability to continuously improve their lives.

There is a need for innovative processes for engagement, uptake, communication, and behavior change, in order to improve the potential for WLE to achieve outcomes and impact. WLE’s IF will fund research that draws out effective new processes, systems and channels for WLE to engage with public, private and non-profit decision makers through evidence-based research and analysis of decision-making scenarios around water, land and ecosystems.

The paradigm shift that WLE strives to achieve

Attaining the twin objectives of feeding humanity while sustaining and safeguarding a stable planet will require a global food revolution based on a new paradigm for agricultural development. We must shift from our current paradigm of productivity enhancement while reducing environmental impacts, to a paradigm where sustainability constitutes the foundation of all agricultural development. In this new paradigm, sustainable governance and management of ecosystems, natural resources, and Earth system processes at large, provides the basis for practical solutions towards a sustainable intensification of agriculture and agricultural landscapes. This new paradigm of sustainable intensification aims to reposition global agriculture from its current role as the world’s single largest driver of negative environmental change, to becoming a critical force for transitioning to a safe operating space on Earth.

To achieve this, WLE has a mandate to ensure sustainability of our agricultural production systems over a range of scales that clearly demonstrate the strength of integration. This ability, along with placing nature’s assets and services at the forefront in this quest and societies use of it, constitutes the core of WLE.

The interactions between human wellbeing, natural capital, and strategies to improve the capacity of disadvantaged groups to draw vital ecosystem goods and services from landscapes, are a key R&D area of WLE. Research in this domain would specifically address the challenges in matching ecological, institutional, equity and governance scales for ecosystem service characterization (in biophysical, health, economic, social and other terms), scenario analysis, and management, from the urban/rural divide to basin/regional levels.  Added to this, new processes/models for engaging policy makers, the private sector, and large-scale investors with evidence-based research and decision-making modelling around water, land, and ecosystems, including the water-food-energy nexus and biodiversity, are needed to ensure the transformation to sustainability.

Priority Topics for the Innovation Fund

It is imperative that the following have a generic nature that can be deployed over the portfolio of Focal Regions that are planned within the WLE Program. The following research areas are prioritized for the Innovation Fund.

Diagnostic tools, analysis, and co-development of scenarios and interventions for the future:

  1. Map land cover, use, and property rights, including farmland, grazing land, managed forest, natural and semi-natural land covers, biodiversity, hydrologic flows, mining and other activities, human settlements (rural and urban), across scales and, ideally, in past periods for which land cover / use data are available.
  2. Compile these into an integrated assessment methodology to (i) understand current status and trends in the distribution of natural capital and production of ecosystem services; (ii) identify suppliers and beneficiaries of a broad range of important services; (iii) quantify tradeoffs and synergies among services, under alternative scenarios; and (iv) support co-development of scenarios and interventions that would sustainably enhance both natural capital and human well-being, with input from both men and women and other groups within society.
  3. Further develop and tailor to CGIAR purposes (i) a water- and food-focused ecosystem service mapping tool that would contribute to enhanced catchment/river basin planning; and (ii) a resilience assessment methodology, focused on water, land, and ecosystem services for agricultural development.

Exploring options for sustainable intensification:

  1. Engage stakeholders in an inclusive process to co-develop and explore together a range of visionary yet practical scenarios for the future, to secure sustainable livelihoods and human well-being, with particular emphasis on understanding of gender issues within poor and vulnerable groups.
  1. Map bright spots/systems/technologies for sustainable agricultural intensification through ecosystem services and identify domains at scale where these interventions could be deployed.
  1. Develop an integrated decision support system or resource planning platform for an ecosystem-based and resilience-oriented planning of natural capital for agricultural development across scales, including global drivers and thresholds.
  1. Building a consultative process of “co-designing” large scale plans for sustainable intensification of different social-ecological systems/regions. This raises questions over how agricultural landscapes can be planned for sustainable intensification that is inclusive of a range of sectors i.e. irrigation expansion, commodity investments, nature reserves, hydropower etc. This potential could contribute to an integrated investment planning process for sustainable intensification of entire landscapes.

Critical options:

  1. Design a series of “sustainable solutions” experiments connecting the so far unconnected in the WLE domain:
    1. Integrating “rainfed thinking in irrigation” and “irrigation thinking in rainfed”. This could include running a series of full-scale field experiments of bridging the gap between rainfed-and-irrigated farming.
    2. Landscape/regional intensification experiments, testing water, land and ecosystem service management innovations (e.g., water harvesting, conservation agriculture, livestock management, nutrient recycling, waste reduction, RRR solutions) – exploring synergies, e.g., along the lines of the “triply green” and “green growth” approaches being advocated by countries.
    3. Advancing novel ways of common pool resource governance, compensation mechanisms from ecosystem service beneficiaries to suppliers, and other institutional innovation to improve sustainable livelihood options and choices.
    4. Innovative approaches to including gender as part of the “sustainable solutions” proposed.
    5. Embark on critical research on behavioral change – what can make households and societies transition towards truly sustainable food systems, from production to consumption.
  2. Exploring the role of gender for sustainable intensification and landscape management.
  3. Cross-scale water, land, and ecosystem service analyses show-casing gains and trade-offs across scales between different investments.
  4. Prove the value of maintaining ecological functions in landscapes for provisioning, regulating, and supporting services – and sustaining option values – critical to food production.
  5. Looking at the value-chains and systems for valuing natural capital (payments for ecosystem services; valuing natural capital on markets). 

Criteria and Content

Minimum criteria that must be met by all applications in order to qualify for support by the Innovation Fund are:

  • Projects will be for a maximum of 2 years’ duration.
  • Only WLE participating Centers and FAO can lead a proposal.
  • At least 50% of the project funds will be allocated to partners that are outside of the current core WLE Partners (i.e. the 11 CGIAR Centers and FAO).
  • Funds requested will be of a minimum of $500k to maximum $1m per proposal over 2 years.
  • Projects must include an impact pathway/uptake strategy and have a clearly defined communications strategy.
  • Project must demonstrate a clear gender focus, either through mainstreaming or specific research with at least 10% of the funding contributing to gender research and analysis.
  • Projects must demonstrate alignment with the WLE principles of an ecosystems approach and sustainable intensification.
  • Projects must clearly contribute to a WLE IDO and align with at least 1 strategic research portfolio (SRP), and WLE Focal Region or WLE’s global agenda (see Table 1). 
  • Projects must align with the areas of research outlined above and should contribute to the Focal Regions.
  • Integrative aspects need to be clearly evident along with replicability.

Process and Timelines

The process will be led by the Program Director and managed by the WLE Operations Team, with the Program Manager designated as the focal point for communications between applicants and reviewers.  A template for the initial proposal is in Annex 1. Oversight will be provided at various levels by the WLE Management Committee and WLE Steering Committee. 

The Innovation Fund will follow a two-stage process for proposal development; preliminary followed by full proposals. Preliminary proposals will be submitted to WLE by deadline: 30th April 2014.

The Program Management Engagement and Coordination Team will carry out an initial screening of the proposals in order to remove any applications that do not meet basic minimum requirements and seek any missing information from partners.  Incomplete proposals and applications that do not meet the minimum criteria will be returned to proponents and not considered further for evaluation. Applications meeting the minimum criteria will be passed on to the Program Director and a review team consisting of a sub-committee of the WLE Steering Committee.  This group will formally review the proposals and select those which will go forward to the next stage, full proposal.

The selected proponents will be invited to prepare full proposals incorporating feedback from the review team by the 30th May 2014.  Full proposals will need to be submitted by COB Colombo time on the 30th June 2014. The formal review of full proposals will be carried out by a sub-committee of the WLE Steering Committee together with the Program Director and successful submissions will be informed by 31st July 2014.

The proposed process and timelines are presented below:

April 30th          Deadline for calls for preliminary proposals. 

May 30th          Selection of proposals for second phase by SC review panel.  Successful proponents invited to submit full proposals. 

June 30th         Invited full proposals to be submitted.

July 31st           Meeting of Review panel and selection of full proposals. Proponents are informed and proposals are finalized based on any requests for clarification. 

August 30th      Contracts are issued for Innovation Fund and work commences.

For more information contact:

For general inquiries contact:

Andrew Noble, WLE Program Director, email: a.noble@cgiar.org

Emma Greatrix, WLE Program Manager, email: e.greatrix@cgiar.org

For enquiries to WLE partners please contact the following Science Focal Points located in Annex 2 of this document.