Managing Social & Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture

Key Themes:
  • Power and Legacy
  • Interdependence and Inclusivity
  • Operational and Funding Models

About the project

The issue

Increasing agricultural production to meet the rapidly growing demand for food while safeguarding vital ecosystem services and promoting social equality lies at the heart of sustainable development.

Yet research has shown that conflicts between Sustainable Development Goals on improving food security, reducing inequalities and ecosystem conservation are intensifying in Sub-Saharan Africa because of rapid economic development and population growth.

Current food and forest policies in the region often fail to recognise the links between agricultural development, biodiversity and ecosystems. This could result in many countries losing more than a third of their natural forests and much of their biodiversity with an impact on human well-being.

Current agricultural strategies are poorly informed by these trade-offs – particularly considering projected regional changes in climate and, in some areas, conflict with forest conservation and restoration policies. This can contribute to inequality and further marginalise communities that depend on agriculture or forests for a living.

The project

This collaboration between the Luc Hoffmann Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) aims to enhance the connections between science and policy to improve support for decision-makers in Zambia, Ghana and Ethiopia. It will work to better understand and manage trade-offs between food production, conserving biodiversity and protecting natural assets without exacerbating social inequality.

The partnership will enhance the ongoing SENTINEL (Social and Environmental Trade-offs in African Agriculture) project, a research initiative led by IIED, supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) of the UK Research Councils. SENTINEL is a partnership between 10 universities and research organisations in the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, working in Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia.

This project also helps connect research and learning from the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP) Working Group on Food and Forests in Africa, an international expert group from 17 research, policy and practice organisations. It will ensure that these global convening and research efforts target policy and impact pathways for improved conservation outcomes, with three focus areas:

Learning and action from scenarios

Learning from the development of national-level scenarios to strengthen SENTINEL by engaging policy, practice and research stakeholders in exploring impacts and trade-offs in a safe space and examining the strengths and limitations of this process for improving science-policy links.

Theory of change and policy influence

Design and facilitate a theory-of-change workshop that will underpin science-policy interactions and develop pathways for policy influence and change for the SENTINEL project and partners.

Identifying successful policy trade-offs

Develop a research programme that synthesises the key factors that underpin success (in reconciling competing food production and conservation objectives) and examines critical success factors in different settings.

Project aims include:

  • Connect and enhance the impact of these two international, interdisciplinary research initiatives to maximise the likelihood of science being used to inform critical decisions.
  • Undertake research using new interdisciplinary and knowledge co-production methods to improve the connections between knowledge and decision-making in Ghana, Zambia and Ethiopia.
  • Develop a rigorous and systematic approach to research in understanding trade-offs and success for food, forests and biodiversity.
  • Allow for learning at the national and global level on how new approaches to the development of future scenarios can be replicated and scaled up.
  • Develop shared communications and dissemination channels to enhance the profile and reach of the project outputs.

Project partners

IIED, the Luc Hoffmann Institute.

Related reading

What will it take to transform African agricultural policy? Thought piece by Melanie Ryan, Head of Programme (interim), Luc Hoffmann Institute

Truly transformative change is key to combating the biodiversity crisis
Article from the International Institute for Environment and Development highlighting the SNAPP Research Programme on Food and Forest in Africa Working Group

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at
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