Phase III

Five multi-annual research programmes were approved under the third phase of INREF (call 2014 and call 2010), namely:

Responsible life-sciences innovations for development in the digital age: Environmental Virtual Observatories for Connective Action (EVOCA) in crop, water, livestock and disease management.


The natural environments on which people in rural Africa depend are under pressure, posing threats to human livelihoods. Timely information on relevant environmental dynamics (such as water levels, spread of plant pests or prevalence of disease-carrying insects) is often lacking because of limited understanding of local system dynamics. Recent developments in web-based and mobile technologies allow linking science-based models of dynamic natural processes with participatory monitoring, citizen science and broad information exchange. Such sharing can foster new forms of coordination to address environmental problems, called connective action. To enable such new collective responses, the programme will develop, adapt and study several EVOCAs in East and West Africa. A responsible innovation approach is used to maximize local relevance, usability and equitable access.
The central research question of EVOCA is: How can life-science knowledge, digital technologies and responsible innovation concepts be leveraged in development contexts to build inclusive virtual platforms for environmental information that enable connective action for addressing development challenges in crop, water, health and wildlife management?

The project is led by Prof. dr. Peter H. Feindt (daily programme management) and Prof. dr. Cees Leeuwis (programme leader) and was granted research funding in 2015.

FOREFRONT, Nature’s benefits in agro-forest frontiers: linking actor strategies, functional biodiversity and ecosystem services.


Throughout the tropics forested landscapes are being converted into landscapes dominated by agriculture, while in some areas the reverse happens. These landscapes consist of a mosaic of different land uses, and are highly dynamic. They reflect the continuous changes in the interactions between people and the environment. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie and drive these social-ecological systems, including the complex and shifting institutional arrangements, is a crucial step towards designing and negotiating strategies for targeted land use that reconcile the maintenance of biodiversity, the supply of a wide portfolio of ecosystem services, and meet the needs of local actors. FOREFRONT applies a landscape approach to agro-forest frontier areas, which are the particularly dynamic border between forested and agricultural land, and will link the landscape-transforming strategies of the various actors in those areas with landscape change and resulting ecosystem services.

The landscape approach entails an integrated vision of land use planning, policies and management decisions to maintain the resilience, productivity and sustainability of landscapes for the benefit of the people who depend on them. This research, in three countries in Latin America, that represent a diversity of important drivers shaping land use change and land use conflicts, will offer innovative insight into these complexities as well as the analytical and practical tools that are needed to make the landscape approach operational.

The project is led by Prof. dr. Lijbert Brussaard (contact person) and Prof. dr. Frans Bongers and was granted research funding in 2015.