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More than 1.3 billion people live in Africa, a number expected to almost double to 2.5 billion by 2050. Food insecurity and resource degradation in a changing climate are pressing concerns with geopolitical significance. For decades, agricultural researchers have been alarmed by the wide gap between the yields that are technically possible on African research stations, and those that are typically achieved in African farmers’ fields. Leading researchers from Africa and internationally (including Australia) have long understood that it is insufficient to just focus on single interventions in one part of the system (e.g. better seed varieties, or improving fertiliser application). Durable, meaningful improvements can only be effected by understanding the whole farming system, including the policy and market contexts within which farmers operate.