Galvanizing Food Systems Transformation in South Asia

September 17, 2022India: The new initiative builds on the collective strengths of the CGIAR and brings together stakeholders to address key regional development challenges
In the race to make food production and consumption more sustainable, South Asia is key.

Home to a quarter of humanity – a fifth of whom are young people – the region has the highest concentration of poverty and malnutrition in the world. While South Asia produces a quarter of the food consumed in the world, its agri-food systems today face enormous challenges in terms of poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation, environmental health and biodiversity. Significant barriers remain to ensure an adequate and affordable supply of diverse foods needed for sustainable and healthy diets.

South Asia’s predominantly rice-based agricultural systems are crucial for food security and political and economic stability, but parts of this region are threatened by unsustainable groundwater abstraction – the region extracts a quarter of global groundwater – due to distorted food and energy policies. Farmers in South Asia are both contributors to and victims of climate change and extreme weather events that disproportionately affect resource-poor farmers and women farmers.

The region needs food systems that generate profits and incentivize farmers to produce nutritious food, while reducing prices for consumers who buy healthy products by shortening and reducing inefficiencies within value chains. A new CGIAR research initiative aims to address the challenges.

Transforming Agrifood Systems in South Asia (TAFSSA) is an integrated regional CGIAR initiative bringing together researchers and CGIAR partners to support actions that improve equitable access to sustainable and healthy diets; improving farmers’ livelihoods and resilience; and conserve land, air and water resources in South Asia. The effort will also collaborate with many other CGIAR research initiatives, which are being launched.

All staff involved in TAFSSA are from South Asia or have worked on agribusiness issues in the region for a decade or more. As such, team members have strong ties to program partners and have an intrinsic understanding of the myriad stakeholders in the region.

This, in turn, makes working steps within TAFSSA more accessible, through access and connection with expert sources and partners; an understanding of the cultural, economic and environmental factors in the countries concerned; and a more holistic understanding of the data they collect. The Initiative is truly rooted in the region and works daily with national partners.

More than 500 partners have co-developed TAFSSA. Many of these partners live and work in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. This number includes several strategic partner organizations in the public and private sectors, and non-governmental organizations working on nutrition and the environment. The TAFSSA team engaged with these organizations through extensive focus group meetings to establish its research agendas.

TAFSSA also builds on the experience of existing regional initiatives such as the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), POSHAN, the Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project and the Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience in South Asia (SoLAR-SA), among others.

TAFSSA is explicitly a regional initiative. It responds to unique and urgent agrifood systems challenges in the poorest and most malnourished region of the world, while tackling key agricultural productivity, market and environmental issues head-on. It was designed to integrate with other global CGIAR initiatives. This gives them the opportunity to tap into the existing and ongoing work of this team in the region.

TAFSSA includes five packages.

The first is to use different learning platforms that the CGIAR has already built and to develop new ones to create fair and evidence-based dialogues and help in the decision-making process for farmers, policymakers and the various organizations involved.

The second package aims to transform agro-ecosystems and rural economies in South Asia to increase incomes, create jobs and support more diversified food production. This work generates connections between farmers, landscapes and markets to diversify agricultural production, increase farmer incomes and foster rural entrepreneurship from intensified and mixed agricultural enterprises within environmental boundaries.

In the third package, aims to improve access to and affordability of sustainably produced healthy food through evidence and action across the food system. It works to create conducive market environments for the diversification of agricultural production by linking smallholders – with a focus on women and marginalized groups – to supply chains through aggregation models. .

The fourth builds on knowledge gained in previous packages and applies behavioral science to understand how to proliferate healthy eating practices in the region. This work package synthesizes the evidence that shapes eating behaviors and tests innovations to support the consumption of healthy and sustainable diets.

The fifth package focuses on building resilience to climate change and mitigating its impact. It examines how South Asia can produce healthy diets within an ecologically safe and socially equitable operating space, and taking into account ongoing climate change and farmers’ resilience to shocks.

The work packages are all linked and many of their objectives and outcomes integrate with those of the other packages, such as crop diversification and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Through TAFSSA, researchers, stakeholders, and organizations hope to showcase world-class quality research from South Asia. The work within TAFFSA is just beginning, but it draws on a wealth of experience, a strong history of partnerships and many opportunities for improvement within South Asian food systems.

Also read: India is on course to become the number one agricultural sector in the world: Minister of Agriculture, Mr Tomar

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