Engaging Countries to Link Research to Policy and Program Processes for Food System Transformation


by Namukolo Covic | December 17, 2020

Whether focusing on research or implementing programs, development partners must engage meaningfully to build momentum for progress on food systems transformation toward better nutrition and health. Decisions on actions require careful consideration of the big picture, including tradeoffs. Country leadership is critical to decisions on designing and implementing related policies, and programs. How can CGIAR engage meaningfully with key country stakeholders to build momentum toward attaining development goals?

Synergy through country engagement

Research for development, core to CGIAR’s mission, requires uptake and use of the evidence generated to contribute the momentum countries need.  This requires critical strategic and targeted engagement, a presence in relevant country and regional dialogues, and willingness to adapt and respond to emerging priorities.

A4NH has deliberately engaged with key country stakeholders using parallel but overlapping approaches. In Ethiopia, overlapping A4NH engagement activities have been deliberately structured to align for synergy, under the auspices of the Country Coordination and Engagement Unit; and the cluster of activities on Capacity Collaboration and Convening:

  • A4NH Country Coordination and Engagement: In Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Nigeria, A4NH has used a diet quality-led food systems approach to foster synergy on joint research with country stakeholders. A jointly set food systems research agenda is being addressed by A4NH and other stakeholders. Development partners including Alive & Thrive and World Food Program have used it to inform their work in coordination with government efforts.
  • Country dialogues: A4NH's presence in country dialogues helped identify entry points for research relevant to country needs. For example, A4NH contributes to work led by the Ethiopian Public Health Institute developing food-based dietary guidelines (FBDGs), which has been adopted by Parliament as a flagship project. Setting objectives for FBDGs considered the context that the agriculture sector is not diverse enough to provide affordable, accessible food baskets for most households. The guidelines therefore target food system actors on availability and accessibility, alongside promoting appropriate food choices by consumers. A4NH’s presence in country dialogues also informed relevant research on food environments, consumer choices and food safety.
  • Capacity strengthening on evidence generation and use: Complementary capacity strengthening has been aligned with other efforts. Nutrition leadership training held with the Ethiopian Nutrition Leaders Network (ENLN) and the African Nutrition Leadership Program included a food system perspective. Recognizing the participants' advisory roles in key ministries and stakeholder institutions, a symposium was strategically embedded within the training to address coordination and collaboration challenges and identify solutions. Participants have used symposium outcomes in drafting a proclamation for Ethiopia’s Food and Nutrition Council and National Food and Nutrition Coordination Agency. One ENLN leader commented,

“The ENLN training participants have been able to discover themselves and have been inspired and prepared to provide more for nutrition in Ethiopia. After the training, the participants have been able to contribute more to the write up of the Food and Nutrition Council and Agency establishment proclamation, emphasizing the critical role of nutrition leadership. In addition to facilitating the proclamation development, the team has been able to develop training materials for nutrition leadership and governance in the Ethiopian context which are in the final stage of endorsement. Once the proclamation receives government approval, Ethiopia therefore has a leadership training tool that will facilitate training the staff that can be deployed to provide nutrition leadership and coordination of programs and interventions in Ethiopia. Nutrition coordination at the sub-national level has been a challenge and it is important that this training is supported to help reach a critical mass of nutrition professionals with leadership training to foster improved nutrition coordination in Ethiopia.”

 -- Dr Sisay Sinamo, Senior Programme Manager, Seqota Declaration,

Federal Program Delivery Unit, Ministry of Health

When the SUN/CAADP functional capacity strengthening project was implemented, the Ethiopia SUN Focal Point was targeted for inclusion in the training, as were SUN and agriculture technical focal points from Nigeria, Bangladesh, Nepal, Senegal, Malawi and Zambia.

MSc students conduct most research at Ethiopian national universities. An A4NH MSc Research Grant Scheme was therefore an entry point to engage students and faculty encouraging contextual food systems research with a multiplier effect on systemic capacity strengthening. This included training for recipient students and their supervisors. Faculty feedback includes:

My participation has broadened my thinking about key and important concepts on food systems. It gave me insights on food systems research methods and approaches for healthier diets. This is helping me to identify and carry out food systems research. I am very encouraged and have conducted research with other disciplines within my University. There are several research articles produced and published as a result. Additionally, the training received helped me to effectively deliver the concepts and methods related to food environment through different food and nutrition courses at my university.”

-- Derese Tamiru, Lecturer Applied Human Nutrition,

Academic Center of Excellence for Human Nutrition, Hawassa University


MSc students of Applied Human Nutrition at the Academic Center of Excellence for Human Nutrition at Hawassa University were grant recipients. They were also supported through A4NH researchers co-supervising the projects. I was one of the academic advisers for two such MSc students with projects on comparing differences in nutritional status and diet diversity across three agro ecologies in Oromia, and on Fish production, handling and marketing in Abaya and Chamo Lakes Fish Producing Cooperatives. The benefit of such ways of connecting ongoing development partner research efforts with national academic institutions in my view are many. Besides the funding opportunity for students from resource poor families to pursue research projects without difficulty, it also helps to build national research and human resource capacity. Thirdly, it gives networking and joint learning for the development partner staff and national academic staff. The evidence generated will be published as part of the academic process providing additional mentorship. Our staff and students benefited from the associated training through the partnership adding systemic capacity."

-- Fikadu Reta Alemayehu, Assistant Professor, School of Nutrition,

Academic Center of Excellence for Human Nutrition, Hawassa University

Partner countries were brought into relevant global discussions. For the SUN/CAADP functional capacity strengthening project, jointly implemented with the SUN Secretariat and PATH, training retreats were strategically scheduled before major global meetings on food systems and nutrition to include participants on discussion panels. The meetings were the 2019 EAT Forum and the FAO/IFPRI global conference Accelerating the End of Hunger and Malnutrition.

Country Engagement for the United Nations Food Systems Summit

Development community attention has turned to informing the 2021 United Nations Food System Summit. CGIAR generates relevant evidence in many countries. “How can CGIAR engage most effectively in countries, contributing to positive food system transformations towards 2030?” A4NH is actively and proactively engaged in country dialogues, positioning research evidence for uptake, contributing to solutions.

Key Messages on Country Engagement

The above selected examples of A4NH engagement reflect how CGIAR can engage to help build momentum on food systems transformation for better nutrition and health outcomes:

  • Country engagement is a critical aspect of promoting positive momentum but must be strategic and targeted.
  • CGIAR presence in country dialogue can help identify entry points for relevant research positioned for uptake.
  • The CGIAR must leverage its global and regional engagement to bring LMIC voices into these dialogues.
  • Capacity strengthening should strategically include local academic institutions as a necessary aspect of country engagement on research.

Namukolo Covic coordinates A4NH country engagement work, and is a Senior Research Coordinator at IFPRI. She is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


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