26 September 2022, Asia: Home to one quarter of humanity — one-fifth of whom are youth — the region has the world’s largest concentration of poverty and malnutrition. While South Asia produces one quarter of the world’s consumed food, its agrifood systems today face formidable poverty reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation, environmental health, and biodiversity challenges. Significant hurdles remain to secure an adequate and affordable supply of diverse foods necessary for sustainable and healthy diets.
South Asia’s predominantly rice-based farming systems are crucial to food security and political and economic stability, but parts of this region are threatened by unsustainable groundwater withdrawal — the region extracts one-quarter of global groundwater — due to food and energy policy distortions. South Asia’s farmers are both contributors to and victims of climate change and extreme weather that disproportionately affect resource-poor and women farmers.
The region needs food systems that generate profits and incentivize farmers to produce nutritious foods, while also reducing prices for consumers purchasing healthy products by shortening and reducing inefficiencies within value chains. A new CGIAR Research Initiative aims to address challenges.
Transforming Agrifood Systems in South Asia (TAFSSA) is a CGIAR Regional Integrated Initiative bringing together CGIAR researchers and partners to support actions that improve equitable access to sustainable and healthy diets; improve farmers’ livelihoods and resilience; and conserve land, air, and water resources in South Asia. The effort will also collaborate with numerous other CGIAR research Initiatives, which are now launching.
All staff members involved in TAFSSA are either from South Asia or have been working on agri-food issues in the region for a decade or more. As such, the team members have deep connections with program partners, and have an intrinsic understanding of the myriad stakeholders in the region.
This, in turn, makes the stages of work within TAFSSA more attainable, through access to and connection with expert sources and partners; an understanding of the cultural, economic, and environmental factors in the countries involved; and a more holistic understanding of the data they gather. The Initiative is truly embedded within the region and working on a daily basis with national partners.
More than 500 partners 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-government organizations working on nutrition and the environment. TAFSSA’s team engaged with these organizations through in-depth focus group meetings to establish its research agendas.
TAFSSA also builds on the experience of existing regional Initiatives such as Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA), POSHAN, the Sustainable and Resilient Farming Systems Intensification (SRFSI) project, and Solar Irrigation for Agricultural Resilience in South Asia (SoLAR-SA), among others.
TAFSSA is explicitly a regional Initiative. It responds to unique and pressing agri-food systems challenges in the world’s most poverty- and malnutrition-dense region, while addressing key agricultural productivity, market, and environmental issues head-on. It was designed it to integrate with CGIAR’s other global Initiatives. This gives them an opportunity to tap into the existing, ongoing work by this team in the region.
TAFSSA comprises five packages.
The first involves using different learning platforms that CGIAR has built previously and developing new ones to create equitable, evidence-based dialogues and help in the decision making process for farmers, policymakers, and the various organizations involved.
The second package aims to transform South Asian agro-ecosystems and rural economies to boost income, generate jobs, and support more diverse food production. This work generates linkages between farmers, landscapes, and markets to diversify agricultural production, increase farmers’ incomes, and foster rural entrepreneurship from intensified and mixed farm enterprises within environmental boundaries.
In the third package, aims to improve access to and affordability of sustainably produced healthy foods through evidence and actions across the food system. It works to create favorable market environments for farm production diversification by linking smallholders — with an emphasis on women and marginalized groups — to supply chains through aggregation models.
The fourth builds on knowledge gained in the previous packages and applies behavioral sciences to understand how to proliferate healthy dietary practices in the region. This work package synthesizes evidence shaping dietary behaviors, and tests innovations to support consumption of sustainable healthy 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 environmentally safe and socially equitable operating space, and in consideration of ongoing climate change and farmers’ resilience to shocks.
The work packages are all interlinked, and many of their goals and outcomes integrate into those of the other packages, such as diversifying crops and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Through TAFSSA, researchers, stakeholders, and organizations hope to showcase the world-class, quality research coming out of South Asia. Work within TAFFSA is just beginning, but it builds upon a wealth of experience, a strong history of partnerships, and many opportunities for improvement within South Asian food systems.
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