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Dhaka Tribune

New research initiative for healthy diets in Bangladesh

Poor-quality diets are associated with all forms of malnutrition

Update : 09 Nov 2022, 10:19 PM

Food systems are not providing sustainable healthy diets for everyone, everywhere. Currently, healthy diets are unaffordable for three billion people worldwide.

Poor-quality diets are associated with all forms of malnutrition—including undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, and overweight and obesity—as well as 11 million premature adult deaths each year. Although food systems are an important source of employment, many jobs are in the informal sector, where they offer low, uncertain income and poor labor conditions, especially for women and youth.

Food systems also significantly drive environmental degradation and biodiversity loss, and account for more than 25% of greenhouse gas emissions.

On Wednesday, the CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food Systems Transformation (SHiFT) held its official launch in Bangladesh, aimed at working closely with local, national, regional and global partners, and using an innovative, consumer-focused perspective to generate evidence on how to increase demand for and access to sustainable healthy diets.

Dr Alan de Brauw, senior research fellow at IFPRI, opened the launch by discussing the linkages between SHiFT and other CGIAR initiatives, and how SHiFT will strive to support the government of Bangladesh's policies toward food system transformation. 

He discussed SHiFT's desire to develop evidence that can be transformed into action to improve the diets of Bangladeshi consumers.

The chief guest at the launch, Shahiduzzaman Faruki, director general of the Food Planning and Monitoring Unit under the Ministry of Food, discussed the strong multisectoral coordination mechanism helping ministries in Bangladesh to work together to bring about a positive food system transformation.

He said SHiFT wishes to generate new evidence about potential innovations that can bring about a positive food system transformation.

Dr Inge Brouwer, associate professor at Wageningen University & Research, emphasized the need to better understand consumer behaviour as well as the food environment in order to discover food system innovations that provide access to healthy diets, especially for marginalized populations. As these will be complex and integrated bundles of different interventions along the food system, governance of such changes is important and supporting building the capacity of governments and other agents to facilitate and manage such changes is key for SHiFT

The launch in Dhaka introduced SHiFT to key stakeholders and discussed how to build collaboration so the research is well aligned with food systems transformation processes in Bangladesh. Participants will learn about SHiFT's planned activities in Bangladesh, which span five focus areas, or work packages.

Consumers and their food environments will characterize food consumption and dietary patterns among marginalized populations and identify key drivers and inequalities, including between genders. This work will inform the co-design, testing, and evaluation of scalable solutions in the food environment-consumer nexus.

Micro, small, and medium enterprises and the informal sector will identify and promote scalable, evidence-based innovations and policies to help these actors increase their delivery of sustainable nutritious foods and provide decent employment for women and youth in particular.

Governance and inclusive food systems will identify policy “lock-ins” (intractable decisions) and barriers that disrupt food system contributions to healthy diets, fair livelihoods, and sustainable environments, and propose context-specific and evidence-based solutions.

Trade-off scenario analysis will develop, test, and apply decision-support tools to analyze trade-offs, and use those tools to raise stakeholders' awareness and capacity to understand and navigate the potential tensions resulting from food system innovations and policies.

Catalyzing food systems transformation will engage in national food systems processes to identify, co-design, support, and learn from context-specific pathways for food systems transformation toward sustainable healthy diets.

Over the next several months, CGIAR researchers will begin to develop connections with existing networks and discuss with stakeholders how their work can add value and contribute to activities, capacity development, and other multisectoral actions supporting the Government of Bangladesh's food systems transformation agenda.

In 2022, CGIAR launched a new portfolio of initiatives to achieve its mission of delivering science and innovation that advances transformation of food, land, and water systems in a climate crisis. SHiFT examines food systems from the consumer perspective, in contrast to the supply-side focus of other CGIAR Initiatives.

SHiFT is co-led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (the Alliance) in close collaboration with Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and with contributions from the International Potato Center (CIP).

SHiFT combines high-quality nutritional and social science research capacity with development partnerships to generate innovative, robust solutions that contribute to healthier, more sustainable dietary choices and consumption of sustainable healthy diets. It builds on CGIAR's unparalleled track record of agricultural research for development, including ten years of work on food systems and nutrition under the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), particularly under the research flagship Food Systems for Healthier Diets.

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