Capacity sharing to support food systems transformation

Sustainable Healthy Diets and partners launched a new capacity sharing program on food systems transformation in Viet Nam and Ethiopia.

The food systems approach is used to understand the dynamics of how food is produced and consumed, and also improve human health, livelihoods, and the management of planetary resources. To successfully adopt a food systems approach, stakeholders must share a mutual understanding of the concept. In 2023, Sustainable Healthy Diets and partners collaboratively developed a capacity sharing model in Viet Nam and Ethiopia to help more stakeholders effectively engage in national processes steering food systems transformation toward sustainable healthy diets.

A food systems approach is critical to helping achieve sustainable healthy diets for all—this approach can be used to identify the causes of current challenges and address them through sustainable solutions across the entire food system. It has been increasingly used to understand the dynamics of how food is produced and consumed, with a focus on achieving optimal outcomes for human health, social justice, economic endeavors, and planetary resources. Since the United Nations Food Systems Summit in 2021, this approach has become central to the policy and practice of many international development, research, and multilateral organizations, and in programs and policies aiming at improving food and nutrition security.

To successfully adopt a food systems approach, however, stakeholders must share a mutual understanding of food systems and related terminology. In 2023, researchers from the CGIAR Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets and partners co-developed a capacity sharing model in Viet Nam and Ethiopia that will enable more food systems actors to engage in the design, implementation, and governance of national pathways steering food systems transformation toward sustainable healthy diets.

After completing the Sustainable Healthy Diets e-course on Food Systems Governance, national partners suggested that Sustainable Healthy Diets work with them to develop a training of trainers (ToT) program to build capacity and collaboration around their respective national pathways. The ToT program aims to expand the pool of facilitators trained to carry out a (sub)national learning process using the food systems approach.

“The ToT program aims to build a common understanding of concepts related to food systems, including governance and sustainable healthy diets, and empower participants to assess the current state of food systems and the challenges of achieving transformation.” – Dr. Pham Thi Hanh Tho, Vice Director of the Center for Agrarian Systems Research and Development, Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences

By the end of 2023, experts in both countries had held design workshops where the content of the program, skills needed by participants, and how to launch the ToT program were discussed. They also identified partners to co-develop planning and programming.

In Viet Nam, the ToT program has followed three phases: (1) a food systems governance “plus” e-course, (2) online plenary sessions, and (3) an in-person workshop. As the program expands in 2024, it may take different directions depending on the country’s needs.

In Phase 1, participants in the e-course learned about the theoretical underpinnings of sustainable healthy diets through food systems transformation and the role of multistakeholder platforms (MSPs). This work is built on an earlier version of the e-course. In the “plus” course, researchers added country-specific context case studies and sessions with country experts. In 2023, 60 participants from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Viet Nam successfully completed the e-course.

In parallel with the Phase 1 e-course, the team conducted Phase 2, which consisted of online plenary sessions meant to help participants further solidify knowledge gained through the e-course and gain experience with practical tools. Phase 2 helped build relationships between ToT participants to create a community of trained facilitators. Topics covered by the online sessions included food system dynamics, the role of MSPs in food systems transformation, and ways to facilitate learning and change.

In Phase 3, researchers held an in-person workshop in Hanoi, which helped participants build skills to develop training materials using MSP processes. The 20 participants conducted a step-by-step food systems transformation analysis to address country-specific challenges, facilitated multistakeholder collaborations throughout different phases of a MSP, and developed a draft training program for specific target groups. They also reflected on past experiences in multistakeholder collaborations and on adult learning processes using different facilitation techniques.

The Initiative’s activities to develop and support the ToT program are closely connected with its other research work, including capacity assessment, stakeholder analysis, and participatory processes for foresight and trade-off analyses. As next steps, Sustainable Healthy Diets aims to support a small grant program involving local universities funding graduate-level students to conduct targeted research on how the food system is operating and transforming in Viet Nam and Ethiopia. This knowledge can then be incorporated into training materials used by the ToT network.

Header image: Workshops were held in Ethiopia and Viet Nam to design a country-specific training of trainers (ToT) program on food systems and agree on content, delivery methods, and target participants. Participants included researchers from Sustainable Healthy Diets, Strategic Partners, and other food systems stakeholders. Top photos from the Ethiopia workshop provided by Belay Terefe Mengesha/Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT. Bottom left and center photos from the two workshops in Vietnam provided by Thanh Thi Duong/Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and the right photo by Trang Do/Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences. 

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