Transforming Agrifood Systems in South Asia


Home to one-quarter of humanity — one-fifth of whom are youth — South Asia has the world’s largest concentration of poverty and malnutrition. The Green Revolution positioned South Asia to produce one-quarter of the world’s consumed food, but the region’s agrifood systems today face formidable poverty reduction, climate change and environmental challenges. Significant hurdles remain to securing an adequate and affordable supply of diverse foods necessary for sustainable healthy diets. Social, economic and geographic inequalities create barriers from production to consumption, disproportionately affecting the poor. Unhealthy food consumption is rising, with many nutritious foods too costly for the poor.

South Asia’s predominantly rice-based farming systems are threatened by unsustainable groundwater withdrawal. Natural resource degradation, low resource use efficiency, and agriculture-based air pollution undermine sustainability and human health. These issues contribute to rural out-migration — particularly of youth — resulting in rising labor scarcity and increased production costs. Many farmers suffer from weak markets, poor access to extension, limited access to irrigation, and insufficient policy support. These issues contribute to nearly 22 million hectares being fallowed across South Asia following the monsoon-season rice harvest.


This Initiative aims to propel evidence into impact through engagement with public and private partners across the production-to-consumption continuum, to achieve productive, environmentally-sound South Asian agrifood systems that support equitable access to sustainable healthy diets.


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Facilitating agrifood systems transformation through inclusive learning platforms, public data systems and partnerships: building new and enhancing existing learning platforms; improving the evidence base; increasing quality data availability and accessibility; and demonstrating the value of integrated agrifood systems datasets.
  • Transforming agroecosystems and rural economies to boost income, generate jobs and support diversified food production within environmental boundaries: generating linkages between farmers, landscapes and markets to diversify agricultural production, increase farmers’ incomes and foster rural entrepreneurship within environmental boundaries.
  • Improving access to and affordability of sustainably produced healthy foods through evidence and actions across the food system: creating favorable environments for diversification; improving access to inputs for and marketability of sustainable nutritious food; and improving access to healthy food for the poor through changes in food retail environments.
  • Understanding behavioral and structural determinants of sustainable healthy diets: studying dietary practices of food consumers; identifying determinants of food choices; and testing innovations to support consumption of sustainable healthy diets.
  • Building resilience and mitigating environmental impact: examining 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.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Sub-national governments, donors, the private sector or development partners co-develop knowledge systems and engage with networks reaching at least 1,000 stakeholders and decision-makers to inform at least four policies, programs or market interventions supporting agrifood systems transformation.
  2. Data-informed actions supporting agrifood systems are implemented by sub-national governments, donors, the private sector or development partners, encouraging agrifood systems change in at least eight of the Initiative’s learning locations.
  3. Farmers implement improved farming practices or diversify production systems on at least 1.42 million hectares, averting 16.24 million tons CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Innovations in entrepreneurial rural service provision markets and public and private extension systems are supported to accelerate uptake of improved farm management practices and production diversification by at least 1.16 million farmers, including 400,000 women.
  5. Business models supporting farm product aggregation, better pricing for farmers at the farmgate and shortened value chains benefit at least 190,000 farmers, including 95,000 women.
  6. At least three food product supply chains are targeted to reduce food waste or financial losses for food distributers, processors or retailers.
  7. At least 10 local governments engage in efforts to reshape rural food environments to support access to affordable and nutritious food.
  8. At least two nutrition behavior change programs operated by governments or NGOs provide evidence-based guidance to consumers on sustainable healthy diets, benefiting 480,000 women.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


Overall nutrition is improved for 49.9 million people, as diversified farm production improves dietary diversity, improved retail environments improve access to nutritious foods, and nutrition-sensitive social protection programs support better diets.

Uptake of information on healthy diets through nutrition program platforms targeting rural women with new nutrition content further supports improvements to nutrition and health.


Uptake of sustainable agricultural practices and crop diversification by farmers increases system productivity, intensity and efficiency and farm incomes, benefiting 3.26 million people. Resilience to weather shocks is also improved, preventing farmers from falling into transient poverty.


Around 49.9 million women benefit from health, nutrition, and other programs primarily targeting them, as well as gender-focused strategies that ensure that 35–50% of populations reached with agricultural innovations and activities are women.


Greenhouse gas emissions are mitigated through 1) increased availability of low-cost farm technologies that reduce energy use, mitigate emissions and sequester carbon; 2) diversification from rice; and 3) reduced energy consumption in irrigation through innovations generating cost parity for solar power, improved pump efficiencies and policies favoring renewable energy, averting 111.61 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.


Biodiversity, ecosystem services and soil health are improved through resource-conserving agriculture and farm- and landscape-level diversification, bringing 4.36 million hectares of land under sustainable management. This includes improvements in rice-wheat system efficiencies, diversification and cropping intensification through replacement of fallows with crops in current rice-fallow cropping sequences.


For more details, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: Jawahar, India. Photo by J. Turner/CCAFS.