Coherence or cross-purposes? Building national coalitions for transformative evidence-based policies

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Despite well-intentioned policies and economic growth over the last decade, major inequalities persist within many low- and middle-income countries. Approximately 3 billion people cannot afford a healthy diet, and poor and disadvantaged people face heightened risks from food and nutrition insecurity and inadequate access to clean water and sanitation. Rising poverty, rapid urbanization, and political conflicts continue to exacerbate systemic inequities in access to food, water, and land — particularly for women and youth. The degradation of natural systems and broader climate change impacts compound the risks to people’s livelihoods and vital food systems.

Achieving transformations that lead to food security, healthy diets, poverty reduction, climate resilience, and gender equality for all will require better integration of food, land, and water systems and the policies that shape them. Yet policies remain fragmented and uncoordinated across sectors. Successful transformation requires policies that optimize benefits and synergies while navigating complex trade-offs among interlinked systems. It also requires coordination, cooperation, and accountability among diverse stakeholders. Without coherent, evidence-driven planning, future policies for food, land, and water systems could lead to poor investment decisions, ineffective national programming, and growing inequalities.

A lack of policy coherence can heighten existing vulnerabilities, as happened when the health crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic rapidly became a wider crisis of poverty and inequity. Governments quickly implemented lockdowns to prevent contagion and save lives, but the focus on health worked at cross-purposes to other welfare and environmental goals. In many African countries, for example, movement restrictions and market closures limited access to income, especially for informal sector workers and food traders, many of whom are women[1]. When schools closed, children lost access to nutritious school meals and safe water supplies as well as educational opportunities. While restrictions were necessary, better coordination of trade and movement policies within and across countries could have helped ensure livelihoods and reduce health risks.

To meet this challenge, CGIAR offers a wide range of expertise on food, land, and water systems at country and regional levels, and a strong body of evidence on policy design, implementation, and evaluation for impact. CGIAR also has developed analytic tools and built evidence on pathways to benefiting and empowering vulnerable people, including women and youth, in diverse places and contexts. The proposed CGIAR Initiative on National Policies and Strategies for Food, Land, and Water Systems Transformation will build coalitions with governments, the private sector, funding organizations, and civil society groups to champion and strengthen capacity for more collaborative, evidence-based, and coordinated strategizing, policy development, and implementation — to ensure more sustainable and equitable outcomes.

The Initiative will work across four key areas:

“Planning occurs in ‘silos’ that fail to adequately consider the critical linkages between policy domains. This has to change — policy coherence is crucial to ensuring we can tackle the next crisis, which is surely just around the corner.”

– Dr. Alan Nicol, Strategic Program Director for Water, Growth, and Inclusion at IWMI and project co-lead

CGIAR-led research and analysis on policy coherence illustrate how unified approaches can be used to accomplish such complex goals. Policy mechanisms to support climate-smart approaches, for example, can promote the dual objectives of food security and climate mitigation and adaptation; India’s National Agroforestry Policy exemplifies this coordination between government agencies, farmers, the private sector, and other stakeholders to improve sustainability, productivity, and livelihoods within the agricultural landscape[2]. A review of policies in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda found that integrating policies to address climate change and the livestock sector has potential to reduce the sector’s climate risks and limit greenhouse gas emissions as demand rises for animal-source foods[3]. Across Africa, the CAADP experience in promoting agriculture-led development provides strong evidence on the role that cooperation and accountability mechanisms can play in increasing investment and improving outcomes.

CGIAR researchers will work with partners in six countries to develop new tools and adapt existing CGIAR tools to support governments to make investment decisions, identify their trade-offs and opportunities, and prioritize development programs. The collaborative design of such transformative programs and strategies will allow crowding-in of funding and other support from donors, development partners, and the private sector in pursuit of common multiple objectives.

Country-level evidence-based policymaking works when researchers in country can work closely with governments. CGIAR researchers aim to expand capacity for informed and coordinated decision-making at the national and regional levels by strengthening country- and regional-level public policy institutions, researchers, and policymakers. This will include capacities in generating data and evidence for policymaking and investment prioritization, use of planning tools, and gender responsive policymaking and investments. The Initiative will work with regional partners and citizen groups to develop monitoring, knowledge management, and accountability tools that strengthen government accountability and citizen engagement. The Initiative will have a strong focus on equity and inclusion and promote the engagement and leadership of women in more gender-equal policy processes and outcomes. In Colombia, for example, the Initiative will focus on formalizing land tenure rights for rural women, while programmatic work in Nigeria will support the implementation of the National Strategy for Women in Agriculture. Learning and feedback will create a policy-innovation exchange across countries and regions and build a community of policy practice. Together, these advances will build a more unified evidence base to support transformative strategies.

“Governments around the world are in this eternal struggle to achieve multiple pro-poor outcomes including food and nutrition security, job creation, and gender equality for their people, while protecting the environment. This Initiative will provide the tools to support them to achieve this.”

– Dr. Jemimah Njuki, former Director for Africa, International Food Policy Research Institute

The need to address the complex relationships between the food, land, and water sectors — for food system transformation and to support progress toward all 17 Sustainable Development Goals — has never been greater. The coalition-based approach will help ensure that science-based evidence can be translated into coherent, viable investments and measurable improvements in people’s lives. Amid unprecedented crises and challenges, an integrated approach to food, land, and water systems is needed to deliver transformative, equitable outcomes for all.


Authored by: Jemimah Njuki, former Director for Africa, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and Alan Nicol (Initiative co-lead), Strategic Program Director – Water, Growth, and Inclusion, International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Header image: Women fill water vessels from a concrete Taankas, underground rainwater harvesting tanks, built in the Thar Desert near Phalodi. Photo by Dieter Telemans/Panos.

[1] Resnick, D. “COVID-19 Lockdowns Threaten Africa’s Vital Informal Urban Food Trade.” In COVID-19 and Global Food Security, eds. J. Swinnen and J. McDermott. Washington, DC: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

[2] Carter, S., B. Arts, K.E. Giller, C.S. Golcher, K. Kok, J. De Koning, M. Van Noordwijk, et al. 2018. “Climate-Smart Land Use Requires Local Solutions, Transdisciplinary Research, Policy Coherence and Transparency.” Carbon Management 9 (3): 291–301.

[3] Ashley, L. 2019. Climate and Livestock Policy Coherence Analysis in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda. CCAFS Working Paper 268. Wageningen, the Netherlands: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

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