SHiFT research partner meeting: Reflection with Strategic Partners

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In November 2023, the CGIAR Research Initiative on Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food Systems Transformation (SHiFT) held its first research partner meeting to share research findings, evaluate progress, and set goals for the future. Following two days of internal discussions, six of SHiFT’s Strategic Partners from Ethiopia and Viet Nam joined the meeting to reflect on SHiFT’s collaborations within the two countries.

Why is country engagement important to SHiFT?

Transforming food systems requires strategic collaboration between stakeholders across many sectors. SHiFT’s model is to align with a set of national partners from government that are tasked with implementing their national food systems transformation agenda, known as Strategic Partners, to collectively catalyze targeted changes in food systems that lead to more sustainable healthier diets.

Strategic Partners ensure that the Initiative’s activities align with national priorities and interests. Their expertise and local connections help accelerate the dissemination of evidence and solutions that emerge from SHiFT’s work and expand SHiFT’s country engagement beyond government institutions. Facilitating open dialogue with Strategic Partners enhances SHiFT’s capacity to effectively influence and support country-led food systems transformation processes.

A signed memorandum of understanding (MoU) between SHiFT and Strategic Partners formalizes the partnership. An MoU was signed with Strategic Partners in Viet Nam in September 2022 and in Ethiopia in June 2023. An MoU with partners in Bangladesh is still being discussed, which is why SHiFT’s third target country was not included in this meeting.

The Strategic Partners participate in SHiFT’s Country Coordination Units (CCU) in each country. The SHiFT Country Coordinator facilitates the CCU manages the relationship with the Strategic Partners to make sure that information, requests, and opportunities reach the right people so when action needs to be taken, it can be done quickly. Tuyen Thi Thanh Huynh is the SHiFT Country Coordinator in Viet Nam and Belay Terefe Mengesha is the SHiFT Country Coordinator in Ethiopia.

Country-Specific Insights

Viet Nam – From Viet Nam, the Strategic Partners included Dr. Dao The Anh, Vice President of the Vietnamese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (VAAS), Dr. Tran Cong Thang, Director General of the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development (IPSARD), and Dr. Truong Tuyet Mai, Vice-Director of the National Institute of Nutrition.  They emphasized SHiFT’s role in capacity sharing, particularly through research, multisectoral collaboration, and the recently launched training of trainers (ToT) program. Areas for improvement were identified, such as the need to translate research into more accessible formats and better align evidence with decision-making processes. Goals for SHiFT in Viet Nam include producing actionable recommendations relevant to local contexts and supporting the implementation of the National Action Plan.

Ethiopia – The Strategic Partners from Ethiopia included Mr. Adinew Abate, Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture Program Manager at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Masresha Tessema, Food Science and Nutrition Director at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute, and Dr. Mulugeta Teamir Senior Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Advisor at the Ministry of Agriculture. The Strategic Partners from Ethiopia underscored SHiFT’s contributions to food systems trainings, institutional capacity needs assessments, and the Ethiopia Food System Guideline. Suggestions were made to organize more multi-stakeholder dialogues and enhance the dissemination of research to inform policy actions. Priority areas for upcoming evidence generation include adolescents, food environments, and consumer behavior.

What’s next

As the Initiative moves forward, it is crucial to actively respond to the needs identified by Strategic Partners in each target country. Two immediate next steps were recognized. The SHiFT management team will reexamine the 2024 work plans to see how activities can be adjusted to incorporate the priorities identified by the Strategic Partners, like the ToT program in both countries and the food systems training manual in Ethiopia. The SHiFT management team will work with the Country Coordinators to plan dissemination meetings in the countries with the Strategic Partners to discuss the data and where the evidence can be useful in policy processes. Working closely with Strategic Partners is necessary for co-developing relevant, useful solutions that will support food systems transformation and make sustainable healthy diets accessible for all.

Watch the video below to hear more about SHiFT’s country engagement strategy from Mark Lundy, SHiFT Deputy Lead.

The International Food Policy Research Institute and the Alliance of Bioversity and CIAT lead SHiFT in close collaboration with Wageningen University and Research and with contributions from the International Potato Center. 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).

Header image: The dialogue between SHiFT and the Strategic Partners was translated in real-time into a graphic recording by Willemijn Lambert for See in Colors.  

This news item was written by Sydney Honeycutt, Communications Consultant. 

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