SHiFT’s research partner meeting: Highlights from WP4 on trade-off scenario analysis 

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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. Researchers from SHiFT’s Work Package 4 on Trade-off Scenario Analysis (WP4) shed light on the synergies and trade-offs in the health, socio-economic, and environmental domains associated with food systems transformation. 

While transforming food systems toward sustainable healthy diets would be beneficial for both human and planetary health, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that could arise throughout the process. For example, more people consuming vegetables would improve nutritional outcomes, but could also result in higher food prices or increased fertilizer use. WP4 is assessing these potential trade-offs, working with stakeholders to find solutions that will minimize negative impacts.   

A mixed-methods approach 

Michiel van Dijk, WP4 Lead and Senior Researcher at Wageningen University and Research (WUR), explained the mixed-methods approach that WP4 is using to assess trade-off scenarios. The team is using national and global simulation models to quantify the impacts of dietary change on future health, food affordability, and the environment. Simulation modeling makes it possible to quantify and compare different diet and policy scenarios on a range of indicators across multiple sectors, and therefore provide insights on potential trade-offs and unexpected consequences of policies that aim to transform food systems.  

Like SHiFT’s other Work Packages, stakeholder input is critical for WP4. Stakeholder workshops have been organized in Bangladesh and in Viet Nam to discuss input data, modeling assumptions, and preliminary results to create a better understanding of the trade-offs associated with food systems transformation and inform policies and interventions that will support transitions toward sustainable healthy diets. 

Insights from Bangladesh 

To highlight preliminary findings from WP4, researchers presented recent work from Bangladesh. Thijs de Lange, Researcher at WUR, discussed modeling results that revealed trade-offs with environmental factors. Shifting from diets with a higher share of animal proteins to diets with a higher share of plant-based proteins (nuts and legumes) and vegetables and fruits is expected to result in less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions but higher phosphorous use.  

Expanding upon these findings, Olivier Ecker, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, highlighted that no single value chain—or combination of value chains—can effectively improve diets without producing sustainability trade-offs.  Additional investment in sustainable production methods would be needed to reduce the increasing demand for fertilizer associated with more plant-based diets.   

Next steps 

Moving forward, WP4 will refine their analyses from Bangladesh and Viet Nam in 2024. Following stakeholder feedback, revised results will be presented and discussed at events in both countries. These meetings will generate awareness and insights about the complexities and trade-offs of food systems transformation, contributing to policies and interventions that will pave the way for a healthier, more sustainable future. 

Watch the video below to learn more about Work Package 4.

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

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

Header image: Local vegetable market in Khulna, Bangladesh. Photo by M. Yousuf Tushar/WorldFish from Flickr

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