What is next after CGIAR A4NH in Vietnam: Promoting healthy diets through systematic food system transformation

Retailers at a traditional market in Vietnam (photo credit: ILRI)

The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) is getting ready to wrap up its five-year work in Vietnam and gearing up to more robust One CGIAR initiatives on Protecting human health through a One Health approach (One Health) and Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food System Transformation (SHiFT) Initiative. Through a closing workshop on 25 November 2021, the A4NH managing partners sat down with relevant international and national government partners, and stakeholders to look back at the implementation years of A4NH and discuss how One Health and SHiFT align with existing work and the country’s food system transformation pathway.

Global and regional development brought Vietnam immense growth in the past decade. As economic development improved, so did population and urbanization rates. This meant that the country had to keep-up quickly with these changes and in the process, it also highlighted challenges in terms of nutrition and food safety.

Throughout the years, A4NH has worked under five flagship research areas, four of which were implemented in Vietnam: Food Systems for Healthier Diets; Food Safety; Supporting Policies, Programs, and Enabling Research Through Action; and Improving Human Health. In these programs, A4NH researchers were able to synergize with relevant actors to find multiple entry points for healthy transitions in diets, understanding consumer behavior, provide inputs for policy development, translating research to impact, and characterizing agriculture’s, including livestock’s, impact to human health.

The meeting was opened by Vu Thanh Liem, deputy director general, International Coorperation Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam. He started the opening by recognizing he contribution of A4NH program to the Vietnam ‘in the past year, the A4NH program has joined hands with other CGIAR centres and international partners to support MARD’s dialogues on food systems transformation at the national and regional levels to identify key national priorities and solutions towards more sustainable, transparent and responsible food systems. We hope that One CGIAR’s new initiatives will contribute to providing policymakers and the public with more scientific evidence, offering more livelihood options to people and better managing water resources, improving human health, nutrition and infectious diseases while protecting the environment, conserving natural resources and responding to climate change.’

“The close partnership between A4NH researchers and local stakeholders facilitated by the Alliance and the National Institute of Nutrition proved to be crucial in A4NH support to countries’ abilities to deliver on national and regional goals related to transformation of food systems to deliver better quality and healthier diets,” says Inge Brouwer, leader, Food Systems for Healthier Diets Flagship of A4NH, Wageningen University.

The final year of A4NH and this closing workshop was faced with unprecedented challenges brought by COVID-19. The global pandemic put more pressure in the food system, highlighting the need for better health and a resilience supply and value chain for food products. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were lockdowns that hampered food supply and have impacted not just livelihoods but diets especially in far flung communes in Vietnam.

In fact, results of the years-long work of A4NH fittingly culminated in contributing to Vietnam’s roadmap for food system transformation, as part of its commitment after the UN Food System Summit. The A4NH-supported rural to urban transect Food System Profiles in Northern Vietnam served as a baseline in providing an overview of the current challenges and opportunities to develop entry points in policy development and socio-economic planning post-Summit.

Going forward, new synergies on One Health and SHiFT will define mainstreaming sustainable healthy diets while protecting inclusive health, environment, and livelihoods opportunities for all sectors. These initiatives help countries transition better from existing food systems while adapting to global drivers and environmental changes. These helps safeguard biodiversity and access to livelihood opportunities while continuously working on better diets and nutrition while supporting agricultural development.

A4NH in Vietnam is being coordinated by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, support from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Bioversity International, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and Wageningen University & Research. The research managers have closely worked with government agencies, universities, international and local research organizations, and various platforms.

After the culmination of A4NH, new initiatives like SHiFT and One Health will further strengthen collaboration with partners in Vietnam. Inge says that this is an opportunity to jointly contribute to policy support and coalition building for implementing the Vietnam food system pathway and to deliver evidence for diverse game-changing solutions for food system transformations towards sustainable healthy diets.

(The post was written by Ysabel Anne Lee, communications officer with the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT with additional editing by Chi Nguyen, communications officer, ILRI).