Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Friday, September 15, 2023

Sustainable Agri-Food Systems Intelligence – Science-Policy Interface

Sustainable Agri-Food Systems Intelligence – Science-Policy Interface (SASi-SPi) is a 5-year € 11.5 million project with the overall objective to contribute to the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of Aquatic and Agri-Food Systems in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

SASi-SPi is a social-sciences, economics in particular, driven project and is primarily open to each of the 35 AGRINATURA member organisations, of which SLU is one. The project management unit is responsible for the coordination and implementation and is led by SLU.

A "sister" project, named SASi (€ 10 m) is coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The two teams, AGRINATURA and FAO, will work in close collaboration and coordination on the overall project and each work stream.

Previous food systems assessments

Further to the Food Systems at Risk report (2019, # 132 p.), to which some 50 researchers contributed, and at the request of the European Union, CIRAD and FAO developed a food system analysis framework and assessment methodology applicable on a national and infranational level.

Under a partnership between the European Union, FAO, and CIRAD, in cooperation with national and food systems stakeholders, a large-scale assessment and consultation on food systems was initiated in more than 50 countries, as a first step towards transforming them.

The food systems assessments (FSA) were based on a systemic approach that took into consideration food systems as a whole and examine the many interactions across four key sectors: nutrition and food security, economic well-being, territorial equity, and environmental protection.
  • The FSA started with 8 pilot countries (Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Madagascar, Malawi, Nepal, and Senegal) and was extending to over 50 countries.
  • The assessments triggered a participatory process involving around 20 researchers from CIRAD, almost 300 FAO consultants and teams of consultants from each of the 50-odd countries, in addition to national institutional focal points and civil society. The approach facilitated knowledge sharing between national and international experts.
  • In the context of the 2021 UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the methodology was first applied by the eight candidate countries, and subsequently extended to more than 40 others.
"The aim was to help stakeholders build a shared vision of the issues surrounding food system sustainability and foster systemic, intersectoral debate in order to support public policy building. Our crosscutting analyses in eight countries revealed more similarities - in terms of food system functioning and sustainability challenges - between territories in different countries than between those in a given country. This highlights the need to rethink food system pathways on a territory scale, not just on a national scale. To be able to conduct the usual disciplinary and thematic analyses, pinpoint truly transformative levers for action and progress in terms of building strategies and action plans, these assessments must be continued in a participatory way within territories." Ninon Sirdey, economist at CIRAD and co-coordinator of the Food System Assessment (FSA) project.

The Food Systems assessment in EU partner countries where FNSSA was a sectoral priority, were built on the lessons learned in terms of sectoral inclusiveness (e.g., health, education, social affairs, transport, energy) and interaction needed across regional, national, provincial, municipal, community multiple levels. 

Assessment of the assessments

Evaluation of the EU support to sustainable agri-food systems in partner countries 2014-2020 - Volume II: Case Studies # 166 p.

Various interviewees, from the government, the EU delegation and member states as well as other development partners, expressed their appreciation for it. The two-day virtual multi-stakeholder webinar and draft findings are considered useful. With the food systems roadmap having been adopted in 2021, this assessment was considered to help maintain momentum to move on its implementation, and a useful advocacy tool moving forward. (page 58)

The FAO CIRAD food systems assessments were meant to inform the round of programming (2021-2027). Delays and concerns over the quality of some of these assessments prevented the full exploitation in use by the EUDs.  

There were interesting efforts undertaken by the African Forum on Agricultural (AFAAS), funded through the DeSIRA CAADP-XP4 programme, that aim to capitalize on experiences in research and innovation projects through the Country Fora AFAAS has established. 

"While the first 8 reports were based on a participatory process in the respective countries, the following reports were mainly written by consultants: too quickly offered and too readily accepted. There was little effort at strengthening domestic actors’ capacity. Possibly, formulation, capacity development, consultation and dialogue efforts could have been better harmonised " INTPA Anonymus

Aimed at informing dialogues, these assessments analysed interlinked issues related to food security, nutrition, and health; inclusive economic growth; equity and territorial balance. Emerging findings were captured in a synthesis brief released in September 2021 which outlined two key points (see: EC (2021). Food Systems Assessment. Working towards the SDGs. Interim Synthesis Brief. September 2021.): 

  1. the need to better consider the influence of drivers such as political stability, policy, fair governance, demography, education, and infrastructure and 
  2. the need to embrace a broader multi- sectoral approach involving health, education, social affairs, transport, and energy services operating from national to community level. (page 128

The breadth and depth of next assessments are currently fine-tuned to better equip EU Delegations with the information necessary to address SAFS transformation.  (page 129)

European Commission, Directorate-General for International Partnerships, Engel, P., Slob, A., Laanouni, F., et al., EU support to sustainable agri-food systems in partner countries 2014-2020, Publications Office of the European Union, 2022, # 108 p

The drastic reduction – from EUR 1.250 million to EUR 350 million – in SAFS related funding from the last (2014-2020) to the current MFF (2021-2027) has posed a major challenge. The lack of (internal) human resources and continued prioritisation has limited the ability to capitalise on knowledge management and internal lessons learned. Support to and regular knowledge and information exchange with EUDs was also limited by time constraints on both sides. (page 23)

The EU supports and maintains many of the food security organisations as a key donor, but navigation and building coordinated action takes time and capacity. (page 23)

The increased strategic importance of food security on global and European political agendas could help reverse the trend of shrinking European budgets explicitly allocated to food and nutrition security. It has proved difficult, however, to maintain a strong coherent agenda for sustainable and inclusive development in a crisis context. The risk of a loss of political traction for transformation towards agri-food systems is real, as the greening obligations foreseen by the Farm to Fork Strategy are relaxed for a focus on food production unhampered by environmental constraints. Balancing short-term emergency responses with investments in longer-term resilience is a challenging task for policymakers. Nonetheless, the evaluation finds a strong momentum for boosting EU support towards the transformation of agri-food systems in response to unfolding geopolitical and regional food crises outside the EU. (page 8)

Given the complexity and contested nature of agri-food system challenges and the limits of EU leverage, the outcomes and intermediary impacts of EU contributions have been mostly scattered and tentative. Notably, while the EU supported policy changes and institutional reforms, the intensity, inclusiveness and outcomes of the policy dialogue have differed across countries, with government ownership and follow-up emerging as critical determinants for success. (page 8)

European actors insufficiently invested in developing a common approach to sustainable agri-food systems and jointly fostering agri-food knowledge and innovation systems . The EU needs to improve collaboration and alignment amongst European actors and intensify its investment in agri-food knowledge and innovation, if it wishes to achieve lasting system-level changes and meet its transformative ambitions. EU policy frameworks and the powerful financial instruments behind these are a good basis for strategic leadership on transformation towards sustainable agri-food systems. Yet, to harness these, the EU must strengthen linkages within its portfolios and with the support provided by other partners, while respecting national governments’ ownership in defining national food system pathways and tailoring EU interventions to meet the aspirations, ambitions and initiatives of local food system actors. (page 9)

The evaluation finds that EU support to food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture has only, to a limited extent, developed a more integrated, systemic approach to transformation towards  sustainable agri-food systems at the global and country levels. (...) implementation difficulties, such as failing to target common beneficiaries, lack of synchronisation of complementary initiatives, or lack of cooperation between implementing partners, often obstruct the timely realisation of synergies intended in EU country portfolios. (page 10

The Heads of Agriculture and Rural Development (HARD) group could be a forum for policy 
alignment and coordination on sustainable agri-food systems. However, currently, it does not ensure real dialogue or strategic discussion. Additionally, formal consultation mechanisms between the sustainable agri-food systems and fisheries unit at the Directorate-General for International Partnerships (F3) and other Directorates are experienced as rigid and mostly limited to individual consultations of thematic or geographic specialists on specific text proposals and documents. Finally, EU Delegations indicate a lack of capacity and time to upgrade their coordinating role in country partnerships to a more political and strategic one. (page 10

Some recommendations (extract)
  • Maintain a clear strategic focus at country and regional level on the most vulnerable food system actors, namely, small producers, women, youth and small and medium-sized enterprises. This entails combining diverse instruments and support modalities in country portfolios, including social protection measures, to improve community resilience and strengthen support along the entire value chain. 
  • Develop a common understanding of context-specific challenges and opportunities at country and regional level, by supporting joint agri-food systems’ assessments and strengthening the use of foresight and scenario studies and political economy analyses. This would enable the joint identification of the most promising entry points for supporting sustainable agri-food system-level changes.
  • Consolidate mechanisms that allow for learning from experience within the EU and from EU joint efforts to support sustainable agri-food systems at the national, regional and global level (R3 .3), especially to learn from the broad range of bottom-up programming instruments already developed by EU partners both inside and outside Europe. (page 10-11

Example: Kenya

There is no complete and recent agri-food systems assessment available for Kenya, although several studies have been done at sub-national level. FAO initiated a food-systems analysis in 2021, but the approved report was not yet available for the evaluation team (April-July 2022). The team derived key features of the country’s agri-food systems from the various Government of Kenya (GoK) and international organisation documents.  (page 58)

A striking observation is that most documents do not present a multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional approach in line with a food-systems approach, but rather a more sectoral approach. More comprehensive integrated analyses can sometimes be found, but only at sub-national level. This includes the ECDPM study on Nakuru county. (ECDPM (2021). Understanding and managing trade-offs in food systems interventions: the case of Nakuru county, Kenya. February 2021). (page 58)

While there are many partial assessments of important issues related to sustainable agri-food systems, some overarching issues are not very openly debated yet, such as Kenya’s population growth in relation to carrying capacity (especially in ASAL areas), and the rapidly increasing competition for scarce natural resources with conflicting interests of bigger agro-entreprises and smallholders. In addition, the co-existence of large ranches skived off as Conservancies and the rights of herders to pasture is an emotive subject and has been the trigger for conflict in various parts of Kenya, particularly in Laikipia Country. (page 62)


In collaboration with a sister project led by the FAO Investment Centre (SASI project), a five-year project, the Sustainable Agrifood Systems Intelligence – Science-Policy Interface (SASI-SPI), led by Agrinatura (11.5M euros) currently involves a number of CIRAD researchers, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), the ISA Universidade de Lisboa, Ghent university and iCRA.

They work on three lines of research :
  1. Policy support for the EU (DG-INTPA) through its wide-ranging multidisciplinary scientific expertise in terms of food system inclusiveness and sustainability.
  2. Building new narratives and frames of reference to support the transition to sustainable food systems. Crosscutting studies will be conducted of the priority topics identified by the food system assessments, such as agroecology and pastoralism.
  3. Constructing models to support the transition to more sustainable food systems, based on participatory, scientific decision-making processes. Those models will be tested empirically in several territories in three candidate countries (Sierra Leone, Colombia and Bhutan), on a "transition challenge" pinpointed by the government.
"The SASI-SPI project intends to generate collective intelligence on various scales, to inform and support the transition to more sustainable, more inclusive food systems", Isabelle Vagneron, economist and CIRAD correspondent for the project, stresses.

Interview (20/04/2023) with Professor Kostas Karantininis about SASi-SPi:

"The SASI-SPI project is deeply a policy project. What makes it even more attractive is its direct and engaging nature. We will be providing 'intelligence' in short and long notice, at country level and broad themes, directly to policy makers, primarily in Brussels and in the intervention countries in the South (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Together with our FAO partners we will be one "intelligence" and science support mechanism for the European Commission on issues related to agri-food systems transformation, sustainability and climate change. The activities will be cross-cutting and bring together researchers, policy makers and agri-food system stakeholders to generate applied knowledge, and policy support"
"This is not a research project per se. Yet it is founded on research, and it provides ample room (and funding) for research, especially through the part led by SLU and coordinated by the SLU Department of Plant Breeding. This part is about generating narratives and reference frameworks on key thematic issues, policy options, institutional processes and trade-offs informing the transition to sustainable aquatic and agri- food systems." Professor Rodomiro Ortiz, Department of Plant Breeding, SLU

SASi-SPi work streams

The Project Management Unit is responsible for the coordination and implementation. Led by the Department of People & Society, SLU. Professor Kostas Karantininis, is the project director.

The SASi-SPi has four specific objectives and corresponding work streams
  1. Provides fast-track intelligence within 72 hours upon request – twice per month. Led by the French agricultural research and cooperation organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions (CIRAD).
  2. Develops intelligence on four cross-cutting themes and will establish Science-Policy Labs to test and implement policy recommendations. Led by the Department of Plant Breeding, SLU. Professor Rodomiro Ortiz, SLU, is the coordinator.
  3. Works in close collaboration with the FAO team and the corresponding European Commission delegations on three countries. So far, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and probably Bhutan have been selected. Led by CIRAD, France.
  4. Provides communication in site and overall, for the project. Led by iCRA.
The SASI-SPI project was promoted at the UN Food Systems Summit +2 Stocktaking Moment, held in Rome from 24 to 26 July 2023. The SASI (Sustainable Agrifood Systems Intelligence) initiative recommends working at the science/policy interface, to build more sustainable, more inclusive food systems.


Additional References

Sirdey Ninon, David-Benz Hélène, Deshons Alice. 2023. Methodological approaches to assess food systems sustainability: A literature review. Global Food Security, 38:100696, 11 p.

David-Benz Hélène, Sirdey Ninon, Deshons Alice, Orbell Claire, Herlant Patrick. 2022. Cadre conceptuel et méthode pour des diagnostics nationaux et territoriaux - Activer la transformation durable et inclusive de nos systèmes alimentaires. Rome : FAO-CIRAD, 70 p. ISBN 978-92-5-135754-5 ; 978-2-87614-773-7

Upcoming event:

3 October (11-12 CET).
EU Case studies on co-creation for sustainable food systems

Examples of how different stakeholders are collaborating in Europe for sustainable food systems. 

This SFSN monthly workshop will host Hugo de Vries, research director at INRAE and task leader in the SCAR Working Group on Sustainable Food Systems. His presentation of the case studies mapped by the EU project FOODPaths will be followed by a networking session where you will be able to interact and pitch case studies that might have gone unnoticed until now. 

More than 70 (so far!) exemplary case studies have been mapped in Europe by partners of FOODPathS, an EU-funded project focused on creating the prototype of a public-private European Partnership for Sustainable Food Systems. These case studies, which are not yet public, will provide an inside look at the various European multi-stakeholder initiatives impacting the sustainability of food systems.

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