Improving Food Security in Africa and Asia through Research, Capacity Building, and Outreach: One Project Ends, but the Legacy Continues

The legacy of local capacity building begun by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy at Michigan State University will continue on with the new Innovation Lab for Food Secuirty Policy, Research, Capacity and Influence.

For nearly forty-years, the Food Security Group (FSG) within Michigan State University’s Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics (AFRE) has worked closely with a range of funding partners to conduct rigorous research in food security policy and capacity building.  Chief among these partners - and standing out for their long-term support and the kind of work this makes possible - has been the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).  This legacy of collaboration, research, analysis, and policy development has been critical in addressing the food security challenges resulting from a rising global population, rapid urbanization, and profound shifts to food systems and diets throughout the world.

FSG’s rich history of collaboration with USAID was strengthened in July of 2013, when USAID funded the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy (FSP) in Michigan State University’s Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics (AFRE) to tackle food insecurity challenges in Africa and Asia. The FSP grant (a Leader with Associate Award cooperative agreement) was awarded to AFRE based on the recognition that: (a) rigorous research is needed to provide scientific evidence to inform the policy-making process; (b) this research, when done collaboratively with local partners and paired with a strong commitment to outreach, can demonstrate the positive or negative impact of a policy and guide the policy design process; (c) scientists can model possible scenarios and evaluate outcomes to inform policy decisions; and (d) different types of research are necessary and complementary for influencing policies.

The FSP Innovation Lab was led by AFRE’s Food Security Group (FSG) in partnership with two consortium partners—the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the University of Pretoria (UP). After six and a half years, in January 2020, the core leader award of FSP came to an end. During the life of the award, its efforts focused on one country in Asia, Myanmar, and on eight countries or regions in Africa: Burundi, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, West Africa Region, and Zambia. FSP’s work on food security policy encompassed a wide range of topics unified by a focus on agrifood system transformation. Topics ranged from farm-level issues such as agricultural inputs policy, land and natural resources tenure, the changing structure of farming in Africa, and resilience and agricultural risk management policy; to “midstream” topics such as enabling environment for private sector investment and the explosive rise of SMEs in the middle of agricultural value chains; to “downstream” topics such as the rapid transformation of diets, the rise of processed foods, and implications for agro-enterprise, diet quality, and nutrition policy.  FSP also had a strong focus on institutional architecture for improved policy formulation and research on the policy change process itself.

“Over the past six and a half years, FSP’s researchers across the three consortium member institutions (MSU, IFPRI, and UP) have analyzed existing policies and tackled new emerging challenges with evidence-based research to inform possible reforms,” says Mywish Maredia, Director of the FSP Innovation Lab. According to Maredia “FSP’s value-added has been its focus on challenges at the farm, firm, market, sector, and economy levels, and on generating information and analysis that feed and undergird both its policy work and its efforts to build policy capacity. The productivity of and type of research done by our Innovation Lab this past 6+ years has been very impressive. This is evidenced from the more than hundred journal articles and book chapters that have resulted from our work, the drafting and/or adoption of national policies, strategies, masterplans and policy reforms in several countries, and the strengthening of analytical capacity of policy research think tanks and government policy units in partner countries.”

FSP word cloud

The project’s Final Technical Report released in February 2020 gives an overview of this impressive work and summarizes major achievements, outcomes, lessons learned, challenges and opportunities. The experience of FSP offers several lessons on how best to support and build capacities of policy institutes, national governments, regional organizations, and international donors to formulate informed policies, implement reforms, and reconcile trade-offs across different food security objectives. FSP has generated four Synthesis Reports that reflect on the progress, achievements, and lessons learned from the implementation of FSP Innovation Lab (FSP-IL).

Now that the FSP Innovation Lab Leader Award has come to an end, this legacy of collaborative food security policy research will continue through FSG’s new Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity, and Influence (PRCI).  PRCI was created to formalize and strengthen FSG’s focus on developing the capacity of local policy research institutes to conduct research that has policy impact to improve lives.

PRCI is led by FSG in partnership with four consortium partners: IFPRI as under FSP, Cornell University, the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI), and the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research in Ghana (ISSER).  The consortium has already identified and selected three African policy centers that are well positioned to expand their research capacity and policy influence: the Bureau of Macroeconomic Analysis (BAME) of the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research, The Economic Policy Research Center (EPRC) of Uganda, and the Center for Petroleum, Energy Economics and Law together with the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development (DAERD) at University of Ibadan in Nigeria.  Additionally, a fourth policy center will be selected in Asia.

PRCI will work with the selected research institutes through a team-based approach that draws on the strengths of consortium partners to address the local realities and concerns of the selected institutes.  In collaboration with PRCI the selected research institutes have already participated in mentorship opportunities and begun to create capacity development plans.

David Tschirley, Professor and co-director of FSG and director of PRCI, says “FSP was a worthy successor to FSG’s previous work, bringing us into a new era of leadership, creating exciting new knowledge, and helping drive important changes in the countries it worked. It also provides a fantastic starting point for PRCI – we intend to build on that legacy with top quality research while continuing to strengthen FSG’s historical emphasis on local human and institutional capacity.”

Reflecting on FSG’s long history of success, Titus Awokuse, Professor and Chair of AFRE, said, “Since the early 1980’s, faculty members and graduate students associated with AFRE’s Food Security Group have provided development practitioners with important insights on how to promote agricultural development and strengthen food security. This is an important legacy of our Department and I am proud to see it continue with the new PRCI Innovation Lab.”

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