Synthesis Report I: Advancing Research, Policy, and Capacity for Food System Transformation


March 3, 2019 - Author: <>, Steve Haggblade, <>, and <>

Danielle Resnick, Steve Haggblade, Todd Benson, and Eric Crawford, 2019. Advancing Research, Policy, and Capacity for Food System Transformation Synthesis of Achievements from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy.


Since 2013, the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy (FSP) has combined multidisciplinary research on emergent issues facing food systems with policy analysis to provide an enabling environment for improved food security, particularly in Africa and Asia. Supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), FSP is implemented through a consortium of three research institutions: Michigan State University (MSU), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), and the University of Pretoria. These policy research institutions, together with local institutions, have provided data and analysis that national and subnational governments and regional bodies can use to generate informed policies around food and food security. This engagement has involved supporting national governments’ and regional organizations’ agri-food system–related policy processes with evidence generated through applied research on food systems.

This paper reviews FSP’s achievements from 2013 to 2018 and discusses some of the key lessons learned while also documenting the project’s vast range of publications, presentations, policy briefs, and other outputs. FSP aimed to strengthen food security policy through three mutually reinforcing mechanisms. First, research drawing on survey data and primary fieldwork in diverse locations has contributed empirical content on frontier issues related to agri-food system and nutrition transformation, especially in an era of rapid urbanization, climatic shocks, and technological innovations. Novel findings emerged in areas such as diet change, post-farm processing and distribution, and land and labor markets. Second, by developing a strong conceptual understanding of the drivers of policy change in local policy processes, FSP pursued diverse forms of engagement with policymakers to influence outcomes ranging from rice policy in Myanmar to coffee prices in Rwanda to produce cess rates in Tanzania. Third, FSP provided a natural lab for experiments in building capacity for policy research, with a variety of approaches pursued in different country settings and targeting different audiences. These approaches included strengthening university networks for policy research and dialogue, partnering with independent or quasi-independent policy analysis institutes and think tanks, and implementing various forms of training for a broad range of stakeholders to strengthen capacity for policy research and dialogue.

During the five years of the project, many lessons were learned about the transformative processes occurring in Africa and Asia and how best to support national governments, regional organizations, and international donors to formulate informed policies, implement reforms, and reconcile trade-offs across different food security objectives. Key among these lessons were (1) the importance of building long-term relationships with a broad range of policy champions in order to enhance credibility and trust, and (2) recognizing that achieving food security requires looking at agriculture holistically, taking into account linkages with, and implications for, other sectors. Furthermore, spanning a variety of capacity strengthening approaches, rather than simply providing training courses alone, is essential to address the mixture of research, financial, and organizational challenges faced by local institutes and universities. Collectively, FSP demonstrates how a multidisciplinary research consortium that leverages existing country offices and local partnerships can effectively operate in an increasingly complex food security landscape to support policy reforms and refinements.

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