Strengthening Policy and Research for Food System Transformation in Nepal
This post was written by Suresh Babu and Biswash Gauchan.
The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity and Influence (PRCI) works with six Asian countries to strengthen their policy systems to accelerate the process of food system transformation. PRCI works with a key national policy think tank in each country to develop local research capacity to address priority research gaps, strengthen policy communication skills of the local researchers and improve the quality of policy dialogues among key actors. This capacity helps translate global priorities, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) 2021, into national-level policies and strategies. Accessible global knowledge drives food system problem solving that is context specific and locally relevant. In Nepal, PRCI worked in close collaboration with the Institute for Integrated Development Studies (IIDS), the USAID/Nepal Mission and other local partners to find solutions to these systemic problems.
Laying the Groundwork: Identifying Key Actors and Players in the Policy System
As a first step, IIDS and PRCI held consultations to map out the stakeholders in the Nepal policy system. Discussions were held with key stakeholders to enquire about their role in the food security policy system and how they specifically contribute to local consultations that shape policy and research priorities. Policymakers, opinion leaders, policy researchers, USAID staff and policy analysts were included, as well as members of the private sector, nongovernmental organizations and members of the civil society and farmer organizations.
This mapping of the institutional policy architecture revealed the key role of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development in the development of policies and strategies in the food, agriculture and natural resources sector, so key departments were also mapped. The Ministries of Health and Population; Industry, Commerce and Supplies; and Forests and Environment, and local universities, such as Tribhuvan University and the College of Agriculture and Forestry, were also recognized as important players in the development and implementation of food policy. Key projects implemented by development partners, such as USAID’s Knowledge-Based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN) II project were included to build on existing partnerships.
A Two-Stage Process: Thematic and Analytical Capacity with KISAN II and Setting Priorities for Evidence-Based Agricultural Policies
Collaboration with the KISAN II project aimed to improve the input and output markets though developing the policy priorities and programs that support private sector development. A consultative training workshop jointly conducted with the KISAN II project helped to set the stage for further work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. Consensus was developed during the workshop to expand the scope of agricultural policy analysis to food systems, including value chain development, development of the processing sector, improving food safety regulatory systems and to include the nutritional and health implications of food and agricultural policies. Another important area of agreement was on the vulnerability of the Nepalese food system to climate change, given that food system resilience is vital to mitigate risks faced by farming communities.
In a second set of collaborative activities, PRCI and IIDS joined with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development to conduct a multi-stakeholder, hybrid workshop, “Policy Priorities for Evidence-based Agricultural Policies in Nepal.” The participants identified new drivers and challenges for the agricultural sector. The private sector has become an engine of growth in the last decade; however, to continue that trajectory, bottlenecks such as access to finance, inadequate logistics and storage and distribution need to be addressed, and technical skills and knowledge are needed. Participants agreed that rapid agricultural growth is attainable based on new policies and vision highlighted in the Agriculture Development Strategy 2015-2025, with support for research and stakeholder engagement from multilateral and bilateral agencies.
- Lesson 1: To accelerate food system transformation, involvement of policy system stakeholders beyond agricultural production systems is required, from input provision to consumption of final commodities, including nutrition and health implications.
- Lesson 2: Country-level consultation processes can be made more effective by building on the existing projects and programs and considering existing investments.
- Lesson 3: Collaboration with credible and trusted local partners is key for successful engagement with important policy decision-makers.
Finding the Holes: Identifying Policy Gaps for Food System Transformation
For deeper discussion with technical experts on the June themes, in September 2021, PRCI and IIDS organized a “Technical Meeting on Identification of Policy Gaps on Food System Transformation” with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development. Senior USAID/Nepal staff attended the workshop. The Secretary for Agriculture attended and noted the importance of USAID’s support in strengthening policy analysis capacity in the agricultural sector and assured continued collaboration. The workshop participants concluded that there are significant evidence gaps in designing policies and programs to promote food system transformation in Nepal, partly due to severe data availability constraints. Data collection and policy analysis capacity need to be strengthened, particularly in the context of decentralized decision-making.
With policy research priorities better defined, Nepal’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development can now develop a policy research and capacity strengthening plan, which will be further supported by PRCI and IIDS collaboration in Nepal.
- Lesson 4: National policy think tanks and key policymaking institutions must be in the driver’s seat to identify policy and research priorities. Outside organizations should strengthen nationally led, locally owned and country-driven policy systems.
- Lesson 5: National, provincial and local capacities for various subsectors of the food systems are essential for sustainable transformation of food systems. Successful implementation of policy decisions depends on capacity development at all levels.
- Lesson 6: Collaborative research activities should be accompanied by capacity development, policy outreach and communication activities that translate research outputs into actionable projects and programs by the stakeholders of the food system.