Home ยป SAPLING: Tackling Malnutrition with a Food Systems Approach

SAPLING: Tackling Malnutrition with a Food Systems Approach


The South Asian Policy Leadership for Improved Nutrition and Growth (SAPLING) was started in 2019 to create a regional platform for building consensus among different stakeholders for mainstreaming evidence-based policy, action, and leadership to fight malnutrition in line with policymakers’ needs and priorities through a whole-of-systems approach.

So, the main goal of SAPLING is to make it possible to use a “food systems” method to deal with malnutrition. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) pays for the SAPLING Secretariat, held in Bangladesh by BRAC, from July 2019 to April 2023.

Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are the countries SAPLING cares about most.

  1. Ideas for working together in the region In 2021, BMGF asked IPE Global to create SAPLING Phase 2 and do a South Asian Food Systems Landscaping Analysis. The study looked at the problems in each SAPLING country and in the region as a whole. It also examined agriculture and nutrition policies and found challenges, gaps, and opportunities. Gender and climate were important themes that ran through the report.

The results came from talks with a wide range of stakeholders, a look at similar programs, and a study of secondary literature. The study was shown at workshops where government delegations, multilateral and bilateral organizations, research institutions, and international/non-governmental organizations (I/NGOs) were all present.

From the long list of key problems and thematic areas of intervention, the panelists and attendees chose the top 3 priority areas for regional cooperation based on what countries had in common, what policymakers needed, and what results could be seen. The three most important areas for regional cooperation that came up in the talk were:

Two regional multi-stakeholder consultative events were set up in Bangladesh and Nepal. The goal was to bring SAPLING’s main areas and activities closer to the three priority areas and encourage more regional collaboration and dialogue. The “Dhaka Dialogues” event occurred in Bangladesh on December 1, 2022. After this, another regional talk called “Kathmandu Dialogues” will occur in Nepal on April 24 and 25, 2023.

Three main things to learn from the Dhaka Dialogues

The Dhaka Dialogues were set up with these main goals in mind:

  • Get more involved with the people who matter at the country level
  • Make sure SAPLING’s actions and goals focus more on the most important things.

The event comprised three plenary meetings that each focused on a different theme: climate-smart agri-food systems, post-harvest losses, and food safety standards. The dialogue brought together a community of practice, including governments, the business sector, bi-multi-laterals, research/academic institutions, civil society organizations/international non-governmental organizations (I/NGOs), and independent experts. The session allowed people to discuss the country’s goals and ideas for working together in the future.

Over all of the key areas, 4 main themes went across all of them. These are

  • 1) technology solutions,
  • 2) the need to share information and work together,
  • 3) getting the private sector to invest more, and
  • 4) the need for South Asian governments to get involved and talk to each other.

Here are the most important things I learned from each session:

Smart Food Systems for the Climate

How important it is for the business sector to play a key role in getting technology to people: For agriculture to quickly adapt to climate change, the right technology solutions must be delivered at the right time and with the right amount of accuracy. Climate change could cause problems with growing crops, which could be predicted and fixed with the help of technology.

To build up technological solutions, it’s important to use the networks of the private sector and get the most out of them. At the same time, South Asia needs to share technology, cross-fertilize information, and share best practices in technology, all based on a model of working together in the region.

Adapting to climate change needs more money. Adapting to climate change has gotten less attention and money around the world. There was a lot of talk about how important it is to get more money for adaptation than prevention.

South Asian countries must be given access to funding sources and innovative ways to pay for adapting agriculture to climate change.

As a response to climate change, agriculture policies in South Asia are trying to understand climate change and build agri-food systems that are sensitive to climate change. They are also putting more emphasis on adaptation, along with mitigation, to decarbonize agriculture. The most important things are new policies to adjust to solar and renewable energy, crop insurance, and better involvement from the private sector. At the same time, something needs to be done about Post-Harvest Losses.

Post-Harvest Losses

Need for technological cooperation and data sharing

There must be technological cooperation between the public and private sectors and on a regional level, where countries share best practices for adapting to new technologies and insights. Because there isn’t enough data, estimates have to be made. This means that there is a need to improve regional data sharing.

Need for better knowledge sharing:

Even though there is a lot of knowledge, there needs to be better sharing of that knowledge with the different stakeholders so that there can be real results. The stakeholders’ abilities can be strengthened.

Need for cross-ministry collaboration

It is important for measures for PHL to be aligned across different government departments in each country. Changes to how institutions are set up and better planning and cooperation between ministries and departments will help interventions be put into place more effectively.

Need for gender mainstreaming and showing answers at the local level

Gender mainstreaming is needed to stop PHL in value chains, where women are key workers. Most farming in South Asia is done on a small scale and by families. So, it’s important to show how agri-based solutions work and ensure there are ways to get money for scaling up. Financing and building people’s skills are especially important for providing jobs in rural areas and improving the economy.

Safety rules for food

Need for regional standards: Creating and harmonizing regional rules and laws for food safety would stabilize the SAPLING countries’ food systems.

Need for regionally accredited labs: Setting up regionally accredited labs would give each area more knowledge about food safety. With this kind of certification, regional trade would go more smoothly, and there wouldn’t be any problems when dealing with global markets.

Need to improve the institutional environment. Most SAPLING countries have more than one line department that handles food safety problems, so a single point of entry is needed. Countries must build structures, improve them, and ensure they work well nationally.

Kathmandu Dialogues

The Kathmandu Dialogues build on the talks in Dhaka to find better ways to work together in the region during Phase 2 of SAPLING. The event takes place over a day and a half.

There will be talks by top Ministers and government representatives from the Government of Nepal (the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development and the National Planning Commission), the SAARC Agriculture Centre, the SAPLING Steering Committee Members, and the Gates Foundation.

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