Meeting of minds: agri-nutrition stakeholders prioritize nutrition for India

MSSRF, the lead partner for the LANSA research programme, organised two agri-nutrition knowledge exchange roundtable dialogues in November 2015 at Mumbai and Bhubaneshwar titled ‘Tackling Undernutrition in India’.

The purpose of the dialogues was to appreciate the benefits of linking together agriculture and nutrition stakeholders in the Indian policy environment. LANSA was looking to facilitate a space for stakeholders to recognise that their participation beyond the current sphere of engagement bridges gaps in understanding, thus helping to influence communication across sectors. 

The meeting contributed immensely to MSSRF understanding the agriculture-nutrition dynamics in the current policy environment and how the LANSA programme could be leveraged to open up not just dialogue, but also to prompt that nutrition must be prioritized in agriculture policy space for holistic advancement in India.  

The dialogue was facilitated by Siobhan Duvigneau, Information Literacy Manager and Jessica Meeker, Nutrition Convenor, both from Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK, a LANSA partner, and coordinated for MSSRF by Sangeetha Rajeesh, Research Uptake Manager for the Consortium.

Pre-intervention survey to determine stakeholder needs

A need assessment (pre-intervention survey) done before the agenda for the stakeholder dialogue was drawn up, and this format was based on the IDS Working Paper, which looked at the factors that enable and / or constrain effective leaders in nutrition. The paper is a four-country (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and India) study examining why particular individuals champion nutrition policy, and how they operate in the wider policy and political environments of their countries.

The aim of the pre-intervention survey with agriculture and nutrition stakeholders in Mumbai and Bhubaneswar was to understand the factors that enable or act as barriers to tackling undernutrition in India, with a particular focus on ‘effective leadership’, the political environment and stakeholder relations. The survey instrument comprised both open and close ended as well as multiple choice questions.

Findings were summarised indicating that policy influencers scored highly in commitment towards a positive nutrition agenda, while some showed low awareness in communicating commitment, ability to listen and learn from community, also few lacking capacity to drive change. Interestingly, civil society was seen as key actors in driving change, while donor agencies and private sector less so.

To the open-ended questions, respondents said that there was need to improve processes for understanding agri-nutrition context, and that since stakeholders work in silos there was lack of knowledge of multi-disciplines. It was also felt that mentors / specialists or an advisory culture was needed to mould the process. The pre-intervention survey respondents were directors of Institutes, policy influencers, research community, and local governance, and included both male (70%) and female (30%).  

Opening up the dialogue space

As a first step and to kick-start the stakeholder dialogue process, participants were asked to validate the pre-survey responses. Most agreed that the results reflected ground realities, and others expressed that some areas required further scrutiny.

The workshop began with discussion on what policies and actions need to be addressed to tackle undernutrition in the states of Maharashtra and Odisha respectively. Drawing on their multiple perspectives, a list of challenges that hamper progress in tackling nutrition was tabled. While prioritising these, participants were encouraged to point out ‘windows of opportunity’ and place specific timeframes to implement the recommendations.

Next stage was to develop a combined advocacy and strategic action plans for the two states – Maharashtra and Odisha keeping in mind opportunities for advancement of nutrition, along with recommended time limits when these actions could be achieved. The participants took their challenges and transformed them into achievable action / advocacy plans by working through a matrix that involved:

•      Identifying proposed solutions (i.e. recommendations) to address the challenge(s)

•      Outlining SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time bound) actions / activities

•      Impacting practical timeframes to achieving the intervention(s)

These activities lead up to firm commitments, and looked at drawing on the support and efforts of the stakeholder group. The implementation phase of the group activity focused on proposed events / activities / solutions, while identifying the practical steps and asking pertinent questions required such as:

-          What are the strengths as a group, and how this can be leveraged for combined strengths and knowledge, or position to implement the proposed action(s)

-          Who will assist in the implementation process? This step is to consider stakeholders beyond the groups participating.

-          How  to engage with these stakeholders, and continue to engage/communication with the group

-          What can be achieved in the immediate/short term, and how to plan for implementation of longer-term goals

The teams’ final task was to reach consensus on actions that are achievable and their commitments to achieving the goals set. They also proposed on to work together to achieve these commitments, and agreed that the group will continue to communicate via a Google group and hold each other to account for achieving the action / advocacy plans.

What role can LANSA play

It was evident at the end of both workshops that LANSA has a huge role to play in facilitating ongoing discussions of this nature. Participants in the Exit Survey conducted at the end of both stakeholder dialogues rated the workshops as 4 in terms of the level of usefulness of the agri-nutrition knowledge sharing dialogue (1 being 'low ' & 5 'high').

To the question on aspects of the dialogue that were useful to the participant and in their work, it was unanimously felt that bringing multi-sectoral stakeholders together worked for all, and they were able to build bridges with colleagues from other backgrounds working with either agriculture or nutrition. Many saw that there was intent to advocate for positive change, build evidence and have a collaborate approach towards a common goal. They looked at the interaction as an expert knowledge and experience opportunity, with networking being a perk.

Both events were participatory providing the space for decision-influencers to explore and define concrete recommendations for tackling undernutrition. The recommendations are proposed at a state level and for local governance, identifying how to take national or state-level policies and implement them within a specific timeframe to take advantage of 'windows of opportunity' that spring up, in order to bring about realistic and sustainable change in the country.

On what deserves more attention, respondents expressed that nutrition literacy and agri-nutrition community building coupled with more examples of behavior change practices could be included in LANSA agenda for stakeholders. Time was indefinably felt as a constraint.

For how LANSA can continue to support the stakeholder commitments and / or engage with policy influencers, participants recommended that having small yet focused groups to discuss serious topics help a huge deal. Sharing research material among stakeholder-groups, stronger advocacy and brainstorming, and continued interaction and updating via a network to benefit the process of getting nutrition on the agenda of agriculture policy in India came out strongly too.

This is a second effort by LANSA Research Uptake to strengthen capacity of agriculture-nutrition stakeholders in India, and the capital cities - Mumbai and Bhubaneswar were specifically chosen for these workshops since MSSRF is conducting the Farming System for Nutrition (FSN) study in Wardha (Maharastra) and Koraput (Odisha).  In 2014, LANSA workshops in Bhubaneswar and Hyderabad for agri-nutrition stakeholders was on strengthening their capacity to identify and use evidence-based research.  

Sangeetha Rajeesh
Monday, November 30, 2015

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South Asia Focus

Funded by UK DFID

This research has been funded by the UK Government’s Department for International Development; however the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the UK Government’s official policies



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