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Heritage crops and under-represented food: Nutritious, affordable and high impact

  |   SUN Country Network, SUN Donor Network

An urgent call to action to improve nutrition in the South Asia Region

The third South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI) Roundtable event was held last week in Bangkok, Thailand highlighting the role of high impact and under-represented nutrition sensitive food systems in South Asia.

The event continued the urgent call to action to transform the global systems that was shared by many who attended the EAT Stockholm Food Forum (June 11-12). With a focus on the South Asia region, discussion was centered on the unique opportunities and challenges offered by heritage and underrepresented crops, which are often nutritious, resilient, climate smart and locally available.

Hosted by the World Bank and in partnership with the European Commission, SUN Movement, FAO, IFPRI, ICRISAT, Bioversity International, DSM, Food Industry Asia, GAIN, The Global Panel, among others, the event was an opportunity to share evidence and experience on nutrition-sensitive programs, explore the implications for promoting these food systems, including heritage crops, and the role that public and private sectors can play in mainstreaming these foods. This blog by the SAFANSI team provides a great overview of the event.

SAFANSI’s strategic approach

Through fostering cross cutting partnerships and dialogue, the SAFANSI event, seeks to identify solutions to deliver measurable improvements in food and nutrition security

SAFANSI’s goal is to foster the cross-cutting actions that will lead to measurable improvements in Food and Nutrition Security. Critical to the success of this work is an increase in the commitment of governments and development partners in the South Asia region for Food and Nutrition sensitive related policies and programs.  SAFANSI engages with South Asian policy and decision-makers, civil servants, development partners, and technical experts who participate in thematic groups in order to achieve a consensus on the actions that must be taken.

Why heritage and underrepresented crops?

“Food diversity is the only solution you can scale up without a negative impact” Fabrice DeClerck, Bioversity International & EAT Foundation

In the South Asia region, the urgency of the issue is still apparent – chronic malnutrition remains intractable despite high economic growth. This presents unique challenges, and opportunities, in dealing with this complex, multi sectoral issue at a sub-national, national and regional level.

The overarching discussions at SAFANSI focused on the urgent need to advance multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral national and subnational efforts to address nutrition as a priority and scale up nutrition efforts together by addressing underrepresented nutrition-sensitive food systems in South Asia.

The event drew on the latest evidence and experience from nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific programs, exploring the implications for promoting high impact and underrepresented nutrition sensitive food systems including fish agri-food systems and solutions, other animal sourced foods, and new and old heritage crops. The event also explored the advantages of leveraging public-private partnerships and technologies to encourage high impact nutrition sensitive food systems. Discussions ranged from what policy changes are needed to make underrepresented foods available for public consumption, to how to best promote the utilization of health nutritious indigenous crops and heritage foods and identifying public-private partnerships and collaboration for high impact nutrition sensitive food systems.

A series of in depth, fireside chats, allowed participants to delve further into the issues with key experts including: Xuan Li from the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific highlight the Future Smart Foods Initiative and how the project is rediscorving hidden treasures of neglected and underutilized species in Asia; Ray-yu Yang, a nutritionist from the World Vegetable Center sharing all the good stuff about vegetables and why we should eat more variety and volume and Derek Headey from IFPRI, on why animal sourced foods have a powerful role to play in improving nutrition in developing countries, particularly in the South Asia region.

The role of policy in making underrepresented foods available for public consumption

Savita Malla, Policy Specialist from the Scaling Up Nutrition Secretariat in Geneva contributed to a panel dsicsussion on what policy changes are needed to make underrepresented foods available for public consumption alongside the H.E. Minister of Agriculture from the Kingdom of Bhutan and representatives from the Gates Foundation, FAO and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India.

The panel engaged on what food safety policy gaps exist, particularly for underrepresented food systems: fish, indigenous crops, pulses, vegetables, and other animal source foods? What are the barriers to closing these policy gaps? What possible changes are needed and are feasible in advertising and consumer (mis)information? and what policy changes are needed to enable private sector support and finance of underrepresented high-impact food systems?

Nutrition: On the plate, and taste buds, of all who attended!

Food is fun! This was a key message shared at the event. Guests were delighted to have Chef Black from Blackitch Artisan Kitchen bring the fun back into food with a cooking demonstration on site. Chef Black’s cooking brought the delicious smells of Thai Khao Sol into the room as he used foraged, local, heritage crops from Northern Thailand.

Guests were then treated to a meal featuring Chef Black’s dishes, filled with local herbs and spices, dried shrimps, coconut, catfish and many other local, nutritious ingredients.

Chefs from the Grand Hyatt Erawan who hosted the event also did an amazing job of showcasing locally sourced ingredients. They were tasked by event organisers to create a menu utilizing ingredients from a long list of under-used species which was provided by Stefano Padulosi, Bioversity International. The chefs inspired menus brought the conversation to the plate of everyone who attended and was a great reminder that underutilized crops are often delicious and can be used in a wide variety of ways!

Bravo to all the chefs for a delicious menu!

Five key takeaways

Along with key partners, the SUN Movement was pleased to contribute to these five lessons to take home.



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