Martin Broadley, DFID Senior Research Fellow in Food Systems and Rachel Lambert, DFID Agriculture Research team
There is growing consensus that agriculture plays a major role in supporting ‘nutrition-sensitive’ food systems to sustain healthy lives. As well as sufficient calories and protein, our food systems need to provide sufficient dietary micronutrients, and vitamins, whilst being resilient to population growth, urbanisation, and many environmental stresses. Identifying ‘what works’ in terms of supporting nutrition-sensitive policy environments across the Agriculture-Nutrition-Health nexus remains an immense global challenge.
The Agriculture, Nutrition & Health (ANH) Academy is a global and interdisciplinary research network which fosters a global community of researchers and users of research working on agriculture and food systems for improved nutrition and health. It is proving to be a powerful way to harness different actors engaging in this field, bringing together researchers, policymakers and funders around new data, metrics, tools and evidence. As we prepare for the 3rd ANH Academy week in Accra, Ghana, this is a good time to reflect on lessons learnt on building an interdisciplinary and genuinely global network.
The ANH Academy was officially launched in 2015 at a conference in London, organised by the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research in Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH). It was established under DFID’s programme on Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions (IMMANA), with additional support from the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).
The ANH Academy aims to:
- share innovative research in agriculture and food systems for improved nutrition and health
- stimulate the development and harmonisation of new research
- help strengthen the capacity of the research community to undertake inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary research
- facilitate the uptake of robust evidence in policies and programming
Three years on, it has more than 1200 members in over 80 countries and has held two international meetings (ANH Academy Weeks) in Addis Ababa (2016) and Kathmandu (2017), with the third one in Accra in June 2018. The quality of these meetings – which include ‘Learning Labs’ and policy forums – is reflected in the strong interest this attracts from participants (over 300 in 2016, 430 in 2017 and 350 registered for 2018). More details can be found on the ANH Academy website, which includes an interactive members’ database, a members’ forum, blogs and webinars, as well as resources produced by a number of Technical Working groups. The Academy benefits from support from a wide range of international expertise shared in an impressive spirit of good will and collaboration!
Membership of the ANH Academy continues to grow rapidly. Indeed, one of the main challenges for IMMANA is managing this expansion, not only in demand for its services, but also in the broader global agenda. When the IMMANA programme was designed by DFID, much of the focus of the debate was on under-nutrition and nutrition-sensitive agricultural projects, mainly at the farm level. Since then, the global Agriculture-Nutrition-Health agenda has rapidly expanded to encompass diet-related chronic conditions, the burden of food borne disease, urbanisation, rapid changes in food systems and food environments, climate change and resource scarcity.
Responding to these challenges requires a truly interdisciplinary response. The Academy itself has often been instrumental in shaping research responses in these areas – with some creative work under the Technical Working Groups leading to outputs such as a Food Environment Technical Brief, a Sustainable Diets policy game and the recent guide to food safety metrics.
A recent external review found that the ANH Academy has added significant value for a relatively modest investment. A global research network like this helps researchers learn, collaborate and build on each other’s work rather than reinventing the wheel. The review found that the ANH Academy (together with its partners) has also been successful in strengthening linkages between researchers and a wide variety of policy-makers and practitioners.
As it continues to grow and mature, we are struck by the lessons emerging. Could this be a useful model for other big development challenges, of how disciplines can come together to network and share lessons in a genuinely global community of practice?
Image credit: Geordanna Cordero via Unsplash