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FEATURE STORY June 26, 2019

Championing Better Nutrition in South Asia



  • Undernutrition persists at high levels in South Asia even as the region’s economy expands and its farmers are producing more food than ever.
  • SAFANSI held a roundtable to emphasize how underrepresented and high-impact foods such as small fish and algae or can help curb malnutrition across the region.
  • Attendees from 20 countries, including public and private sectors representatives, civil society, and international donors, committed to advocating for better nutrition in their countries.

As South Asian countries become more prosperous, governments, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders across the region have shifted their attention from simply providing sufficient calories to ensuring that diets include the right nutrients, thus hoping to tackle malnutrition at the root.

Indeed, there is a difference between food, in general, and nutritious food.

While food may provide enough calories for a day, nutritious food packs adequate calories as well as micro and macro-nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that are essential to good health.

On June 17-18, more than 120 government officials, civil society organizations, private sector members, international donors, practitioners, and stakeholders from around South Asia convened at a regional roundtable “High Impact and Underrepresented Nutrition Sensitive Food Systems in South Asia” in Bangkok, Thailand.


The roundtable drew on the latest evidence from current food and nutrition policies and programs from around the region.

Opening the event, Dr. Birgit Hansl, World Bank Country Manager for Thailand, enticed participants to “work collaboratively, together, to improve nutrition.” She exhorted the audience to “ …Think of all we can learn together – and how we can turn these ideas and lessons into action.”

Later that day, Kjersti Rødsmoen, the Ambassador-designate to Thailand and Cambodia from Norway, underscored that point, emphasizing that “we have more knowledge together than we have alone.”

"Policies need to be research and science-driven. Crops like millet, quinoa, and buckwheat are very nutritious but underutilized."
The Hon'ble Lyonpo Yeshey Penjor
Minister for Agriculture and Forests from the Royal Government of Bhutan


Photo Credit: World Bank

Collaborating for Better Nutrition

Rising to the challenge, participants set out to make new connections and establish creative partnerships thorough dynamic panel discussions, lively coffee breaks, and vibrant conversations.

For two days, participants considered a broad range of topics, from engaging the private sector to better addressing and promoting underrepresented and indigenous crops.

The opening high-level panel, led by Dr. Pawan Patil of the World Bank and Dr. Fabrice DeClerck, the EAT Science Director/Bioversity, brought the audience together to engage on the challenges and opportunities facing South Asia.

Dr. Patil pushed listeners to consider the “blue economy” which is the sustainable use of ocean resources for growth, improved livelihoods, and food – while simultaneously improving ocean health.

Following the same logic, Dr. Stineke Oenema, Coordinator of the UNSCN, encouraged people to think beyond food staples, stressing that "."

Dr. Fabrice DeClerck contributed to multiple panels and discussions, encouraging creative and innovative thinking and solutions. He pushed governments, policymakers, and stakeholders to move beyond typical tropes, such as “all processed foods are bad”, noting in that regard that "."

Participants enjoyed a cooking demonstration from Chef Black of Blackitch Aristan Kitchen in Chang Mai, Thailand. He showed how to use various underrepresented and high impact crops in two different recipes: (1) khao soi, noodle soup with grilled tofu and (2) rice balls stuffed with grilled fish. Photo Credit: World Bank

Nutrition Successes from Around South Asia  

In one session, Ms. Inoshi Sharma from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), spoke of her success in adopting a 360-degree approach to improving nutrition, acknowledging that while one may eat healthy at home, such opportunities may not exist in school or at work. Her work finds ways to make healthy choices, easy choices, and to create healthy food environments across the country.

In another session, Mr. Mahesh Sharma, CEO of Anamolbiu Pvt. Ltd, a seed company in Nepal, specializing in heritage crops, spoke about his company’s successful approach to the “triple bottom line.” Being economically, environmentally, and socially conscious has helped, he said, his company to thrive in distributing underrepresented, heritage crops across Nepal.

Many more success stories were shared and opportunities for collaboration and scaling up projects were identified. 

The event was sponsored by the South Asia Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (SAFANSI), a partnership administered by the World Bank with funding from the UK Government, and the European Commission. 

Other partners were Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, EAT, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, World Food Programme, Bioversity International, ICRISAT, World Vegetable Center, DSM, Food Industry Asia, IFPRI, UNSCN, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Through these events, SAFANSI supports regional multi-sectoral, collaborative efforts towards more integrated food and nutrition security actions, working with existing knowledge networks to develop a strong cadre of food and nutrition advocates, policymakers, and practitioners across South Asia.