Transdisciplinary research for food and nutrition security: Examining research-policy understandings in Southeast Asia

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Journal Article
Environmental Development, 2018, 28 pp. 67 - 82
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Davila et al 2018 TD Research for food and nutrition security.pdfPublished Version1.72 MB
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© 2018 Elsevier B.V. Interacting human and environmental drivers influence food and nutrition security outcomes. The way food and nutrition security problems and solutions are understood by decision makers and researchers inevitably influences interventions in food systems. One novel way of capturing different and potentially competing understandings of food and nutrition security problems and solutions is transdisciplinary research. In this paper, we examine how Southeast Asian policy and research experts working in food and nutrition security frame challenges and solutions, and the implications of this understanding for their capacity to adopt initiatives from emerging transdisciplinary research in the region. We conducted a workshop with research and policy experts from four countries in Southeast Asia and used a systems based human ecology framework to capture the common understanding participants have of the main challenges in their food systems. The systems exercises revealed similarities in the dominant framing presented by researchers and policy makers, and of the respective agencies of key stakeholders. We found that formal government policy and training was commonly perceived as major drivers of change, with smallholder farmers viewed as passive recipients of knowledge. We also found there is ongoing interest in increasing productivity of key commodities, but there is critical awareness of the environmental consequences of production-oriented agriculture. These dominant understandings have implications for current regional initiatives in transdisciplinary research that seek to build farmer capacity, reduce inequality, and include different stakeholders in research and policy activities. We conclude by arguing that research agencies aspiring to inform policy interventions based on transdisciplinary processes will face challenges given the current dominant frames of food systems in the region. We show how human ecology and systems frameworks can guide transdisciplinary food systems research that aims to improve food and nutrition security.
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