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Improving policies and institutions for sustainable intensification of agriculture and resilient food systems in the Eastern Indo- Gangetic Plains


In 2016, ACIAR requested the Australian National University (ANU) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) to develop a Small Research and Development Activity (SRA) in the context of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) research program on Agricultural Development Policy. The SRA was tasked to develop the building blocks of a large research proposal to support the ACIAR program in the Eastern Gangetic Plains (EGP) that would also complement the ongoing Sustainable Resilient Farming Systems Initiative (SRFSI) and the SDIP Phase II aim to increase water, food and energy security. 

The SDIP aims to improve the integrated management of water, energy and food in three major Himalayan river basins—the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra—covering north-east Pakistan, northern India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. SDIP draws on Australia's expertise and technologies in the water, food and energy sectors and is delivered through a combination of partners including: ACIAR, CSIRO, International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management (ICE WaRM), International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), World Bank—South Asia Water Initiative Phase II (SAWI), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and The Asia Foundation (TAF).

SRFSI is being implemented in specific districts in the EGP: across Eastern India, the Nepalese Terai and western Bangladesh. It has four key objectives: 1) Understand farmer circumstances with respect to cropping systems, natural and economic resources base, livelihood strategies, and capacity to bear risk and undertake technological innovation; 2) Develop, with farmers, more productive and sustainable technologies that are resilient and profitable for smallholders; 3) Catalyse, support and evaluate institutional and policy changes that establish an enabling environment for the adoption of high-impact technologies; and 4) Facilitate widespread adoption of sustainable, resilient and more profitable farming systems.

Specifically, the key aims of the SRA were, as a response to rural poverty challenges in the EGP, to identify the underlying policy and institutional drivers operating across this politically diverse region. A component of the project was to collaborate with decision makers in both the public and private sectors to develop options that unlock the potential of agriculture in the EGP and to define enabling policies to overcome barriers to CASI (conservation agriculture for sustainable intensification technology) adoption and constraints to scaling up across the three countries.  

The principal SRA project outputs include:

  1. Institutional mapping of key actors who influence food, energy and water policies – at macro and micro levels - along with implementation pathways and the possible effects on rural livelihoods present within the EGP;
  2. Desktop studies on existing policies in sustainable agriculture in terms of resilience, risks and rural livelihoods and barriers to adoption of appropriate CASI innovations and practices; 
  3. Foresight workshops with findings to assist key decision makers in understanding connected risks in the food and water policy development and implementation, as illustrated through IMPACT model results and, if possible, supplemented by micro-level results from the GFWS platform calibrated to EGP sites where data are available; 
  4. Findings of a pilot step one of a Risks and Option Assessment for Decision-making (ROAD) process to explore the effects of various policies and innovations on resilience and prosperity of rural livelihoods in the EGP; and 
  5. Summary of key findings. 

The key SRA outcomes include:

    1. New insights by key actors across the food-energy-water nexus in the EGP on risks and opportunities associated with global change in the agriculture sector, especially in terms of appropriate CASI practices and innovations and 
    2. Better understanding of proposed better practices and innovations risks to sustainability and agricultural livelihoods.