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Following five years (2016-2020) of working in low-income communities in Bolivia, Indonesia, Uganda, Kenya and Zambia to improve their access to sustainable, diverse and nutritious food, the Sustainable Diets for All program (SD4All) is coming to a close at the end of 2020. The program was coordinated by Hivos, IIED, and partners in the focal countries and funded by the 'Dialogue and Dissent' Strategic Partnership with the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

As a lobby and advocacy program characterized by citizen agency, key elements of the SD4All program included generating and assimilating evidence (by citizens), building multi-stakeholder coalitions, and using innovative methods for actors to share knowledge, evidence and ideas. Together, these strategies resulted in local, national and international examples of how food systems can be transformed. Although impossible to address the full extent of food system challenges in such a short time, we are proud of all that we have achieved over the last five years and look forward to continued progress on the groundwork that we have laid. Here are some of our successes and lessons learned.

Increased capacity for advocacy and research

Capacity development of partners proved to be the most important and enduring achievement of the program, with a total of 21 partners trained over the course of five years. IIED and Hivos implemented the Citizen Agency & Advocacy Toolkit to support SD4All staff and partners to leverage citizen agency approaches in national and local advocacy plans. These skills led to stronger influence in promoting sustainable diets and agriculture diversification, as demonstrated in Zambia where partners influenced the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a crop diversification strategy and dietary guidelines for the country.

Partners also gained confidence in conducting research and embedding evidence from that research within advocacy. In both Indonesia and Uganda, IIED supported citizen-generated action research on dietary diversity of rural and urban households by local partners. In Bolivia, the research was led by partner MIGA and focused on women market vendors. Additionally, thanks to the efforts of Hivos, IIED and partners AZIEA and CUTS, there is more knowledge and awareness among policy makers in Zambia about the critical role that informal markets play in providing access to healthy and affordable food for the urban poor. Furthermore, partners presented their lobby results at international and Dutch conference which led to higher visibility of Southern NGOs and perspective in the global food systems debate.

Effective multi-actor initiatives

The program successfully used multi-actor initiatives to link citizens with differing interests and create winning alliances focused on sustainable food system transformation. Partners in Uganda convened multi-stakeholder consultative meetings on food system related policies which resulted in the growth of the indigenous and traditional food systems agenda beyond the known SD4All partners. Zambian partner AZIEA set up a food network involving city authorities and actors in both the formal and the informal food market in Kitwe city.

In Bolivia, partner Fundación Alternativas used what they learned to strengthen the La Paz food security council. Executive Director, Maria Teresa Nogales acknowledged that, “My organization would not be where it is today had it not been for this program. There’s been a horizontal culture of exchanging information and ideas that is very particular to this program. That is what has marked our process together most profoundly – the opportunity to learn from each other. ” Among other things, this work resulted in the development and implementation of the 2018 law for urban gardens.

Lessons learned

In each of the countries, we learned that working in partner consortia was an effective way of getting things done. In Indonesia and Bolivia this method supported synergy and cross-learning among three partners with very different networks. In Uganda, having a strong national network partner, the Food Rights Alliance, ensured the integration of local level lobby outcomes with national level advocacy. It also helped to support smaller grassroots CSOs in Zambia that lacked the capacity to receive direct institutional funding. We also learned important lessons about research. While some program research was closely integrated into the advocacy process (as with diversification in Zambia and indigenous crops in Uganda), other research without an initial link to advocacy priorities had ‘unplanned’ relevance for policy, such as the work on informal markets in Zambia. In general, the food diaries research could have been more effective if coupled with advocacy opportunities from the start. We published a series of reflection papers drawing on lessons learned in five different areas: multi-actor initiatives, citizen agency, sustainable diets in the informal economy, food systems, and capacity development.

Sustaining our work beyond 2020

Partners will continue to apply the advocacy and research skills they have gained and utilize the networks built through the program. Less experienced partners and informal organizations (such as food vendors) have largely benefited from linkages with well-established partners and networks, and these relationships will continue. Close work with government institutions at local and national levels have also served to boost program sustainability. Partner Consumer Unity and Trust Society Zambia will continue the food policy initiative through the Food Policy Council. In Indonesia, the work of Tanoker will continue in other districts, as policy makers are now more aware of healthy food, and children and their caretakers have become advocates for healthy diets. “The New Generation of Indonesian Cooking”, a multi-stakeholder platform which Hivos supported the establishment of, will now be replicated in other cities. The Food Change Labs in Zambia and Uganda will also continue with additional EU funding.

Program evaluation

The examples above are only a small fraction of all that the program has learned and achieved over the last five years. Read the full evaluation of the SD4All program, including case studies on general policy influencing and each of the four program countries for more information. The full evaluation of all the consortium’s thematic programs is also available.