Good Food for Cities

EcoFoodSystems: new project launched to promote healthier and more sustainable diets in Hanoi

February 8, 2024
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Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is no exception to the growing urban population trend. The recently launched EcoFoodSystems project is a collaborative effort that aims to address the challenges of providing and ensuring access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all consumers in our increasingly urbanised world. The project operates in three countries: Colombia, Ethiopia and Vietnam. Rikolto is one of the implementing partners in Vietnam.

Like many cities around the world, Hanoi has a growing population. By 2050, three-quarters of Vietnam’s population is expected to be living in urban areas, which will strain the capacities of the food system. This increased demand is putting pressure on resources such as land and water. It is also contributing to environmental degradation, including deforestation and soil erosion. The prevalence of malnutrition and chronic diseases associated with unhealthy diets is another challenge. According to the Vietnam National Institute of Nutrition, more than 20% of children under five suffer from stunted growth. The country also has one of the highest rates of overweight and obesity in Asia. This is largely due to the consumption of processed foods, sugary drinks and excessive meat.

According to Vietnam's National Institute of Nutrition, more than 20% of children under five suffer from stunted growth.

The EcoFoodSystems project: leveraging data to guide decision-making for healthier diets

The overall objective of the EcoFoodSystems project is to strengthen the capacity of food systems organisations and institutions to facilitate the transition towards healthier, more sustainable and more affordable diets for consumers in city regions. In Hanoi, this includes working closely with local partners to support communities disproportionately affected by malnutrition and chronic diseases such as undernutrition and obesity. To do this, the project adopts a multi-stakeholder and multi-level approach. In particular, the project will explore how data can be translated into actionable information for decision-makers that is relevant at both national and sub-national levels.

EcoFoodSystems is led by the University of Galway (Ryan Institute, Ireland) and implemented in collaboration with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Rikolto. The project is funded by the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Workshop organised by the EcoFoodSystems project in Hanoi on Wednesday, 24 January 2024.

Identifying needs and opportunities

What foods and diets are needed to feed growing urban populations and ensure the health of people and the environment? How can we work together to promote affordable healthy diets for all citizens? These were the key questions that organisations from government, the private sector, NGOs and civil society in Vietnam gathered to discuss at a recent workshop organised by the project in Hanoi on Wednesday, 24 January 2024.

Dr Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, Director General of the Department of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, emphasised the importance of a holistic and inclusive approach to food systems, encouraging collaboration across ministries, sectors and stakeholders. Jesus Lavina, Deputy Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Vietnam, shared insights from the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, a key component of the EU Green Deal, highlighting the need to balance environmental sustainability with food security and nutrition.

Prof. Dao The Anh, Vice President of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Head of Vietnam’s Task Force on Food Systems Transformation, highlighted the ongoing efforts to align national policies and strategies with the principles of sustainable and healthy food systems in the country. He stressed the importance for the EcoFoodSystems team to work closely with ministries and stakeholders to identify evidence-based transition pathways that could inform policies.

“Change on a global, national and city-regional scale demands that urban food markets become more inclusive and offer value to all actors in the food chain. We empower farmer groups to become solid business partners and implement future-proof, sustainable practices within our urban food systems. Our focus in the EcoFoodSystems project is on generating research outputs that directly benefit food systems organisations, ensuring a demand-driven approach aligned with national priorities and the needs and the resilience of all food chain actors, farming practices, local communities and urban marginalised food consumers.”

Dam Trong Tuan - Good Food for Cities programme coordinator - Rikolto.

Dr Ta Van Tuong, Deputy Head of the Hanoi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, highlighted the importance of Hanoi within the national food system, in terms of food production and food consumption. He acknowledged that the EcoFoodSystems project is aligned with the Hanoi Capital Development Master Plan 2050, which aims to ensure that food choices contribute to environmental and climate goals.

Charles Spillane, Director of the Ryan Institute at the University of Galway, Ireland, acknowledged the challenge of ensuring that all residents of Hanoi, regardless of age, income or background, have access to affordable, healthy food with minimal environmental impact. He expressed the project’s commitment to conducting research that will enable partner organisations to manage the nutrition transformation effectively and sustainably, promoting the well-being of present and future generations.

Mark Lundy, Co-Investigator of the EcoFoodSystems project and Head of Global Food Environments & Behaviour at the CIAT-Bioversity Alliance, explained the project’s aim to identify and incentivise market signals that encourage farmers to adopt sustainable practices, improve traceability for traders and promote affordable access for all consumers.

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The workshop concluded by agreeing on key research priorities to fill knowledge gaps and develop effective tools to help organisations and consumers transition to healthier, more sustainable and more affordable diets. On the basis of Vietnam’s National Action Plan on Food System Transformation, which aims to achieve transparency, accountability and sustainability by 2030, the project intends to work on these priorities to inform sustainable food system transformation and dietary transitions in Vietnam.

What can be expected from the EcoFoodSystems project in 2024?

Rikolto’s Good Food for Cities team, in collaboration with Hanoi’s Department of Plantation and Plant Protection (DPP) and various local stakeholders, will contribute to Work Package 1 of the project. Led by an alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), this package of the EcoFoodSystems project focuses on agro-ecological transitions of food systems to benefit the most nutritionally disadvantaged people. This includes:

  • Developing approaches to identifying and mapping the most marginalised food consumers in Hanoi’s city region using a multidimensional poverty lens. This research will include understanding their relationship to diverse food supplies, including agro-ecological sources.
  • Identifying barriers, opportunities and plans for sustainable agro-ecological transitions that not only contribute to increasing the affordability of healthy food but also improve the health status and trajectories of undernourished and overnourished people in Hanoi’s city region.
  • Identifying opportunities for behavioural change among the most marginalised food consumers in Hanoi, finding ways to create the conditions for them to shift towards more sustainable and healthier diets.

Contact: Prof. Charles Spillane. Project Director, EcoFoodSystems Project, Ryan Institute, University of Galway, University Road, Galway H91 REW4, Ireland.

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