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SLU leads € 11.5 million project on aquatic and agri-foods systems in low-income contexts

Published: 20 April 2023

SLU is leading a new interdisciplinary policy project about aquatic and agri-foods systems in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. SLU Global met with professor Kostas Karantininis, Department of People & Society, who is the director of the new project called Sustainable Agri-Food Systems Intelligence – Science-Policy Interface (SASi-SPi).

Hi Kostas, what is the project about?

– SASi-SPi is a 5-year € 11.5 million project with the overall objective to contribute to the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of Aquatic and Agri-Food Systems in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

How does this project differ from other projects you have been part of?

– This is the most challenging and most fascinating project of my 30 years of university and research career. First, while it is clearly an inter-disciplinary project, it is a social-sciences, economics in particular, driven project. This is unique for a project of this size and for SLU. Usually, with few exceptions, most projects, especially large development projects, are driven by natural sciences, where social science plays a supporting role. The fact that the project is designed and lead by economists and other social scientists is a welcomed, yet a very heavy challenge for the coordination and implementation of this project.

– It is deeply a policy project. What makes it even more attractive is its direct and engaging nature. We will be providing "intelligence" in short and long notice, at country level and broad themes, directly to policy makers, primarily in Brussels and in the intervention countries in the South (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Together with our FAO partners we will be one "intelligence" and science support mechanism for the European Commission on issues related to agri-food systems transformation, sustainability and climate change. The activities will be cross-cutting and bring together researchers, policy makers and agri-food system stakeholders to generate applied knowledge, and policy support.

– This is not a research project per se. Yet it is founded on research, and it provides ample room (and funding) for research, especially through the part led by SLU and coordinated by Professor Rodomiro Ortiz, Department of Plant Breeding. This part is about generating narratives and reference frameworks on key thematic issues, policy options, institutional processes and trade-offs informing the transition to sustainable aquatic and agri- food systems.

Are there any opportunities for others at SLU to be involved?

– The SASi-SPi is a large project and is primarily open to each of the 35 AGRINATURA member organisations, of which SLU is one. There are plenty of opportunities for SLU researchers to be engaged in activities and sub-projects, not only in the largest work stream, Work Stream 2, that deals with broad cross-cutting themes, and is led by SLU, but also in the other work streams, by, for example supporting rapid responses and country interventions. The content and potential of the project must be communicated across SLU, since SASi-SPi will very soon need an inventory of researchers and competences.

Food transformation, food transition, food systems are on every one’s lips right now – what is this project adding?

– A holistic, science-based approach is required to understand the challenges ahead, and to comprehend the role agriculture is called to play in, dealing with the world's critical issues and the attainment of the UN's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

– Similarly, ascience-based approach is needed to support policy formation and implementation for the much-needed systemic transformation of the entire system of production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food. This is more pertinent, in lieu of the global challenges ahead, both long-term, such as climate change, poverty, etc., as well as short term, such as the pandemic and the Ukrainian war. These challenges, and the need to approach them with the lens of science, become increasingly clear to all those directly involved in research as well as in policy analysis, policy formation and the accompanying investments to support and accelerate the transformation towards a sustainable, viable and healthy future for the planet. This project is in the heart of this process in a European and global context.

Thank you Kostas and good luck with this impressive project!


The structure of the SASi-SPi

A "sister" project, named SASi (€ 10 m) is coordinated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The two teams, AGRINATURA and FAO, will work in close collaboration and coordination on the overall project and each work stream (se below).

The SASi-SPi has four specific objectives and corresponding work streams

The Project Management Unit
is responsible for the coordination and implementation. Led by the Department of People & Society, SLU. Professor Kostas Karantininis, is the project director.

Work streams

1. Provides fast-track intelligence within 72 hours upon request – twice per month. Led by the French agricultural research and cooperation organization working for the sustainable development of tropical and Mediterranean regions (CIRAD).

2. Develops intelligence on four cross-cutting themes and will establish Science-Policy Labs to test and implement policy recommendations. Led by the Department of Plant Breeding, SLU. Professor Rodomiro Ortiz, SLU, is the coordinator.

3. Works in close collaboration with the FAO team and the corresponding European Commission delegations on three countries. So far, Sierra Leone, Colombia, and probably Bhutan have been selected. Led by CIRAD, France.

4. Provides communication in site and overall, for the project. Led by iCRA.


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