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An evidence gap map: food systems interventions for nutrition and food security outcomes

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Moore N, Lane C, Storhaug I, Franich A, Rolker H, Furgeson J et al (2021) 3ie Evidence gap map brief: The effects of food systems interventions on food security and nutrition outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. International Initiative for Impact Evaluation. Available from: https://www.3ieimpact.org/sites/default/files/2021-01/Food-system-EGM-brief.pdf

In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), constraints and complexities within food systems are significant drivers of malnutrition and food insecurity. However, the evidence base for the impact of interventions within food systems on improving nutrition and food security is complicated and disorganised. To address this challenge, the International Initiative for Impact Evaluations (3ie), with support from Innovative Methods and Metrics for Agriculture and Nutrition Actions, developed an evidence gap map (EGM). The map collates evidence from impact evaluations and systematic reviews, which assess the effects of food systems interventions on food security and nutrition outcomes in LMICs. The evidence is presented graphically on an interactive online platform, facilitating the identification of evidence and potential gaps in a user-friendly way. Supporting information for the map is published in the 3ie EGM report 16.

The map includes 2,035 published and unpublished studies that took place between 2000 and mid-2020: 178 systematic reviews, and 1,838 impact evaluations. Impact evaluations were primarily located in Sub-Saharan Africa (33%), South Asia (20%), and East Asia and the Pacific (17%). The evidence is mapped according to a framework of 49 interventions, 48 intermediate outcomes, and 26 final outcomes. There was an increase in the number of studies published since 2000, with the largest increase in interventions aiming to improve the food supply chain or consumer behaviour within food systems. Similarly, there has been an increase in the quality of studies available. The most common interventions focused on providing supplements, fortification, classes, peer support, and counselling, targeting consumer behaviour, and direct provision of food. However, several interventions, including some that have been widely implemented, have not been well researched, allowing for potentially negative consequences and the inefficient use of funds. For example, the authors did not identify any impact evaluations related to advertising regulations, food waste education programmes, or food packaging.

Despite women being important actors within food systems, the authors identified relatively few studies examining interventions supporting women’s decision-making or measuring outcomes related to women’s empowerment. Most impact evaluations were also conducted at a local and subnational level, resulting in less evidence on national and transnational interventions; this gap is likely driven by a tendency to rely on randomised control trials. Few studies implemented mixed methods, reported cost-effectiveness evidence, or considered outcomes along the impact pathway.

Based on the gaps identified, the authors suggested several synthesis opportunities and outcomes and interventions that could be prioritised in future work.

Interventions to prioritise for impact evaluations:

Outcomes to prioritise for impact evaluations:

Synthesis opportunities:

The EGM, corresponding report and brief are available from: https://www.3ieimpact.org/evidence-hub/publications/evidence-gap-maps/effects-food-systems-interventions-food-security-and

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An evidence gap map: food systems interventions for nutrition and food security outcomes. Field Exchange 67, April 2022. p88. www.ennonline.net/fex/67/foodsystemsgapmap

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