Dr. Krishna Belbase, Senior Evaluator and Team Leader for the System Transformation (ST) Science Group Evaluation, and Lea Corsetti, Research Analyst, recently completed a short visit to Bangladesh from 28 April - 4 May 2024, to gather first-hand information about CGIAR’s work in the country. Here are some of their first impressions.


Key Messages 

  • Visit Overview: Gathered insights through meetings with 30+ experts; despite a heatwave, CIMMYT’s generous support made it a productive visit.
  • CGIAR Initiatives: Focus on biofortification, nutrition research, and diet awareness; IFPRI’s PRSSP aligns with national priorities.
  • National Alignment: Stakeholders want CGIAR to be more responsive to Bangladesh's evolving needs; promising initiatives such as SHIFT and TAFSSA are still in their early stages.
  • Achievements: Recognized contributions from IRRI, IFPRI, CIMMYT, WorldFish, and CIP; SHIFT and TAFSSA show significant potential.
  • Future Opportunities: Enhance collaboration with the government and development partners to unify efforts for greater impact.


Q: How was the country visit to Bangladesh structured? How did it go? 

Krishna Belbase: The visit was primarily focused on conducting interviews and meetings with internal CGIAR representatives, as well as a diverse range of key external stakeholders within Dhaka. These included government counterparts from various ministries and agencies such as the Ministry of Food and Bangladesh Agriculture Research Council (BARC), development partners such as USAID and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), national agricultural research institutions, international and local NGOs, and private sector entities such as Syngenta. We engaged with over 30 experts and officials through individual in-depth interviews as well as small group discussions.

Lea Corsetti: The CIMMYT country office provided excellent logistical support in hosting us, facilitating transport, and coordinating the interviews/meetings. Despite facing the challenging weather conditions of a heatwave in South Asia during our visit, we had a successful and productive experience overall. CGIAR’s actions include continued promotion of biofortification, nutrition-focused agricultural research, and awareness generation on healthy diets. On the policy front, IFPRI’s Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program (PRSSP), supported by USAID, is recognized as a major long-term initiative aligned to national priorities. 


Q: Regarding the ST Science Group, how responsive is CGIAR to Bangladesh's national needs and priorities?

KB: Bangladesh is undergoing a multidimensional transformation across its food system, driven by factors such as economic growth, climate change impacts, demographic shifts, evolving consumer preferences, and rapid urbanization. Both the government and key development partners expressed strong interest in CGIAR playing a more prominent, well-coordinated role that is more responsive and tailored to the country's national needs and priorities.

While promising ST Initiatives such as Sustainable Healthy Diets through Food Systems Transformation (SHIFT), Rethinking Food Markets, and the regional Transforming Agrifood Systems in South Asia (TAFSSA) are still in early stages of implementation, they were highlighted by stakeholders as pioneering examples of system transformation approaches linking research, capacity building, and on-the-ground impact. However, most stakeholders felt that CGIAR could be an even more influential partner by jointly assessing priorities with the government and potential partners, crafting integrated multi-disciplinary research programs, and effectively embedding itself within Bangladesh's food system transformation efforts.

The appointment of a country convener and launch of the One CGIAR reform has raised CGIAR's visibility and expectation from key stakeholders, and sparked dialogue on how CG can achieve greater impact at the national level. Regular cross-center meetings facilitated by the convener are a positive step towards enhancing collaboration, but much more remains to be done to shift from working in thematic silos to adopting a cohesive, systems-oriented approach to transforming food, land, and water systems. 

Watermelons delivered by riverboat for market in Dhaka. Dhaka still relies heavily on river transport for essential goods like food. Credit: Lea Corsetti.

Q: Can you share some achievements that partners highlighted so far? 

LC: Partners widely acknowledged CGIAR's long-standing history and rich portfolio of contributions in Bangladesh across Science Groups, especially from prominent centers like IRRI, IFPRI, and CIMMYT. In recent years, WorldFish and CIP have also made very significant contributions in their respective areas of focus. Among more recent work, SHIFT, Rethinking Food Markets, TAFSSA are great examples of initiatives with the potential to make significant contribution to system transformation in the respective sub-sectors.

KB: Key counterparts also commended CGs catalytic role in broader country-led initiatives, especially a recent World Bank funded government project on food system transformation where CG together with FAO has made significant contribution at design and negotiation stage.    Several partners emphasized that CGIAR's potential in system transformation (ST SG) initiatives could be enhanced by improving coordinated planning, regular engagement with key government transformation efforts, and better alignment with national priorities and needs.

Street vendor in front of Ahsan Manzil Museum. Credit: Lea Corsetti.

Q: What would you consider as the key opportunities going forward in the ongoing reform?

KB: Bangladesh finds itself at an important inflection point, experiencing multidimensional changes across its economic, climatic, demographic, agricultural, and consumer behavior landscapes. There is a clear opportunity for CGIAR to position itself as a more influential voice and source of evidence-based solutions in key national forums and initiatives related to food and nutrition security, climate resilience, sustainable management of land and water resources.  CGIAR should explore deeper collaborations with the government and development partners across various levels, ranging from policy co-creation to capacity strengthening of national researchers and institutions. Examining cross-cutting themes like agriculture's environmental footprint, post-harvest losses, supply chain dynamics and market integration seem to present potential high-impact opportunities. 

While most stakeholders acknowledged CGIAR's strong technical capabilities and contributions, they highlighted the need for enhanced in-country leadership and advocacy, cohesive communication of a unified vision, and integrated programming that transcends the current initiative/project-based fragmentation.  With its multi-disciplinary expertise and global convening power, CGIAR is uniquely positioned to contribute more effectively to Bangladesh's ongoing transformation towards a resilient, equitable, and sustainable food system by further adapting its mindset and operations to the country's evolving needs and priorities.