Key Vietnamese organisations identify research needs and opportunities to enable food consumers in Hanoi city region to shift to healthier diets that are friendlier to planet and pocket

Hanoi, Vietnam – January 24, 2024.

All of the 99 million people in Vietnam want access to healthier foods for their families that are affordable and which have low impacts on the environment. Almost half of the citizens of Vietnam now live in urban areas, with over 8 million people living in the Hanoi city region. By 2050, three quarters of Vietnam’s people will be living in urban areas. What foods and diets are necessary to feed the growing urban populations and ensure the health of both the people and the environment? Does everyone have enough money for a healthy diet? These were key questions that leading organisations (across government, private sector, NGOs and civil society) in Vietnam discussed at the recent EcoFoodSystems research project workshop in Hanoi on Wednesday January 24, 2024.

The EcoFoodSystems project conducts research to enable food systems organisations and institutions in Vietnam to accelerate transitions of food consumers in the Hanoi city region to more sustainable (lower environmental footprint), healthy and affordable diets. The project has a specific focus on working with partners to help improve the health of people and communities that are nutritionally marginalised as a result of the diets they consume. This can include food consumers who suffer from under-nutrition, or consumers whose diets and lifestyles are leading to overweight and obesity (which contributes to increasing incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes type 2 and cardiovascular disease). The EcoFoodSystems project is led by the University of Galway Ireland, with partner organisations The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and Rikolto – Vietnam. The project is funded by the European Union and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

To identify knowledge gaps and research needs that can help organisations across the food system in Hanoi city region to transition the diets of consumers towards healthier and more sustainable diets, the EcoFoodSystems project held a multi-stakeholder consultation workshop in Hanoi. The Hanoi workshop brought together key representatives and experts from over 50 different organisations spanning government ministries, companies, unions, cooperatives, NGOs rural development, youth and UN agencies across Vietnam.

The workshop was opened by Dr. Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, Director General, International Cooperation Department, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), with overviews on the food systems transformation underway in Vietnam from the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Prof. Dao The Anh) and the National Institute of Nutrition (Prof. Truong Tuyet Mai). As the EcoFoodSystems project is funded by the European Union (EU) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Delegation of the European Union to Vietnam was represented at the workshop by Jesus Lavina, Deputy Head of Cooperation.

During his opening remarks, Dr, Nguyen Do Anh Tuan, Director General of International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development highlighted the importance of taking a foods systems approach across Ministries, sectors and stakeholders. He indicated that Vietnam is a pioneer globally for taking a food systems approach across relevant polices, plans and Ministries.The Vice President of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Prof. Dao The Anh, stressed the importance of access by poor people to healthy, sustainable and affordable foods. As head of Vietnam’s Task Force on Food Systems Transformation he highlighted the ongoing work between Ministries, sectors and stakeholders to build consensus towards agreed goals. He urged the EcoFoodSystems project to work closely with the government Ministries and stakeholders to identify evidence-based options for transition pathways and policies that could be considered.

At the Workshop, Dr. Ta Van Tuong, Vice Head of the Hanoi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development emphasised the importance of Hanoi in the national food system, and its relevance to both food production and consumption. He highlighted the opportunity and activities towards a food systems approach informing the Hanoi Capital Development Master Plan 2050 to ensure that the diets, lifestyles and food environments support healthy citizens whose food consumption also contributes to climate and environmental goals.

The Leader of the EcoFoodSystems research project, Prof. Charles Spillane who is Director of the Ryan Institute at the University of Galway in Ireland, highlighted that “Vietnam has made impressive strides in food security and nutrition over the past decades. Growing urban populations such as Hanoi need to be fed by vibrant rural communities where farmers and their households gain a decent living from farming and food value chains, while they strive to reduce the environmental impact foods and increase the resilience to climate change of the foods they produce. Healthy diets lead to healthy people. But there is a challenge for all organisations in the Hanoi city region’s food system to ensure that all people, young and old, rich and poor, have access to healthy diets that are affordable, where the foods within the diet are produced and supplied with the lowest environmental impact. Our project aims to conduct research for partner organisations to better navigate this dietary transition to ensure that current and future generations are healthy”.

Mark Lundy, Co-Investigator on the EcoFoodSystems project and Leader of Global Food Environments & Behaviour at the Alliance CIAT-Bioversity further added “The Alliance of Bioversity-CIAT is excited to participate in the EcoFoodSystems project given its focus on linking sustainable, agroecological production systems with diverse and healthy diets for consumers. We hope to help identify clear market signals from consumers to incentivize farmer adoption of clean production practices, traders to improve traceability of products and retailers to ensure good access and affordability for all consumers. This work aligns well with the Food System National Action Plan. We look forward to working with our key partners in Vietnam to see how this project can contribute to evidence for this successful transformation.”

Dam Trong Tuan from EcoFoodSystems partner Rikolto-Vietnam indicated that, “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 organizations, ensuring a demand-driven approach aligned with national priorities, and the needs and resilience of all food chain actors, farming practices, local communities and urban marginalised food consumers.”

At the EcoFoodSystems workshop, the Vietnamese food systems organisations worked together to identify and agree key research priorities to fill knowledge gaps and provide better tools that can enable the organisations and actors along the chain from food production to consumption, including food waste to help consumers to transition to diets that are more healthy, sustainable and affordable.

The research priorities identified at the EcoFoodSystems workshop will inform sustainable food systems transformations and dietary transitions in Vietnam. The project’s activities are aligned with the country’s national policies and the National Action Plan on Food System Transformation. The Action Plan aims for Transparency, Responsibility, and Sustainability by 2030.