Ricardo Hernández: a well-kept secret weapon residing in Vietnam

Ricardo Hernández is a well-kept secret weapon residing in the Vietnam office for the war against nutritional deficiencies. As part of the Sustainable Food System team under the Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) in Vietnam, his mission is to help us disassembling to comprehend the biggest and most complex machine of these times in the agricultural world (and in others): the food system.

As a foodie, agrifood economist from Michigan State University, and value chains expert, Ricardo has the background and the passion for this work. Maybe because he comes from a land that smells like cardamom and coffee (Las Verapaces, Guatemala), he can connect deeply with the food dynamics of a country such as Vietnam, full of flavors and diversity in many ways. Perhaps because of his training through 5 years in his previous work with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Bangladesh, he is prepared for the adventure, the pressure, and the big challenges.

His passion for continuous learning and his strength to ask good questions make him a key part of different studies and assessments. As an example, Ricardo is currently part of a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in which he has led the design and implementation of a market-level assessment. The goal of the study is to improve the fruit and vegetable intakes of urban low-income consumers in Nigeria and Vietnam. To achieve this goal, the project aims to design, implement, and test demand-driven innovations that close gaps in year-round fruit and vegetable consumption by improving the accessibility, availability, and acceptability of fruits and vegetables through diversification of retail outlets and innovative retailing mechanisms, price incentive schemes, and promotional campaigns, in close participation with consumers.

On the other hand, Ricardo has been working with Matthias Jäger, Chris Bené, Brice Even, and Christine Chege in an initiative on Nutritional-Sensitive Value Chains (NSVC). This study was funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to improve the impact of rural development projects in five countries in Asia and Africa – sometimes in regions such as Niger, where an armed escort was required. This team was looking for insights into how the IFAD investment portfolio (more than half a billion dollars) in value-chain projects could address a set of nutrition problems through its interventions in those two regions.

In the same way, Ricardo worked with the A4NH team in a study on Diets, Nutrition, and Consumer Behavior in Vietnam, in partnership with the National Institute of Nutrition. The objective of this project was to obtain a better understanding of food purchase and consumption practices to identify ways that can effectively promote demand for healthy foods.

Recently, Ricardo also became part of The Missing Middle: Food system transformation pathways to link action at multiple levels to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2, 12, 13, and 15 in Tanzania and Vietnam. The resulting pathways of this project will incorporate locally relevant SDG targets, synergies, and trade-offs that support stakeholders in contributing to the SDGs and addressing the Missing Middle between agricultural production and food consumption (SDG 2) that affects vulnerable groups such as smallholder farmers and poor urban consumers.

Meanwhile, as many in the «Sustainable Food Systems world,» Ricardo continues looking for the exquisite combination of nutrition, consumer behavior, and market assessment methodologies to achieve CIAT’s laudable outcome of increased consumption of healthier, safer, and sustainable foods.

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