Home / Dutch Research Agenda – SDG Interactions and Policy Interventions in Developing Countries

Dutch Research Agenda – SDG Interactions and Policy Interventions in Developing Countries

NWA call for proposals
NWO - Dutch Research Agenda - Theme: SDG Interactions and Policy Interventions in Developing Countries
February 4, 2020 By: F&BKP Office Image: NWO-WOTRO

This call for proposals addresses knowledge institutions and other interested parties to participate in research projects focusing on SDG interactions and policy interventions in developing countries. The consortia to be formed will work in an inter- and transdisciplinary manner, internationally and across the entire knowledge chain. Deadline for preliminary application is now postponed till September 15, 2020. 


Inclusive global development is a “wicked problem”. Insecurities, opposing values, changing conditions and mutual dependencies may complicate the pursuit of coherent solutions; partial solutions in one sector may evoke new challenges elsewhere. The SDG goals therefore have to be addressed comprehensively. What is the impact of specific policy choices and interventions on sustainable development at large?

In the face of the complexity of global challenges and challenges for inclusive global development, new approaches are needed. The aim of this call for proposals is to generate new insights into the ways in which SDG goals interact – both positively and negatively – and about the impact on policy interventions and outcomes. This research programme aims to rigorously map, analyse and explain the complex interactions of SDGs to inform integrated and evidence-based SDG policies in the Netherlands and around the world. Evidence-based knowledge is needed to test and investigate the assumptions of the Netherlands BHOS policy.

The main focus of this programme is on developing countries, in particular in the focus regions (Middle East and North Africa, Sahel and Horn of Africa) and in the focus countries (Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan) of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Research should be sensitive to the BHOS policy’s cross-cutting aspects of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and youth employment. It should also reflect on the opportunities and risks digitalisation presents in the context of inclusive and sustainable development.


The call focuses on three themes: SDG governance and decision-making; Addressing trade-offs between food and nutrition security (SDG2) and other SDGs; and Climate change (SDG13) and conflict (SDG16). Applicants have to address one of the three themes, but are encouraged to describe the potential linkages with the other two themes.

About Theme 2 – Addressing trade-offs between food and nutrition security (SDG2) and other SDGs

Increased knowledge about the trade-offs between SDGs is crucial for enabling more informed policy making and implementation. This is of particular importance to the Netherlands BHOS policy, as this agenda aims to coherently integrate development cooperation with foreign trade in focus countries. While the conjunction of sustainable development and long-term economic investments and partnerships is often assumed, research funded under this theme should empirically investigate this assumption from the perspective of SDG2. SDG trade-offs and potential synergies will be studied for at least two localised food systems in developing countries. Research consortia should couple a location-based approach with a comprehensive and comparative approach.

Consortia are expected to focus on SDG trade-offs and potential synergies, straddling the social, economic and ecological domains. Within food systems and value chains, the production and the consumption (nutrition) sides as well as the actors and processes in between (such as processors, transport and trade) are relevant, as is the ecological sustainability of agricultural systems. Interactions with interrelated domains outside food systems and value chains should also be studied, for example infrastructure development and logistics; climate policy; energy production and access; water availability, quality and use; adaptation potential and resilience; biodiversity loss; employment creation, skills development and health; and instability and security.

Research funded under this theme will, in consultation with policymakers and other stakeholders, identify and analyse SDG trade-offs in the selected localised food systems, main value chains and most important interrelated domains. It will compile good practices on how specific SDG trade-offs are addressed in other contexts and explore how local practices already partially deal with such trade-offs. Moreover, research will also investigate how to enhance potential synergies. Finally, research will focus on operationalising policy implications, in interaction with policy makers and other public, private and civil stakeholders, and on developing pilot interventions to address specific SDG trade-offs and enhance synergies.

Policy questions

The Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs has formulated a number of policy questions for each of the three thematic research foci (see annex 6.2 of the call). These policy questions will primarily be used in the policy dialogues between research consortia and MFA. These policy questions may also be used as a source of inspiration for the formulation of proposals. The policy questions may be refined along the way during the programme, based e.g. on policy changes or intermediate programme findings.

Policy questions for theme 2

  1. A body of literature claims that LDC economic transformation starts with raising agriculture (factor) productivity and rural transformations. Particularly for Sub-Sahara Africa reference is often made to what has happened in Asia. Dominant (input) models for such agricultural and rural transformation are promoted and claimed as being inherently sustainable. From a food systems perspective and under the assumption that such transformations are (ultimately) successful, are they consistent with other goals such as the energy (SDG7) and climate transitions (SDG13), countering biodiversity loss, land degradation (SDG15) or health and nutrition outcomes (SDG3, 2)? What are the early and most pertinent trade-offs to be faced along such a transformation trajectory and who or what is affected? Or what is the phasing of impact over time along such a trajectory? What role do global agricultural value chains play in intensifying or mitigating such local trade-offs?
  2. The BHOS policy encompasses multiple goals, including those related to FNS and SDG8 (decent work and economic growth). What are preconditions for economies/countries in SSA to have activities aiming for SDG2 and SDG8 reinforce each other and vice-versa in what types of economies/countries (when, where, why) are trade-offs between such activities more common? What policies and socio-economic environments are conducive to prevent trade-offs between activities aiming for SDG2 and SDG8?
  3. The introduction of information technology is sometimes seen as a near-silver bullet for furthering development goals and helping the marginalized. There is by now a wide range of applications in or affecting the economic space of smallholder agriculture, although many of the applications are not yet to scale. Next to access to information and knowledge, transparency in value chains is often seen as empowering. However, not only smallholders benefit as actors in a chain and there are engrained power imbalances. Smallholders themselves consist of men and women. Under what circumstances are these developments reducing or aggravating information asymmetries? Are they gender neutral in their impact, empowering women or empowering men (SDG5)? When or under what conditions are they reducing or increasing inequalities (SDG10)? What are key characteristics and impacts of the “digital divide”?
  4. Tradeoffs arising from transitions (climate/energy, biodiversity, food systems) from the perspective of an (un)equal N-S distribution. Example: does the European Green Deal have positive, negative or no effects on the for SDG2 required environmental use and development space in selected countries in Africa. How are these effects to be mitigated/optimized?


Who can apply

Proposals must be submitted and carried out by a consortium of researchers and practitioners. For research partnerships to be effective, they have to be inclusive and fair. All consortium members have to be involved in the formulation of the research questions, in the development of the proposal and in the execution of the research project. Consortia, consisting of organisations from various disciplines and backgrounds from across the globe, may apply for funding under this call. The minimum requirements for an eligible consortium are:

What to apply for

A total budget of 6.15 million euros is available for this call for proposals, of which a maximum of 150.000 euros is reserved for proposal elaboration workshop grants. The maximum budget for a single research project is 2 million euros. An additional programme budget of a maximum of 0.5 million euros will be invested in programme-wide activities (cross-cutting programme knowledge brokering initiative and joint programme group).

When to apply

  • Deadline for the submission of a preliminary application is 15 September 2020, 14:00.00 hrs CE(S)T.
  • Deadline for the submission of a full application is 26 January 2021, 14:00.00 hrs CE(S)T.

Only consortia that have submitted a preliminary proposal may be invited to apply for a full proposal. Main applicants who are invited to submit a full proposal have to organize a mandatory multi-stakeholder proposal elaboration workshop prior to submitting the full proposal. Only those applicants can apply for an additional workshop grant of maximum 15,000 euros from NWO.

Apply electronically

More information

Please visit the NWO website for more information on the assessment criteria and procedure.

Documents to download

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