Making headway towards urban food security

This blogpost was written by Miguel Ruiz Marchini, MSc student in Organic Agriculture at Wageningen University and #CFS43 Social Reporter. The original blog post can be found here.


Urbanization has been a growing and tangible trend in our societies since the industrial revolution. With climate change and increasing migration patterns, the risks and stakes are higher. The attention on food security has been focused, naturally, on rural production. This needs to evolve. Efforts are underway to transform urban landscapes into resilient systems that foster and support food production, and civic inclusion.

The side event “Urban food policies and their role in sustainable food systems” exposed ‘la crème de la crème’ of forward-looking policy making for urban food security. It was presented by IPES-Food, UNESCO Chair on World Food Systems, Ivory Coast, FAO, and IUFN as part of the 2016 Commission on World Food Security (CFS) Plenary.

Bottom-Up Success

Let us start with some common ground regarding our global situation. Our climate is changing and this will alter food production and access. Population growth is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, most of them will be allocated in urban areas by then. We need more food and effective cities. But how?

The results presented during this event suggest new patterns of governance for improving livelihoods are needed, requiring a bottom-up approach to policy making. Accordingly, transforming cities must involve developing sustainable systems, by integrating civic, private and governmental channels. Rephrasing Guido Santini from Food for Cities (FAO), the right to food will be assured by fomenting change within all sectors (civil, private, and institutional) in a holistic way. The value of the approach relies primarily on adapting policy making  – tied to the entire food chain and involving all stakeholders – within the local context of a cityregion, or community. This concept is rephrased as the “city-level multi-stakeholder approach”.

The use of participatory governance is fundamental to adapt global goals to local scenarios. The interaction between government and civil society should guide policy making towards a sustainable food system.

This engagement requires much coordination and cooperation. Though we are dealing with a challenging panorama, there is a differentiation within the interests of the stakeholders.  Their demands must be addressed and all actors must receive an incentive from the policies developed for it to be effective and beneficial. There is a need for action but, more importantly, there is a need for lasting policies: benefits that will be sustained in the long term and that bring about real change.



Food security risks in urban areas are inherited from our failing systems. Moreover increasing risks present opportunities to build resilience. Urban waste and food surplus, food culture, health and nutrition, markets, the urban landscape (and its surroundings) and a growing industrialized agro-system are all areas that must be addressed. This conclusion is based on the many case studies that have been executed by several of the presenting organizations. At a global level, efforts to coordinate policies are exemplified by the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (2015), an agreement that synthesizes these progressive strategies in cooperation with 130 cities and impacting on 460 million people worldwide.  There have been some remarkable achievements in cases such as the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative. Beginning in  2010, the city of Baltimore in the United States  engaged fully in creating a sustainable local food system, focusing on fighting health, economic and environmental inequalities by improving access to nutritional and affordable food in their ‘food deserts’. The project co-ordinates 15 city agencies, headed by a Food Policy Director. The plan includes strategies like Homegrown Baltimore, an urban agriculture plan that encompasses community gardens to commercial farms, land leasing, animal husbandry and soil health-safety.

Just the start

There are numerous other urban food security initiatives that are worth mentioning, both in policy making and research.  The SUPURBfood programme, launched in the Netherlands, focuses on short chain food provision at a city-region scale. The Vancouver Food Strategy (Canada) and The Women’s Group Economical Empowerment (Lusaka, Zambia) are among many others.

Across many cities local food-related civil and private initiatives are sprouting like “superweeds ” (a term used for weeds that have build resistance to herbicides, not two words) and, with the right policy approach, they will consolidate to create a new generation of cities. The future remains uncertain, but strategies like this will make sustainability, resilience, fairness and satisfying livelihoods core and universal values  in our approach to urbanscapes and our food system. This is just the start.

Photocredit: ©Mike Di Paola/Bloomberg via


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