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By Dr Sami Sunna
This key paper addresses the issue of urban food supply and distribution (FSD) policies and programmes. It is structured in two parts:
Part 1: The need for urban FSD policies and programmes explains why such policies and programmes are required and how they should be formulated.[15]

Part 2: The challenges involved in FSD policy formulation including an examination of the experience of the city of Greater Amman, Jordan.

Part 1 - The need for urban FSD policies and programmes

Recent studies show that urban growth in most developing countries is being accompanied by growth in the absolute numbers of people living close to or below poverty lines, with some cities (e.g. Hanoi, Dhaka, Chittagong and Davao) facing poverty rates of 50 percent or more. Food insecurity is thus increasingly becoming an urban problem. More and more urban households are facing difficulties in accessing adequate food supplies for their nutritional requirements.

Urban expansion in developing countries has four major consequences for urban food security:

1. Demands for land for housing, industry and infrastructure compete with agricultural production within and around cities. Suitable productive lands are thus likely to be lost. More food will have to be produced in areas presently under cultivation (if higher yields are possible), grown on new lands (which are likely to be at a greater distance and less productive) and/or imported.

2. Increasing quantities of food must be brought to cities and distributed within the urban area. This puts additional pressure on existing food distribution systems, which, in many developing countries, are characterized by high food losses and waste, market imperfections, unnecessarily high marketing margins, inadequate services and poor performance.

3. More transport facilities will be needed for bringing produce from production to wholesale areas and then on to retail markets. This movement will result in increasing traffic congestion and pollution. Higher transportation costs, a main component of food prices, will contribute to increasing food prices for the urban poor.

4. The demand for processed and convenience foods will increase, raising further food quality and safety issues in terms of the utilization of inputs (particularly water) and hygienic conditions and practices all along the food chain.

As a result, the overall cost of supplying, distributing and accessing food is likely to increase. Urban consumers will pay higher prices for their food. This increase will be accompanied by an increase in the number of food insecure urban households, especially poor households in areas not served with adequate food distribution facilities.

To deal with the growing FSD problems accompanying the growth of cities, the establishment of a well functioning food supply and distribution system (FSDS) is essential. An FSDS needs to: 1) respond efficiently and equitably to expected changes in the amounts and sources of food required; 2) meet changing consumer preferences; 3) make food of good quality accessible to all city inhabitants at accessible prices; and, 4) eliminate food-related health problems. These four areas should be priorities for city and local authorities (CLAs).

There is, however, a general feeling of dissatisfaction with FSDSs to many cities in developing countries. Such systems are usually described as inefficient and disorderly. Major reforms in the food sector have been introduced in many countries as part of overall economic reform, yet there is little evidence of major improvements in basic infrastructure, services, laws and regulations and management of FSD activities.

There is a general consensus that CLAs can play a proactive and leading role in developing efficient FSDSs. This role is facilitated by the fact that the development, operation and management of food markets and the regulation of food production and trade at the urban level are already key functions of local authorities. They are in closer contact with the local community than are central government institutions and can therefore develop collaborative partnerships with the private sector. The mayors, city executives and representatives of city and local governments at the 34th World Congress of the International Union of Local Authorities have confirmed this collaborative role. Their declaration is reported below:

Barcelona Declaration

“... reaching food security through efficient and low-cost food supply and distribution systems... can contribute to improved health conditions, quality of life and the environment (in cities)”.

Declaration by the mayors, city executives and representatives of city and local governments at the 34th World Congress of the International Union of Local Authorities, Barcelona, Spain, 20-24 March 1999

An integrated and comprehensive urban FSD policy at the city level is required due to the fact that:

1 - What is an urban FSD policy?

While the development of rural areas is mainly the responsibility of the central government (usually the Ministry of Agriculture), many aspects of FSDS fall under the responsibility of the CLAs. To improve access to food in a sustainable manner necessitates an understanding of urban food needs and FSD constraints and a concerted approach to solutions as well as the sharing of institutional responsibilities. The formulation and implementation of an FSD policy will help in achieving the above objectives.

An urban FSD policy is “a set of goals, objectives, strategies and programmes, set within a specified time frame and formulated in close collaboration with all concerned stakeholders. It guides CLAs in the use of resources under their control and through private sector investment, to improve access by urban households to stable supplies of good quality food, through efficient, hygienic, healthy and environmentally-sound FSDSs”.

Policy goals, objectives and strategies

The goals of FSD policies are usually threefold:

Economic: To promote efficient FSD systems so as to achieve stable supplies of lower food prices to low income urban consumers and food production incentives through equitable and efficient marketing opportunities for farmers.

Social: To minimize food insecurity in poor urban households to achieve improved equity and increased consumption from lower food prices; reduced social disruption, because supplies and prices are more stable; increased employment and income opportunities in the food sector.

Public Health and Environmental: To eliminate food-related health problems and minimize the negative impact of FSD activities on the environment, through:

Overall, policy goals should be clear, credible and reflect the vision of both citizens and policy makers.

Policy objectives

Policy objectives represent what a city needs to achieve in order to attain policy goals. Objectives should be attainable, feasible, credible, technically sound, consistent with central government priorities and socially as well as politically acceptable.

The relation between policy goals and objectives is explained in Figure 7.1.

Figure 7.1: Relation between policy goals and objectives: an example


FSD strategies indicate the ways in which policy objectives and goals can be achieved. Such strategies must be seen in the context of policies, strategies and customs governing different aspects of economic and social life (e.g. structural adjustment, economic liberalization and decentralization and religious and ethnic rules) which affect the FSD environment.

Complementarity between policies

A well functioning FSDS facilitates access to food but does not, in itself, ensure that those without the means to buy food can obtain it. Access to food for the urban poor requires public action to generate incomes through employment creation or to distribute food (e.g. food subsidies and food stamps). Nutrition, hygiene and health education are also important for the most vulnerable consumers. Therefore FSD policy supports and should be supported by other policies, programmes and initiatives, as shown in Figure 7.2.

Figure 7.2: Some of the policies, programmes and initiatives required to improve urban food security

Source: Argenti, 2000: p. 15.
Conflicts between policies

Conflicts may arise between general macro-economic policies and specific FSD policies. It will thus be necessary to assess the impact of national policies on the development of FSDSs in various areas. For example, do inflation-control measures and public sector budgetary requirements hinder private investments in FSD? Similarly, are measures to dismantle state-run food distribution chains likely to create private oligopolies? Are there discriminatory practices affecting credit access for small food producers and traders? Are budget allocations to CLAs in line with increasing responsibilities, particularly for transport and market infrastructure development? Finally, are prospective reductions in government budgets likely to limit retraining of staff required by changes in policy orientation and decentralization programmes?

Basic principles for formulation of FSD policies

In formulating FSD policies, the following four basic principles should be adhered to:

Right approach: Adoption of a consultative, participatory, open-minded, alliance seeking and technically sound approach. The private sector should be involved in planning decisions.

Competition: Promote competition and reduce the influence of large intermediaries.

Go private: Facilities and services, which can be run as businesses, are best left to the private sector.

No trends: Resist trends toward “modernization” or “preserving tradition” and encourage developments which lower the cost of living and stimulate employment growth in the city.

Elements of FSD policies

An FSD policy has to cover the following issues and areas of concern:

Food supply to cities

Food supply to cities issues cover:

Urban food distribution

Urban food distribution issues cover:

Health and the environment

Health issues cover:

Environmental issues include:

FSD programmes

Once solutions, policies and strategies have been agreed upon among all stakeholders, regional, metropolitan, urban and local programmes for supplying and distributing food within a city must be designed.

Programmes for supplying and distributing food to a city are sets of coherent and logically structured interventions and expected results achieved within a time framework and with well-identified implementation responsibilities. Their specific objectives are linked to the achievement of FSD policy goals and objectives in the urban area as well as the periurban and rural areas upon which the city depends for its food supply (through which the food consumed in the city moves).

FSD programmes are prepared at regional, metropolitan, urban and local levels. Examples of some programme interventions at the four levels are shown in Figure 7.3:

Figure 7.3: FSD programmes at regional, metropolitan, urban and local levels

Programmes must be designed to facilitate action in the:

Each programme should address food supply, urban food distribution and health and environmental issues in the form of subprogrammes, each containing specific action plans addressing well-defined aspects of FSD. Action plans should comprise clearly identified expected results and related interventions as shown in Figure 7.4:

Figure 7.4: An urban programme arranged by subprogrammes and action plans

Although interventions in distinct areas are usually undertaken by different institutions, an approach based on an agreed upon vision of the city will facilitate the assignment of institutional responsibilities.

Part 2 - Challenges involved in FSD policy formulation: The experience of the city of Greater Amman, Jordan

Jordan is a small country of five million people with an average per capita income of approximately US$1 500 per year. The country witnessed rapid and unplanned urbanization caused by a number of political events in the region. First, the influx of Palestinian refugees in 1948, followed by displaced persons from the West Bank of Jordan in 1967, over 360 000 returnees from the gulf countries in 1991 and 1992 as a result of the gulf war and of the continued emigration of rural poor into the cities. The population of the city of Amman has increased from about 800 000 people in 1980 to around 1.7 million in the year 2000. Its area increased from 50 km2 in 1950 to around 640 km2 in the year 2000.

The rapid urbanization process has become a major concern for government institutions and local authorities due to its impact on already overtaxed social and economic services. Particularly affected are food distribution systems, which have a direct impact on the welfare and health of the population.

Cognisant of such impacts and of the need to take appropriate concerted action in this respect, the government of Jordan decided to undertake a study of the FSDS for basic food supplies to the city of Greater Amman. This led to the preparation of an FSD policy and associated programmes to address present and envisaged constraints. The government obtained technical assistance from the FAO.

Steps undertaken in the preparation of the FSDS study and the formulation of FSD policy and programmes for the city of Greater Amman.

The Agricultural Marketing Organization (AMO) was the lead national agency. An Inter-institutional Project Support Committee, composed of public and private institutions concerned with FSD, was established. This committee was responsible for ensuring effective collaboration between the concerned national institutions and facilitating all required information and data.

A team of national experts was set up that included: a marketing planning economist, an urban planner, a micro-enterprise development specialist, a food system economist, a food trade legislation and regulation specialist and an urban market development specialist.

A number of workshops on selected topics were organized to involve and raise the awareness of policy makers and of the senior and middle management staff of concerned local authorities and institutions on FSDS constraints. These were:

Food markets planning and management workshop.

Micro and small enterprise development within the context of FSD to the city of Greater Amman.

Legislation and regulations governing FSD to the city of Greater Amman.

FSD policy and programmes.

Various technical documents on urban FSD issues were adapted to an Arabic-speaking audience. A case study of FSD to the city of Greater Amman was prepared, reviewed and discussed with public and private institutions. Following this, proposals for an FSD policy over the next ten years and a programme for short and medium term interventions were prepared and discussed with national authorities.

Difficulties encountered in formulating FSD policies, strategies and programmes

The first difficulty encountered in Amman with respect to formulating FSD policies, strategies and programmes concerns the importance of local authorities. The AMO is a central government institution mainly responsible for the marketing of fresh fruit and vegetables. It does not have an overall view of Amman’s present or future food needs or of FSD structures and problems (other than those related to fruit and vegetable marketing). The contribution of various AMO departments to the analysis of the present FSD constraints was limited. It would have been more appropriate to select the municipality as the executing agency because of its direct involvement in FSD matters.

The second sets of difficulties were related to the inadequate concern by local authorities for FSD issues. In spite of the interest of the municipality of Amman in ensuring accessibility of all its inhabitants, especially the poor, to good quality food at acceptable prices, and in improving the FSDS, it considers food security a national issue and therefore a central government responsibility. Very low priority is assigned to urban food security. The study team could not get any information on programmes the municipality intends to carry out to reduce the number of food insecure urban households.

The inadequate understanding of FSDS issues by concerned authorities further complicated the municipality’s involvement in the Amman project. The interventions of the municipality of Amman in the FSDS (constructing, operating and managing market places) are mainly considered as a source of income to the municipality. Many functions of the city authorities have either direct or indirect impacts on FSDS. Most city executives, however, are not aware of the impact of an efficient FSD system on the healthy development of the city and of the potential economic, social and environmental benefits accruing from a well functioning FSDS.

The experience of Amman underscores the importance of the direct support and involvement of policy makers. The involvement of executives, at policy and decision making levels, in the activities of the project was very limited. Most of those involved were technical and middle management staff with little say in policy formulation and implementation.

The Amman project suffered from the problem of insufficient data. There was a lack of detailed information needed for the analysis of FSDS, the identification of constraints and the formulation of an effective FSD policy. While detailed information (e.g. trends in migratory flows, urban poverty, food consumption and food consumption patterns, investment in FSD activities, etc.) is available at the national level, it is often unavailable at the local level.

Finally, the Amman experience emphasises the need for an effective interdisciplinary approach and technical leadership in the formulation of FSD policies, strategies and programmes. It was difficult to integrate the individual disciplines of the five specialists entrusted with the preparation of the case study to ensure the required interdisciplinary approach. This was due to the following:

1. Members of the team were not recruited at the same time due to difficulties in identifying qualified experts.

2. Insufficient time was available for discussions among team members.

3. The members of the team had separate approaches to FSD problem identification and analysis.

4. The difficulties faced in the formulation of an FSD policy for the city of Amman may be very different from those that may be faced in other cities; yet our experience suggest the following:

The municipalities of concerned cities, rather than any other central government agency, should take the leading role in formulating FSD policy, programmes and action plans. The establishment of an FSD policy unit at the municipality with a special mandate for formulating and monitoring FSD policy and development programmes, in collaboration with other concerned public and private institutions, may be necessary.

The full understanding, support and active participation of CLAs, at the highest possible level, in all activities related to the formulation of FSD policy and development programmes must be ensured.

All relevant public institutions must commit themselves to providing all necessary support to the formulation of FSD policy through effective participation in the activities of the project (workshops, study groups, data gathering and analysis, review of recommendations of team of experts, etc.).

The contribution of concerned private sector stakeholders (associations of food producers, traders, processors, street vendors, transporters, consumers, etc.) in the formulation of FSD policy must be ensured. In Amman, most FSD constraints, and related solutions, were identified by private stakeholders during sensitization workshops.

An interdisciplinary team of specialists is required. The team should be composed of a town planner, a food systems economist, a marketing specialist, a socio-economist, a specialist in small and micro enterprise development in food distribution and a legal advisor. Other disciplines or specialized expertise may also be required depending on local conditions. The team should be briefed on the adequate interdisciplinary approach to be followed.

A special effort should be made toward early identification of the required data and information and their sources. Commitment should also be made by relevant institutions to make that data readily available.

Suggested issues for consideration by workshops

Drawing on our experience in Amman, the following are a number of important issues for consideration:

1. What role should CLAs play in formulating and implementing urban FSD polices and programmes?

2. What technical resources and skills are needed?

3. What interventions are required to introduce FSD issues in urban planning and management?

4. What are the main health and environmental consequences of unplanned or unregulated FSD activities? What should be done and by whom?

5. What role should CLAs play in supporting private sector activities and investment in FSD?

6. What policies and strategies need to be adopted for the development of small and microenterprises in the food processing and distribution sector?

The author

Sami Sunna (Agric. Eng., Grignon College of Agriculture, France and Ph.D. Plant Ecology, University of Montpellier, France) is an agricultural planning and development expert. His work experience includes over thirty years of government service in a number of key positions in Jordan including the post of Undersecretary of the Ministry of Agriculture (1989-1991). Dr Sunna worked as Director of the Joint ESCWA/FAO Agriculture Division during the period 1991-1995 and later as Regional Advisor in agriculture at the Economic and Social Commission for West Asia. He has over fourteen publications in the area of agricultural policy and development of which three studies are on issues related to FSD policies and programmes. Dr Sunna is the General Manager of a consulting firm, The Middle East for Management of Agricultural Resources and Environment. He was appointed as National Team Leader for the FAO project TCP/JOR/8923 Urban Food Security for the City of Greater Amman.

[15] Part 1 was prepared freely using the text of the following publication: Argenti, O., Food for the cities. Food supply and distribution policies to reduce urban food insecurity. A briefing guide for mayors, city executives and urban planners in developing countries and countries in transition, Food into Cities Collection, DT/43-00E, FAO, Rome.

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