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Press Release 01/36


Rome, 4 June 2001 - Most cities in developing countries face the prospect of increased malnutrition and health risks if they do not improve people's access to adequate and safe food, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement published today.

"Feeding cities means that more food needs to be produced, moved to cities and distributed within the expanding urban areas. This in turn means more lorries, greater market congestion, higher piles of garbage, greater risks of food contamination and greater soil, water and air pollution. Many cities are rapidly losing urban and periurban land suitable for food production, have insufficient and inefficient transport, markets and slaughterhouses", said Olivio Argenti from FAO.

"Urban planners and managers rarely take these issues into consideration," he added. "Governments, mayors, urban planners and the private sector need to pay more attention to the problems of increasing food insecurity and malnutrition in cities."

FAO will hold a seminar on 'Food for the Cities. Urbanization, Food Insecurity and Urban Management' jointly with the UN Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) on Wednesday, 6 June 2001 in New York. It is a parallel event to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly for Istanbul+5.

The concentration and increasing number of poor people in cities makes food insecurity an extremely pressing social and political issue, FAO said. The number of unemployed people, poor women, the elderly and children living in cities is growing fast. "These people do not have their own homes, live in areas at risk where access to safe food becomes more and more difficult and costly."

Around 50 percent of the urban population in Africa live in poverty: in Latin America around 40 percent of all urban households are poor. The population living below the poverty level in Sao Paulo is estimated to be between 60 and 70 percent of the total population. In Calcutta, the proportion of urban poor is around 70 percent, and 45 percent in Karachi."

"Feeding the cities means estimating how much food will be consumed by people in the cities tomorrow and making it easier for food products to arrive in the city and be distributed where poor households live, at the lowest possible cost and in hygienic conditions," Argenti said. "It also means improving the access of poor households to food. The efficiency of food supply and distribution systems has to be significantly and urgently increased in order to lower food prices and to improve environmental and health conditions."

In particular, FAO voiced concern over the alarming state of food wholesale and retail markets in many developing countries. "They are poorly maintained and managed and are often too old and too small to meet the food needs of the growing population." In many cities, markets are chaotic, congested and unhygienic. They are rarely well equipped with water, electricity or drainage.

FAO called upon governments, city and local authorities and the private sector to improve poor people's access in cities to affordable and safe food. "They need to improve food supply and distribution systems by adopting appropriate policies and programmes spanning regional, metropolitan, urban and local areas. Access to healthy and nutritious food will be an increasingly important issue in the world's cities as they continue to experience rapid population growth. Improving urban food security is essential for attaining a safer and more stable social climate in developing countries."


For more information please call the FAO Media Relations Office, Tel: 0039-06-5705 2232; or FAO Media Relations Officer, Michael Hage, Washington D.C., Tel.: 001.202.6530011, cell phone: 703.8626075; email:; or the FAO in New York, Tel. 001-212-963 6036.

More information can be found at the following URLs:


On the issues of social stability, urban poverty and rural migration, this is what Ms. Louise Fresco, FAO's Assistant-Director-General, Agriculture Department, has to say:

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