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Viewpoint: Resources for the knowledge and skills to be shared in order to produce food in greener cities - A new look on a "model of success".

Interview with Dominique Di Biase, Officer in charge of relations with partners at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and focal point for Kingdom of Belgium, Swiss Confederation, the United Kingdom, multi-stake holder partnerships, and the United Nations (UN).

In a context of population growth and scarce resources, FAO’s experience and expertise have more than ever a role to play on the process towards eradicating hunger. FAO shares its expertise by working with farmers, public and private sector and governments that seek to improve agricultural production. This is done through collaboration with including academia, civil society, private sector, cooperatives and resources partners  to overcome food insecurity and malnutrition, increase agricultural production while protecting the environment, reduce rural poverty, promote inclusive food systems, and strengthen the resilience of communities to threats and crises. This view is linked to the publication issued in 2011, "Producing more with less”, and follows the Rio +20 Conference, held in June 2012, and the launch of the Zero Hunger Challenge by the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki Moon. In the foreword of this publication, FAO’s Director-General, Mr. José Graziano da Silva, said: "By helping countries to adopt the policies and approaches outlined in Producing more with less, FAO intends to take up the challenge and help build the hunger-free world we all want" .

Why invest in sustainable intensification of agriculture and mobilize resources in support of  FAO’s strategic framework ? 

By 2050, according to UN projections, the global human population will increase from 7 to 9.2 billion people, which will require an estimated 60 percent increase in global food production if the current trends continue. It is imperative to "do more with less" - to increase agricultural productivity, and assist communities and small-scale family farmers (especially the most vulnerable, including women and young people) to make the best use of natural and other resources through sustainable intensification practices.

Member countries approved FAO’s new Strategic Framework in 2013, which helps accelerate the eradication of hunger, malnutrition and poverty, the sustainable use of natural resources and the improvement of livelihoods to strengthen disaster resilience. Everything depends on a strong partnership and the mobilization of voluntary contributions in addition to FAO's own resources - to support interventions that are part of a global programme approach which integrates regional initiatives and priorities and Country Programming Frameworks (CPFs).

Howdid catalytic fundsfrom voluntarycontributionshelp supportactivities whoseresults perfectly fit within FAO’s Strategic Objectives? 

Kingdom of Belgium, for example, a long-standing resource partner, has provided funding of more than U.S. $ 10 million through FAO over the past decade to support the programme for urban and peri-urban horticulture (UPH) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) aimed at producing food in greener cities. The activities of the UPH programme, conducted in five cities, led to the adoption of a five-point approach to develop this sector: 1) secure strong political and institutional commitment, 2) secure land tenure (access to property) and ensure sufficient land and safe water for horticulture, 3) ensure quality products while protecting the environment, 4) ensure the participation of all stakeholders in the UPH sector and 5) ensure new markets for fruits and vegetables. The project encourages market garden producers to adopt FAO’s agricultural model "Producing more with less", and the current phase activities have gone beyond the project approach since 2012 by adopting the concept of supporting the “Growing greener cities" programme.

With the programme support, the DRC provides 150,000 tons a year of vegetables, fresh and nutritious products to 11.5 million city-dwellers; sustainable livelihoods to 16,000 smallholders, family farmers and vegetable farmers; and income to 60,000 people that participate in the horticultural value chain. It is truly "a model of success", that gives the example of an effective urban and peri-urban horticulture development, which can be used for other towns and cities in many other African countries.

As you can easily imagine, we are in regular contact with our field offices and in one of our discussions with them, Mr. Ndiaga Gueye, FAO Representative in the DRC, explained to me that "the biggest challenges faced by the programme were, among others, reducing urban food and nutrition insecurity, improving living standards and dietary diversity among slum dwellers, and helping build more resilient cities. Moreover, I want to focus on the testimonies from direct beneficiaries who highlighted the project’s impact on their living conditions”. I insist on the FAO Representative’s last sentence because the word impact is certainly the most important one for FAO. By impact I mean impact on populations of course.

How does horticulture contribute to "Growing greener cities "

Under respectable practices for ensuring health and food safety for urban population, urban and peri-urban horticulture is the cultivation of a wide range of crops - including fruits, vegetables, roots, tubers and ornamental plants - in and around cities. An estimated 150 million urban dwellers in Africa and 250 million in Latin America are engaged in agriculture, especially horticulture, to feed their family or to earn income from their production. Over the past 10 years the governments of 20 countries have requested FAO to encourage low-income "farmers, including urban disabled people" in megacities of West and Central Africa and in slums in Managua, Caracas, Teresina , Guatemala and Bogota to engage in horticulture by providing them with the means of production and training.

Through multidisciplinary projects funded by Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Spain, France, Italy, Norway and Venezuela, FAO offered to governments, cooperatives and municipalities assistance to have more efficient policies, institutional structures, UPH logistics services and improve horticultural production systems.

The FAO programme and partner organizations’ similar initiatives have shown that horticulture contributes to making the urban poor more autonomous in terms of food security and nutrition. It can thus contribute to "Growing greener cities" that are able to meet the social and environmental challenges: from slum upgrading, urban waste management and wastewater recycling systems, to job creation and community development.

Do we need an integrated urban governance?

If urban areas seem unmanageable, it is not so much because of the size of cities but because of flaws in governance and urban planning.

In DRC, most of these urban and peri-urban small-scale family farmers were working without public support and outside any regulatory framework. One of the core missions of FAO’s support was therefore to revive the National Support Service for Urban and Peri-Urban Horticulture (SENAHUP), which had emerged in early 1996, at a time when political instability dominated the country. Mr. Israël Nyamugwabiza, SENAHUP Director, reports that "the consolidation of SENAHUP and the formulation of the UPH strategic framework are the project’s most important benefits, which reflect our political and institutional commitment to UPH." This service has now decentralized offices across the country. A municipal consultation committee has been established in each city. These committees survey vegetable farms, identify farmers’ groups, and secure land titles. These “regularized” farms have become developing research sites to improve safe water management and increase the production of a wide variety of vegetables while preserving urban ecosystems, hygiene, and food and nutrition quality.

 Way forward

Based on the experience gained in DRC, more cities in Africa are encouraged to explore the benefits and opportunities offered by urban and periurban horticulture as part of national food and nutrition security strategies with a favourable impact on the livelihood of the urban population in constant and rapid expansion.  DRC and its SENAHUP could serve as platform for knowledge sharing and pool of expertise in support of sustainable development of UPH , in line with the “Growing Greener Cities” approach and the “Save and Grow” principles.

The capitalization of results, the up-scaling approach of the model and its diffusion and vulgarization within the appropriate environment and population could be a road map for implementation in interested countries within their country programming framework(CPF).

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For more information, please contact: Dominique Di Biase, FAO (TCRS) Dominique.DiBiase@ fao.org