078 Adapting to an Urban World: tailoring food security assessments to address the challenges of urban settings

New approaches and innovative technologies to assess vulnerability and food insecurity in urban areas



  • Global Food Security Cluster (FAO/WFP)
  • WFP – Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping Unit (VAM)


Recent decades have seen increasing rates of urbanization across the world – from 746 million people in 1950, to 4.2 billion in 2018. By 2050, over 70% of the global population will live in urban areas. This escalating urbanisation trend is accompanied by an increasing prevalence and intensity of natural and man-made disasters in urban centres. Countries which are urbanising most rapidly are also often among the most vulnerable.

To meet the targets under SDG 2 on achieving zero hunger, there is also need to make significant progress on SDG 11, on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The New Urban Agenda also recognizes that food security and nutrition are critical considerations in a world that is rapidly urbanizing. However, urbanization challenges our usual ways of working. Urban areas are characterized by high-density, heterogeneous communities. In contrast to rural areas, urban inhabitants are more mobile and their social, political, economic and institutional environment is more complex. Humanitarian and development actors are realizing that the traditional focus on assessing food security and other basic needs of affected populations, and translating those into assistance, does not work well in urban areas.

Effective information gathering guiding humanitarian response and targeting remains a challenge to meet food security and other basic needs of the urban poor. To strengthen food security analysis in urban settings, the Global Food Security Cluster (gFSC) together with WFP’s Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping unit (VAM) launched the Adapting to an Urban World initiative. The project aims to identify challenges in assessing food security and vulnerability in urban areas and recommend innovative solutions by exploring the use of new technologies. Over the past year, the team conducted two case studies in Metro Manila (Philippines) and Kinshasa (DRC), generating important learnings on how to best address the challenges identified with the use of improved methodologies including new approaches and tools.

In the framework of CFS 45, the gFSC and WFP VAM will be hosting an event to discuss and encourage dialogue on the progress made in assessing food security and vulnerability in urban areas, as well as some of the gaps and challenges that must still be addressed. The event will also highlight the importance of partnership development and active participation of key urban actors at all levels as a critical step for understanding the needs of the urban poor and strenghtening prepardness to potential humanitarian disasters in an integrated and coordinated manner. It will also highlight some of the key findings on what it actually means to be food insecure in urban areas, and how this is different from rural areas. Finally, the team will also demonstrate ways to disseminate findings in an open and interactive way to help inform programmatic responses in urban settings.

Key speakers/presenters

  • WFP – Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping Unit (VAM)
  • Global Food Security Cluster (FAO/WFP)
  • Guido Santini: (Food for the cities Programme Coordinator)
  • Tom Evans

Main themes/issues discussed



GERMAN WOMAN (not introduced):
What we need in Germany: public recognition that agriculture is crucial for urban people; dialogue between regional/urban has to be strengthen.

Why do we need to think “urban”? For instance, Lagos grows per 85 people per hour. + Escalation of conflict, and ecological disaster, massive migration. Specific urban challenges: density, boundaries, mobility, security, demographic info

GUIDO SANTINI (FOOD FOR THE CITIES PROGRAM COORDINATOR): Assessing and planning sustainability food system across rural and urban areas. There was a shift from fresh and local to manufactured and international, with many consequences that we know. Why a specific focus on cities and their surroundings regions? We have to go from sectorial to integrated solution and policies, and from city to territorial approach to food.

We have some experiences, through the CRFS Process: elaboration of 20+ external tools and 45 single tools/examples to help cities to establish better governance. + Mapping key priority issues in pilot cities (table).
Some examples: 1/ Colombo, Sri Lanka. 1/3 population of Colombo is in food poverty situation. Then from sectorial to integrated food system planning -> several policy outcomes, from national legislation to local legislation. 2/ Medellin, Colombia from urban food security to territorial integration. 3/ Lusaka and Kitwe, Zambia. Reinforcing CFRS food diversification and access to food through peri-urban horticulture value chain.
Future dveloment: integrating climate risk and vulnerability in CFRS assessment and planning.

TOM EVANS: Household-level, building a Knowledge base on urban food security. Investigating on Urban Food Security in Lusaka, Zambia. Studying the households, people and the role of markets, vendors, governance, … Mapping the Low-Middle households as well as the markets, facilities, … and think about household patterns of food acquisition and consumption, as well as the markets functioning, their internal governance and discovering that >80% of vendor purchases are made at the same point of interest, (Soweto…)
Kinshasa, (WFP representative). Case study of implementation.

Summary of key points

The small towns of today are the cities of tomorrow, the medium cities are the big cities of tomorrow, and the big cities are the future mega cities. In addition, the escalating urbanization is increasing the intensity of natural and man-made disasters in urban centers. So all urban areas have to be part of the focus. Additionally, tools as mapping and value chain analyzing have to be developed and spread in order to achieve the zero hunger target in cities too.

Key take away messages

We don’t know yet which solutions will be the more in adequacy with the challenges coming with increasing urbanization, but we have to start now to think about food security in future cities, and to develop tools to measure the trends and changes.

CFS - Side Event 078: Adapting to an Urban World: tailoring food security assessments to address the challenges of urban settings