46 Urban food policies and their role in sustainable food systems.

A discussion of the political economy of urban/regional food policies and the role of supportive national frameworks 

Organizers: IPES-Food, UNESCO Chair on World Food Systems, Ivory Coast, FAO, IUFN


A growing number of cities and regions around the world are devising policies to build food security and promote sustainable, resilient food systems. The movement has gained pace since the launch of the City Region Food Systems concept at CFS 41 (2014) and the signature of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact by 118 cities in 2015. The topic of the proposed side event is governance and implementation of sub-national food policies. It aims to identify how national and international framing can support local level policy, magnify the effects, and assure its longevity. The session showcases not just which policies have been introduced but also how they were introduced and implemented, tracing a variety of policy pathways emerging in different contexts. It discusses emerging forms of governance and urban-rural relations, and tools for identifying policy levers and for assessing work to address food system issues in cities, and in relation to surrounding rural areas.

Key speakers

Corinna Hawkes, IPES-Food

Guido Santini, FAO

Nicolas Bricas, UNESCO Chair on World Food Systems

Dr. Charles Kanga, representative of the Cote d’Ivoire to the FAO

Anna Faucher, IUFN

Jess Halliday, IPES-Food

Main themes/issues discussed

This side event discussed urban food governance and the implementation of sub-national food policies. Dr. Nicolas Bricas set out the challenges that cities pose to sustainable food systems: staple foods are often imported into cities rather than locally sourced; imbalances of power between food system actors are perpetuated; urban ways of life are generating their own set of issues, such as poor access to healthy, nutritious food, changes in consumption patterns, and the burdens of undernutrition and obesity. On the other hand, Prof. Corinna Hawkes highlighted the opportunities for cities to foster more sustainable food systems. Cities are concentrations of resources and capital, and have real innovation potential to reduce environmental impacts and promote social justice through concerted, integrated policies. Facing these challenges and seizing opportunities require complex responses. The side event discussed the need for multi-level and participatory food governance, and mechanisms for cooperation between cities. It also identified how national and international framing can support local level policies that build food security and promote sustainable, resilient food systems, magnifying their effects and assuring their longevity.

Summary of key points

Dr. Charles Kanga highlighted the importance of developing integrated urban food policies in the context of Cote d’Ivoire. In Africa, urban populations have increased fivefold over the past 40 years, yet urban transport and infrastructure are often lacking. A significant percentage of urban populations live in poverty; however, growing urban population could contribute to strong urban economies. In 2015 in Yamoussoukro, local authorities from a number of African countries agreed to the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact approach, endorsing the role of cities in ensuring sustainable food systems.

Mr. Guido Santini emphasized the role of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MFPP), signed by 130 cities since October 2015, as a strong call to action for cities to take responsibility for sustainable and equitable urban food systems. The MUFPP is a step towards common frameworks for urban food governance, monitoring progress, and intercity cooperation.

Dr. Jess Halliday shared insights into articulation and mutual support between cities and the national level. While the national level can foster urban food policy through supportive framing and creation of structures and political space for place-specific policies, cities can be test cases for policy approaches that are later scaled up. Individual actors (often politicians) serve as channels for articulation between the levels; and networks of cities are emerging as vehicles for communication and lobbying.

Ms. Anna Faucher emphasized the need for multi-stakeholder approaches to urban food governance. To do so, she identified key building blocks, including: 1) generating strong political will; 2) designating administrative staff on food issues; 3) diagnosing food system problems through inclusive, participatory processes; 4) strengthening connection between producers and urban consumers; 5) adopting a whole food systems approach. Ms. Faucher also identified on-going challenges including: 1) low private sector involvement; 2) ‘ideological’ conflicts around conceptualization of food and agricultural issues; 3) differing timelines and priorities between civil society groups and government administration. From the floor, Mr. Davinder Lamba drew on experiences in Nairobi, where integrating new policy areas within existing department and sectoral dynamics poses challenges. Mr. Fabrice Declerc intervened that the goal of urban food policies is not necessarily to shorten value chains but to shorten ‘influence chains’ to improve access and create higher quality food environments. 

Mrs. Judith Hitchman stressed the need for policy coherence between urban and peri-urban areas and for greater integration between issue areas including climate change, social justice, food access, and community-building. Mrs. Florence Egal also emphasized the importance of territorial approaches.

Mr. Denis Olson emphasized the difficulty in implementing local level food policies that favour small-scale farmers, such as local food procurement for schools, where they lack capacity to supply the volume of produce needed. 

Mr. Andrea Calori noted that in the Global South urban food issues should be understood in the context of broader national development. A country's direction of urbanization will be aligned to its capacity to develop sustainably as a whole.

Key outcomes/take away messages

Bringing a wide range of participants into food policy processes can create solutions that are adapted to local people. In this way, residents and urban policy-makers are able to take responsibility for their cities and the areas around them, while engaging with national and international frameworks to support them.

At the local level, food governance schemes can enable public policy to be more participatory, efficient, and reflective of local needs through multi-level and multistakeholder approaches. They bring traditionally discrete departments or sectors around the same table (e.g. agriculture, public health, planners, processors, consumers, etc.), resulting in more integrated policies.