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Director-General  José Graziano da Silva
An opinion article by FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva
All cities can and must contribute to achieving sustainable food systems that ensure good nutrition for all

Cities occupy only three percent of the earth's surface, but they are home to some 3.5 billion people, more than half of humanity. The majority of the world population already lives in cities and this phenomenon is increasing, especially in developing countries. Unfortunately, many of them still cannot guarantee access to adequate food and water for all.

Cities suffer the problem but are also part of the solution. They play a key role in eradicating hunger and improving the nutrition of their inhabitants because they can and should find practical applications to public policies that are established at national and international levels.

The constant and inexorable rural exodus makes them key players in the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It is no coincidence that just a year ago, Valencia was chosen as host of the meeting of more than 150 cities from all over the world that have joined the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), a commitment aimed at fighting hunger and food waste and improving nutrition. Under this agreement, cities will follow four principles: ensure healthy food for all; promote sustainable food systems; educate citizens about healthy diets, and reduce food waste.

 At FAO, we can see two juxtaposed global trends. Overweight and obesity are growing at an alarming rate, especially (but not only) in urban areas in middle- and upper-income countries, where lifestyle can cause negative changes to diets. At the same time, we see cities generating huge amounts of food waste, often because urban customers reject fruit and vegetables that do not look good, even if they are completely fresh.

Despite this scenario, food security and nutrition are often overlooked in urban planning and development. To overcome this, mayors and representatives of cities from all over the world gathered in Valencia to share their efforts and experiences and learn from each other.

FAO supports this initiative by helping develop indicators to measure the progress of the Pact, with a methodological guide developed in close collaboration with the cities, and as a neutral forum for exchange. We also support local governments in the analysis of their food systems, in the elaboration of their strategies, and in the definition of their investment priorities.

Valencia is exemplary in many ways, and especially for putting food and agriculture at the top of its political agenda.

To combat hunger and malnutrition, which often becomes invisible in cities of developed countries, the city created the Municipal Food Council and studied concrete measures such as grants for school canteens. Valencia also made a firm commitment to promoting healthy eating and addressing global challenges such as sustainable agricultural production.

The revitalization of "l'Horta" - its urban garden - is an example of the kind of improvements we need to connect urban centres and their surrounding rural areas. I am aware of its potential. I know that it is one of the first-ever city green belts, it can be observed in medieval maps, and is an example of a sustainable agricultural system. This is the kind of dynamics we want to promote: important traditional systems to conserve resources, control the impact of climate change and provide food to cities.

The "Tira de contar" tradition – Valencia’s historical system of direct food sales by local producers –- is among the initiatives that show that local contexts are a fertile terrain from which ideas for great global changes will emerge.

There are numerous innovative solutions, such as the increase of small-scale urban and peri-urban agriculture, which allows food production to help diversify and promote healthier diets for families living in cities.

The local environment is the most conducive to progress. It is precisely in the local sphere where people live, eat, use water and generate household waste, and it is where local solutions can be carried out.

That is why it is encouraging to see that many other cities are also responding to the challenges of climate change and rapid urbanization: from initiatives to reduce food waste to projects that transform urban food deserts into fresh produce centres. Cities have become innovation labs to address current food challenges.