Urban Food Security and Food Marketing. A challenge to City and Local Authorities
The world is becoming more urbanized and by the year 2025, according to UN projections, 61 per cent of the world population will be living in urban areas.
How to adequately feed the growing numbers of the urban consumers, many of whom will still be living under poverty conditions, is the challenge.
In some regions, it is the high rate of growth of cities, rather than the level of urbanization, that is the concern. The way food will reach all these areas, and the cost at which this will be achieved, is indeed a matter of concern, if the food security of urban consumers is to be protected.
Urban growth has many consequences for the food situation. It increases marketed food demand but reduces the availability of productive land in both urban and peri-urban areas. It makes existing market areas and infrastructure inadequate to cope with the growing pressures in both rural and urban areas. Urban expansion modifies food- purchasing habits in favour of neighbourhood shops and supermarkets and increases the demand for processed food.
While private food marketing systems are generally considered flexible, efficient, highly structured and organised, the overall cost borne by consumers may be very high owing to constraints on farm production and on private marketing systems. Such constraints get compounded in the context of rapid urban expansion.
As urban food demand rises, food supply and distribution systems (FSDSs) have to supply the inhabitants of cities with increasing amounts of food coming from new and, possibly, more distant production areas and/or from more intensive production systems. Urban areas can provide the necessary incentives for increased national production made possible by more remunerative producer prices if linkages between production and consumption areas are strengthened. Farmers, traders and transporters require an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework, transport facilities, credit, investment incentives, skills, etc.
Forms of food distribution and food processing activities, which simplify marketing channels, need to be stimulated.
Newly urbanized areas require adequate space and facilities for private food retail activities. They must be adequately planned.
Expanding urban food requirements increase the need for transport as well as market infrastructure and services. An adequate analysis of medium and long-term food needs and their production sources will help identify investments into rural road construction and maintenance, as well as into transport facilities at intra-urban level.
With regard to market infrastructure, large number of public markets have burned down many developing countries over the last few years, often because of inadequate maintenance and poor management, or to force traders into new markets. These sudden blows to the local economy have obvious important financial implications for small traders and entrepreneurs. These incidents immediately increase the cost of food access by consumers who are forced to go to more distant markets for their food purchases.
Increasing commercial activities in urban markets often lead to higher valued manufactured products pushing food products into more remote and unhealthy parts of the market or in the streets around markets, with implications for food quality and safety. Occupation of land along roads create major traffic disruptions, with consequent higher fuel consumption and operating costs.
Both the proliferation and rapid turn-over of casual middlemen in markets in many developing countries, give the impression of economic vitality but complicate the collection of dues and affect the profitability of facilities and the ability to maintain them. This lowers the economic return to business people willing to invest in market and community development.
Urban markets are usually seen as a source of revenues to local town coffers, but those funds are often not adequately reinvested in appropriate infrastructure maintenance and better services. This leads to traders feeling that market taxes are not justified and to unrest when they are increased.
Greater food quantities may also have an adverse impact on the environment, caused by air pollution and noise arising from increased traffic, as well as by growing amounts of market garbage.
In almost all cities, market authorities guarantee cleaning inside the markets, but this is rarely adequate. Cleaning is not such a problem for vendors of manufactured good, but sections producing a great deal of waste (farm produce, and especially butchers) find it much harder to maintain even a minimum level of hygiene. These conditions have major implications for public health and food safety.
Butchers and fish sellers require specially designed freezer storage facilities. Some are privately owned, but too few of them presently exist, and rent is often high. The few cold storage rooms that market managers have built are inefficient, mostly because of inappropriate design, or do not work at all, for lack of proper maintenance.
Many traders actually live in the markets, which are sometimes the only places where the most destitute households can find food. Street restaurants are essential in markets, but are often not in compliance with fire-or-food-hygiene codes and practices.
Plans to develop wholesale markets away from urban centres are often doomed with failure mainly because of an inadequate understanding of how food marketing channels work and, particularly, of the cost of food redistribution within the city.
The need for few markets and market rehabilitation programmes needs to be correctly understood and analysed in the context of evolving urban conditions. This requires that market infrastructure be adequately integrated into municipal; and city plans because of their need for land, sale space, water, electricity, sewerage, cleaning services, security and their possible implications for traffic, public health and the environment, as well as for housing and land markets. It is also necessary that they adequately respond to the needs of markets users and that they are properly managed and maintained.
Improved food marketing systems help job creation, notably of women, and therefore family incomes. Improving their efficiency should not necessarily mean the destruction of the small-scale informal sector, which plays an important role in supplying low-cost food to the poorer consumers. There is, of course, an element of contradiction between efficiency and social objectives in terms of employment, although varying levels of economic development may well accommodate different "mixtures" of informal and more modern forms of food distribution.
To achieve this, the role and responsibilities of public and private development actors, particularly municipalities, chambers of commerce and of agriculture need to be recognised. Private trader and consumer associations must be fostered and enabled to engage in a constructive dialogue with central and local government institutions.
The challenges facing decision makers in the years to come, include therefore how to meet the rapidly increasing urban food demand whilst reducing dependence on imports and achieving an efficient and dynamic distribution of nutritious foodstuffs at reasonable prices to the poorest sectors of urban populations, while creating jobs in the food marketing and distribution sector.
Development initiatives should be based on detailed interdisciplinary analysis of the implications that the future growth of urban food demand and city boundaries is likely to have on food supply, on the structure and organisation of food marketing systems and, finally, on the efficiency with which food will be moved to and distributed within urban areas. This should permit the definition of urban policies and strategies and the preparation of development and investment programmes at urban, peri-urban and rural levels, with clearly identified priorities and responsibilities. Such programmes will reflect the variety of urban situations, specific problems and conflicts, and present appropriate solutions.
This is why the identification and subsequent implementation of development programmes and projects, which span urban and rural areas, require collaboration among research and development organisations as well as among institutions at various administrative levels (local and central).
Particular attention needs to be paid to the strengthening of local technical competence, particularly in the integration of food distribution into urban space management and into the preparation of urban food security policies and development programmes.