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Urban Food Supply and Distribution - Policies, Strategies and Programmes

Three Key Areas for Concern for Urban Food Supply and Distribution Policies
Goals of Urban Food Supply and Distribution Policies
Basic Principles for Food Supply and Distribution Strategies

An urban food supply and distribution policy is a set of goals, objectives, strategies and programmes spanning regional, metropolitan, urban and local areas. It is set within a precise timeframe and is formulated in close collaboration with all concerned stakeholders. It guides city and local authorities in the use of resources under their control and through private sector investment, to improve access by urban households to stable supplies of good quality food, through efficient, hygienic, healthy and environmentally sound food supply and distribution systems.

Well managed markets and the respect of regulations help decrease marketing costs and food contamination.

Three Key Areas for Concern for Urban Food Supply and Distribution Policies

1. Food supply to cities

Projections for urban food and water needs; development of efficient and sustainable production, fishing, processing and storage in rural, periurban and urban areas; infrastructure, facilities and services for food assembly, handling, packaging and transport to cities; efficiency, transparency and dynamism of production and marketing systems; effectiveness of services (information, extension, etc.) to producers, processors and traders; food import logistics and procedures; promotion of private sector organizations and private investment; planning, development and management of slaughterhouses; legislation and regulations.

Food production in urban, periurban and rural areas must take place in hygienic and environmentally sound conditions.

2. Urban food distribution

Planning, development and management of wholesale and retail markets and food shops; planning and organization of specific low-cost food distribution arrangements; street food and informal activities; modern distribution; intra-urban transport; services to urban market users; promotion of market trader, shopkeeper and consumer associations and organizations; promotion of private investment in urban markets and shops; efficiency, transparency and dynamism of urban food distribution systems; legislation and regulations.

Poor urban areas need retail markets, itinerant markets and shops.

3 Health and environment


Food safety problems and contamination due to incorrect use of fertilizers, pesticides and wastewater, lack of hygiene in food supply and distribution activities and pollutants; legislation and regulations.


Management of waste from markets and slaughterhouses; air, water and soil pollution caused by food supply and distribution activities; forest depletion because of fuelwood use; legislation and regulations.

Waste from markets and slaughterhouses threatens health and contaminates food, soil, water and air.

Goals of Urban Food Supply and Distribution Policies

Economic goal

Efficient food supply and distribution systems to achieve:

The design, location and management of wholesale and retail markets are important determinants of investment profitability and the cost of access to food by low-income households.

Social goal

Minimize food insecurity in poor urban households to achieve:

Spontaneous markets cause hygiene, security and traffic problems but provide food where it is needed and create employment.

Health and environmental goal

Eliminate food-related health problems and minimize the negative impact of food supply and distribution activities on the environment by fostering:

The solution to the problems caused by increasing quantities of waste from markets and slaughterhouses is in the hands of every market user.

Policy objectives

Policy objectives identify what you need to achieve policy goals (see p. 14).

Objectives are usually linked to one or more operational units and are typically short term, tied to annual budgets (see an example in Annex 6). They need to be amended as your institutions respond to changes in their resources and environment.

When designing food supply and distribution policies, you need to ensure that:

Complementarity between policies

A well-functioning food supply and distribution system facilitates access to food. Alone it does not guarantee that those without the means to buy food can do so. Public action is required to generate incomes through employment creation or food distribution using food subsidies and food stamps among other remedies. Nutrition, hygiene and health education is also important for the most vulnerable consumers. Therefore food supply and distribution policy supports and is supported by other policies, programmes and initiatives (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Some of the Policies, Programmes and Initiatives which are Required to Improve Urban Food Security

Conflicts between policies

Conflicts may arise between the general macro-economic policies and specific food supply and distribution policies. It will be necessary to assess the impact of national policies on various areas, among which:

Legislative and regulatory

In what ways do current food legislation and regulations hinder the development of food supply and distribution systems? How do existing statutes discriminate against small food producers, processors, traders, shopkeepers and street food vendors?

Are there unnecessary restrictions on the use of water for crop production which may impede the development of urban and periurban food production?

Tax and tariffs

Do measures to control inflation and public sector budgetary requirements obstruct private investments in food supply and distribution?


Are budget allocations to city and local authorities in line with increasing responsibilities, especially for transport and market infrastructure development?

Structural reforms

Are measures to dismantle state-run food distribution chains likely to create private oligopolies?

Are incentives for promoting the development of low-cost forms of food distribution consistent with current strict public fund management? Are there practices biased against credit access by small food producers, processors traders and shopkeepers?

Food trade development

Will plans to make the food sector more professional harm micro- and small-scale food production, marketing and processing initiatives?

Institution strengthening

Are prospective reductions in government budgets likely to stifle re-training of staff required by changes in policy orientation and decentralization programmes?

Markets need drainage systems to maintain hygienic conditions, prevent food contamination and ease traffic.


Strategies describe how policy objectives and goals can be achieved.

Food supply and distribution development strategies must be seen in the context of policies and customs governing different aspects of economic and social life. Economic life concerns structural adjustment, economic liberalization and decentralization. Social life encompasses religious and ethnic rules.

A particularly important strategic consideration is the extent of public versus private responsibility (see Annex 7).

Market users need security afforded by fences and police patrols.

Lack of space and simple facilities in urban markets amplifies health and environmental risks.

The Success of your Urban Food Supply and Distribution Policy will Depend upon:

Basic Principles for Food Supply and Distribution Strategies

Principle 1: Right Approach

Adopt an approach which is consultative, participatory, open-minded, alliance seeking and technically sound.

Private sector associations and organizations must be promoted and encouraged to play an active role in planning decisions to address constraints faced by members.

Principle 2: Competition

Promote competition and reduce the influence of large intermediaries.

The use of weighing scales promotes fair practices in markets.

Principle 3: No Fashions

Resist fashions for “modernization” or “preserving tradition”. Encourage developments which lower the cost of living and stimulate employment growth in the city.

Farmer and itinerant markets provide low-cost food in poor urban districts.

Principle 4: Go Private

Facilities and services that can be run as businesses are best left to the private sector.

Market infrastructure must be properly maintained, managed and developed to accomodate increasing food quantities coming to cities.


Once solutions, policies and strategies have been agreed upon among all concerned stakeholders, you need to design intervention PROGRAMMES spanning regional, metropolitan, urban and local areas for improving the food supply and distribution system to your city (see Annex 2).

Each programme should address food supply to cities - urban food distribution - health and environment issues in the form of SUBPROGRAMMES, each containing specific ACTION PLANS addressing well-defined aspects (see Figure 2).

Action plans should comprise clearly identified expected RESULTS (see the example in Annex 8) and related INTERVENTIONS.

Programmes must be designed to facilitate action in the:

This approach - based on a consensus vision of the city - facilitates the assignment of institutional responsibilities.

Programmes for supplying and distributing food to cities are sets of coherent and logically structured interventions and expected results. They are set within a timeframe with well-defined implementation tasks. Their specific objectives are linked to the achievement of food supply and distribution policy goals and objectives. This occurs in the urban area in conjunction with periurban and rural areas from where the city gets its food supply, or through which the food consumed in the city transits.

Figure 2 Programmes, Subprogrammes and Action Plans

Coordinating and monitoring policy implementation

Food supply and distribution programmes usually need to be implemented by several different authorities and departments (e.g. transport, market infrastructure, health and environment). Each executing unit should have agreed TARGETS and INDICATORS against which its performance can be assessed (see Figure 3).

The steps from constraint analysis to policy implementation are summarized in Annex 9.

An URBAN FOOD SUPPLY AND DISTRIBUTION POLICY UNIT can assist you in coordinating and monitoring implementation of your food supply and distribution policy (see Annex 10).

Organized livestock markets in cities help reduce the nuisance to cities from free-ranging animals.

Slaughterhouses need equipment, facilities and services to facilitate the respect of hygiene regulations to avoid meat contamination.

Figure 3 Example of Targets and Indicators

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the well-being of him(her)self and his(her) family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care...


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