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Why is feeding cities - particularly Asian cities - an urgent issue? This technical overview will provide background information on urbanization trends, with particular reference to the Asian region, and their importance to urban food supply and distribution systems (FSDSs). It will then outline the impact of rapid urban development in Asia on food consumption patterns in cities. Following this is an exposé on specific issues related to FSDSs, from periurban food production to wholesale markets. The final sections concentrate on food-related waste management, the need for food supply and distribution (FSD) policies and programmes in Asian cities and North-South, South-South technical cooperation among various city and local authorities (CLAs).


It is clear that feeding the world’s growing urban population, particularly in the South, is a matter of utmost urgency. There are no simple solutions. Policy and implementation measures to deal with feeding city dwellers have to touch on concerns ranging from agricultural productivity through post-harvest technologies, marketing and distribution to food safety and the adequacy of consumer incomes. These concerns go beyond the geographical jurisdictions of CLAs to the national level and, ultimately, the global scale. FSD concerns are also closely related to larger socio-economic, political and cultural spheres and therefore ought to be thought of in tandem with policy making in a variety of areas. There are many challenges. There are also many opportunities for stakeholders to work together to feed the world’s cities efficiently and equitably.

There are three main reasons why FSDSs and food security for the poor ought to be viewed through the urban lens.

The world is urbanizing at a rapid pace. The United Nations estimates that by 2005, more than half the earth’s population will live in areas defined as “urban” though definitions of what is “urban” vary from country to country. Some urban growth can be explained by natural increase but much of it stems from rural-urban migration due to the lack of viable livelihoods in the countryside and more available opportunities in cities. City dwellers need water, food and a means of disposing food-related waste in addition to the traditionally recognised needs of housing, jobs, transportation and education.

Poverty in cities is rapidly expanding. Many of the world’s poor are migrating to cities in search of income-earning opportunities. The urban poor often suffer from malnutrition, mostly due to lack of purchasing power and high food prices. Urban poverty and the related issue of urban food security are therefore of prime concern to local authorities and other stakeholders.

The loss of agricultural land is a direct consequence of urbanization. Cities tend to be located in agriculturally productive regions. Hence, urban sprawl leads to gradual encroachment on periurban farmland. At the same time, the growth of cities makes demands on the remaining agricultural land in more distant rural areas. This demand may be difficult to fill due to poor productivity, transportation and storage problems and the fact that farming is becoming a less economically viable occupation in many parts of the world.

Rapid urbanization, rising urban poverty, and associated food insecurity, and the loss of agriculturally productive land are therefore of particular concern in Asian cities. Asia is the world’s most populated region. It is the home of more than half of humanity. By 2015, it is estimated that 16 of the world’s 26 cities with populations of 10 million or more inhabitants will be in Asia. East, Southeast and South Asia are already the homes of some of the world’s largest urban agglomerations. The Asian urban population is growing at a rapid rate. The number of urbanites in China increases by 15 million annually whereas India contributes approximately half this figure (FAO, 2000b). As indicated in Figure 4.1, Dhaka, Delhi, Karachi, Seoul and Beijing all have populations in excess of 10 million inhabitants, and Shanghai exceeds 15 million.

Figure 4.1: Population growth in Asian cities

Source: UNCHS, 1996.
However, Asian cities also exhibit highly different socio-economic, geographical and political features and have very diverse concerns and experiences. The political, economic and cultural make-up of West Asian cities such as Amman is quite distinct from that of, for example, Manila or Seoul. There are, however, similarities in the FSDSs in ostensibly different Asian cities that can be compared and contrasted for the sake of technical cooperation.

Twenty to forty percent of the urban population in Asia is defined as poor (FAO, 2000b). At the same time, rapid economic growth in some Asian cities has led to the formation of a new middle class, which drives up the cost of living in the metropolis. The increased cost of living exists even after the devastation of the 1997 Asian economic crisis. Examples of the gap between rich and poor are easily found in Bangalore and Bangkok where the differences between income groups are stark. This disparity affects the price of food and consumption patterns as shall be explained in the next section.

In all aspects of food supply, distribution, consumption and management of food waste, food safety and environmental health are overarching concerns. The risks of food contamination are even more evident in hot and humid climatic zones such as those of monsoon Asia, which make ideal breeding grounds for water and food-borne bacteria.


4.2.1 General food demand issues
4.2.2 Urban-rural consumption contrasts
4.2.3 The diversity of urban food purchasing habits
4.2.4 Problems and prospects facing the Asian urban food consumer

Rapid urbanization naturally results in an increased demand for food and for certain types of food in particular. This section will outline the dynamic nature of urban food consumption patterns, specifically with reference to Asian cities.

4.2.1 General food demand issues

Figure 4.2 provides estimates of increases in food required to feed Asian cities in the next ten years.[5] The FAO estimates that the demand for cereals will increase by more than 11 million tonnes in the next ten years which represents almost half (49 percent) of the total increase for raw foodstuffs. The figure for cereals is followed by a combined increase of almost 8 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables with the remaining food demand being attributable to roots and tubers (2.2 million tonnes) followed by meats (1.9 million tonnes). Altogether, this represents a total increase of more than 23 million tonnes of food. This food must be grown, stored, processed and distributed to intermediate and final consumers. Infrastructure in most Asian cities, particularly the poorer economies, is seriously lacking in the ability to cope with the increased demand.

Figure 4.2: Food demand increase in Asian cities: 2000 - 2010

Source: FAO, 2000a.
Likewise, as Table 4.1 indicates below, Asians eat more fish per capita than the world’s average. Current estimates are that 17.2 kilograms per person per year are consumed in the region. This rate of consumption is predicted to increase, and the decline in the world’s wild fish stocks is certain to present a challenge when attempting to meet this demand. Future consumption will likely be met largely through aquaculture.

Animal products that will be required to a greater extent in the next ten years include meat, eggs and dairy products. In Asian cities, the demand for animal products is steadily increasing. Eggs are in high demand in all Asian cities whereas the consumption of other animal products varies by region with South Asia leading the way as far as dairy products are concerned and meat and fish becoming more sought after in East and Southeast Asia.[6] Other Asian intra-regional food consumption differences include less fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in South Asia compared to East and Southeast Asia as well the greater predisposition, or lack thereof, to consume certain types of meat such as pork and beef (see Inoue and Titapiwatanakun, 2000).

Table 4.1: Selected Asian cities and fish consumption


Percent of city population in national total

National animal protein consumption per capita

National per capita consumption of fish (kgs/year)

total grams/day

thereof fish grams/day

percent of fish in total































New Delhi






Kuala Lumpur








































Source: Ruckes, 2000: pp. 1-2.

4.2.2 Urban-rural consumption contrasts

Urban food consumption habits themselves are complex and varied (see Aragrande and Argenti, 2001: Chapter Two). With the exception of farmers on the periurban fringe, most city dwellers do not consume food that they have grown or raised themselves. In other words, notwithstanding the importance of urban and periurban food production, most urbanites must obtain the food they need through a transaction, usually involving cash. There are several factors associated with urban household food consumption patterns that distinguish themselves from the patterns generally found in rural areas. “According to FAO estimates, these households spend 60 to 80 percent of their budget on food, 30 percent more than rural households” (Argenti, 2000: p. ii).

Food security for the urban poor is closely related to their purchasing power, or their ability to earn an adequate income for themselves and their families. Hence, viable livelihoods for the urban poor ought to be seen as a food security issue.

The vulnerable urban groups are: the unemployed, new migrants, single mothers with dependent children, pensioners, disabled or old people lacking family support, indigenous people, ethnic minorities, formal sector workers with declining or unstable incomes and those dependent on “crowded” informal sector activities (Argenti, 2000: p. 5).
A fundamental issue that ties into the food security of the urban poor is access to clean, safe water. This aspect of food security if often taken for granted by the middle class.

4.2.3 The diversity of urban food purchasing habits

Cities are the homes of a variety of food types and purchasing habits that involve a myriad of retail institutions. Distinctive types of consumer behaviours are related to factors such as disposable income, commuting patterns, female participation in remunerative activities outside the home, political factors, access to land for food production and cultural habits to name a few. These factors are described in detail below.

Disposable income is one of the most decisive factors when it comes to explaining food-purchasing habits. The availability of disposable income increases the options available to consumers. Wealthy Asian urbanites can better afford to frequent Western-style supermarkets, shopping centres and the recently established “box stores” that sell food and other household items in bulk in cities such as Bangkok and Manila. The middle and upper classes, and/or their domestic employees, also patronise traditional markets and street stalls. The urban poor are limited in their choice of locations to purchase food. The poor spend more of their income on food, often because they cannot afford to buy in large quantities, and they also spend more time and energy procuring foodstuffs. The restricted incomes of poor city dwellers partially explain the appearance of institutions such as the Filipino sari-sari store, which sells dry goods, including foodstuffs, in very small quantities, often on credit.

Commuting patterns also condition consumers’ eating habits. More and more Asian urbanites are now earning their incomes far from home. The distance between home and workplace affects urbanites’ ability to eat at home, particularly at lunch, thereby stimulating demand for inexpensive food for the noonday meal. Traffic congestion also complicates eating supper at home. Vehicular traffic issues combined with women’s changing role fuel the demand for take-out and convenience foods as well as restaurants and other retailing establishments such as street foods.

Female labour-force participation (FLFP) directly affects the nature of food consumption. As women tend to be responsible for much food-related work at the household level, including shopping, cooking and cleaning, their participation in remunerated activities stimulates the demand for value-added foodstuffs that save labour. Southeast Asia, where most countries exhibit high levels of FLFP even during women’s childbearing years, is the home of well-developed “traditional fast foods” such as take-out, catering enterprises and street foods.

Political factors such as government schemes like food-subsidies and other food-related social welfare initiatives, affect the purchasing ability of poorer consumers. Subsidies are more typical of socialist economies such as Vietnam and China. Food subsidies are likely to diminish in the future due to the liberalization of most centrally planned economies.

Box 4.1: “Fair price shops” in Delhi, India

The majority of Delhi’s population gets monthly supplies of wheat, rice and sugar through Fair Price Shops run under the supervision of the local administration. These Fair Price Shops, numbering tens of thousands, are supplied by the warehouses of the Delhi State Food and Civil Supplies Corporation, which in turn obtains its supplies from three or four big warehouses of the Food Corporation of India. These shops sell to more than 2.5 million cardholders at fixed, subsidised prices. Because of bureaucratic controls in procurement and distribution of these commodities, the standard of service, quality maintenance and consumer satisfaction levels remain low. Since prices are lower than the market prices, these Fair Price Shops are thronged by urban poor, low salaried staff, etc. (edited version of Jakhanwal, 2000: p. 3).

Access to land for periurban agriculture and urban gardening affects the extent to which households can produce their own food, be it fruits and vegetables, eggs and dairy-products or meat from livestock. Urban agglomerations of the South are characterized by the presence of a variety of food production activities.

Finally, cultural habits have an overarching influence on many of the factors already discussed here and also condition the types of foodstuffs consumed, in what context and by whom. Examples of the cultural dimension of food consumption habits include the eating habits of urban middle-class youth and the appeal for western fast food and foreign foodways. All of these examples are disproportionately found in urban areas where cultural innovations are highly visible compared to those found in rural areas.

Box 4.2: Food consumption in Hanoi, Vietnam

Food consumption patterns have changed in Hanoi over the last decades. The past diet based on staple food (rice, corn and tubers), vegetable and beans has shifted to a diet with more meat, fish, eggs, milk, fats/oil, sweets and soft drinks as well as canned and processed food. Home-prepared meals have been gradually replaced by restaurant and street foods. Even in some meals served at home, processed foods such as sausages, instant noodles and rice noodles are commonly used. Food habits have also recently incorporated industrial processed foods. The increasing demand for high quality cooked food in Hanoi has favoured the growth of “supper markets” serving full meals though even these are insufficient to meet market demand (Quang and Argenti, 1999: p. 1).

4.2.4 Problems and prospects facing the Asian urban food consumer

There are three broad concerns facing the Asian urban consumer. The first relates to the rising cost of food, particularly for the urban poor. The second involves food safety and nutrition, and the third deals with the need for a greater variety and quality of processed or value-added products to fill the demand for labour-saving foodstuffs. Well-organized consumers’ associations can play an important role in bringing all three of these concerns to the attention of government and the private sector.

The rising cost of food in Asian cities is directly related to inefficient food supply and distribution mechanisms and related inadequacies in distribution infrastructure. Poor linkages between rural areas and cities result in a high rate of food spoilage, resulting in a constricted food supply and higher food costs. Improvements in distribution and the introduction of post-harvest technologies can contribute to a significant reduction in food prices in the opinion of many experts.

Food safety and nutrition concerns revolve around the hygiene of raw and processed foods whether these are sold in public markets, on the street or in restaurants. Threats to consumer health include lack of clean water for the washing of fruits and vegetables, contamination of foodstuffs by dust and airborne pollutants, poor hygiene, improper storage, deteriorating urban environments and, finally, the threat of communicable diseases being spread via the food system (e.g. typhoid).

Finally, there is a need for good quality and affordable convenience and labour-saving processed foods given the presence of both women and men in the paid labour force.


4.3.1 Important general issues: resources, health and environment
4.3.2 Food supply to cities
4.3.3 Rural-urban linkages
4.3.4 Food processing
4.3.5 Urban food distribution

Food supply and distribution systems (FSDSs) to cities are complex combinations of activities, functions and relations (production, handling, storage, transport, processing, packaging, wholesaling, retailing, etc.) enabling cities to meet their food requirements. These are performed by a variety of economic agents. These players include: producers, assemblers, importers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, processors, shopkeepers, street vendors, service providers (e.g. credit, storage, porterage, information and extension services). Indirectly related agents include packaging suppliers, public institutions (e.g. city and local governments, public food marketing boards, Ministries of Agriculture and Transport) and private associations (e.g. traders, transporters, shopkeepers and consumers) (Aragrande and Argenti, 2001: p. 7).

4.3.1 Important general issues: resources, health and environment

There are a number of general, yet important, issues related to FSDSs to cities, some of which could not easily be slotted into the topics discussed in individual workshops during the seminar. First, the rapid deterioration of urban environments in the cities of the South, including many Asian urban areas is a growing concern. Worsening air quality, for example, can result in the contamination with heavy metals and other chemical residues of food grown and distributed in and around cities.

Second, the resources needed for the production of food and for human nourishment more generally, particularly water, are becoming scarcer both in terms of availability and in terms of quality. Water is needed for agricultural production, industrial activities related to food processing as well as for cooking, drinking water and sanitation. Fortunately monsoon Asia, the area stretching from Southeast Asia to southern India and Sri Lanka, receives sufficient rainfall most of the time. However, certain parts of this region, such as Mindanao, have experienced drought, and sustainable watershed management is emerging as a key challenge to many urban areas, particularly in light of global climate change.[7] General access to potable water and basic sanitation is still a concern for most of Asia’s urbanites. Other resources important to urban food security are land, labour and energy.

There are several environmental and health problems associated with the improper use of agricultural inputs, particularly chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Food and agricultural workers are particularly susceptible to poisoning due to prolonged exposure to these chemicals. Asian urban consumers also show an increasing concern for the impacts such chemicals may have on their health.

On a more general level, there are numerous external factors that influence the FSDS in a given region. These include the economic, social and political landscape of the jurisdiction concerned; legal, institutional and regulatory frameworks and other location specific characteristics. These factors must be taken into consideration when analysing the FSDS to any given urban region as they have direct or indirect impacts on the functioning of the city.

4.3.2 Food supply to cities

The “food supply to cities” subsystem includes all the activities that are required to produce food and bring it to cities. The discussion can be conveniently divided into domestic production of food (including urban food production) imports from abroad as well as rural- and periurban-urban linkages (processing, storage, assembly, handling, packaging, transport, etc.) (Aragrande and Argenti, 2001: p. 7).

Growing quantities of food must be produced and transported to cities to meet increasing demand. Asian urbanites require cereals as a staple (normally rice or wheat), supplemented by other culturally and nutritionally prescribed food items such as vegetables, pulses, fruit, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. Much of the food that supplies cities must be produced in urban and periurban areas as well as strictly rural environments to meet the swelling demand of Asia’s growing share of urbanites. Producing, processing and marketing domestically grown food require efficient rural-urban linkages in the form of infrastructure, handling, packaging and storage. These linkages will be discussed with respect to the various sub-aspects of food supply to cities outlined in the paragraphs that follow as well as the subsequent section on food processing.

Some food required to feed Asia’s growing number of urbanites is imported from abroad depending on the local and national availability of foodstuffs and pricing issues. Food importing, if it is to be done efficiently, requires state of the art logistics, associated services and infrastructure such as ports, storage facilities and transport infrastructure, specifically rail, water and road transport as well as appropriately enforced regulations. Among Asian cities, the city-state of Singapore is the classic example of an “entrepôt economy” that imports and distributes products from around the world in a highly effective manner.

The following sections profile the challenge of supplying Asian cities with food and highlight some of the concerns surrounding various sub-issues. Rural, periurban and urban food production

Most of the food required to feed Asia’s growing cities will be produced in what is defined as “rural” areas. In light of the preceding discussion of the rise in food consumption predicted for Asian cities in the next ten years, rural areas and the world’s compromised oceans will be expected to produce more food. Access to resources required for an increase in production is sorely lacking. These resources include land, water, credit, technology and other inputs. Food production in rural Asia is predicted to decline over the next decade if entitlements such as land, expertise and resources are not equitably distributed, especially to Asia’s farmers and fishing communities.

Food production also takes place in and around Asian cities and consists of horticulture, animal husbandry and aquaculture. Horticulture often takes the form of market gardens on the urban periphery, which grow highly perishable fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes. Urbanites also cultivate food in kitchen gardens and in unused plots of land. This informal type of agriculture is particularly important for the food security of the urban poor. Animal husbandry takes many different forms in Asian urban agglomerations ranging from the widespread presence of cattle in Indian cities to “pig fattening” as an important livelihood for women in the urban Philippines. Aquaculture is an extremely well established practice in parts of Asia where fish is a mainstay of the diet [for example, Southeast Asia, Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa].

Photos 4.1 and 4.2: Livestock production in Asian cities

All of the activities named above can be grouped under the general rubric of “urban and periurban food production”. Food produced as a result of these activities accounts for a significant proportion of the food supply to Asian cities.

In Hanoi, it is estimated that 80 percent of fresh vegetables, 50 percent of pork, poultry and fresh water fish, as well as 40 percent of eggs, originate from urban and periurban areas. In Shanghai, 60 percent of vegetables, more than half of the pork and poultry, and more than 90 percent of milk and eggs originate from urban and periurban areas. In Bangkok, cabbage and onions originate from the Chiang Mai area, located more than 200 kilometres away, while the leafy vegetables like Chinese mustard, spinach or lettuce, originate from periurban areas (Moustier, 2000).
Numerous horticultural and aquacultural methods can and do make use of wastewater and recycled municipal solid waste, often in the form of compost. Promoting these activities can not only improve urban food supply but also contribute to urban waste management.

4.3.3 Rural-urban linkages

A number of intermediary steps need to be considered when attempting to maximise efficiency in the transportation of food produced in rural areas to reach retailing points in cities. Attention must be paid to the quality and quantity of facilities related to:

food assembly: particularly rural assembly markets where producers can gather their products and meet a plurality of potential buyers;

produce preparation and food handling: including the cleaning, sorting and grading of food items;

packaging: to facilitate handling, promote hygiene and subdivide into saleable units;

storage: such as granaries and cold storage and refrigeration facilities, which are often insufficient, badly managed or too expensive;

rural-urban transport: increased consumption of food in cities leads to food delivery vehicles, particularly trucks, entering cities and circulating within the urban area. In Shanghai, for example, it is estimated that by 2010 more than 350 000 additional 10 tonne truckloads will be required to deliver food to that megacity alone (see Figure 4.2). By the same year, 313 400 such truckloads are predicted to be entering Mumbai. These vehicles require proper infrastructure, such as roads, well-located wholesale and retail markets, efficient docking facilities and adequate storage facilities. Table 4.2 indicates the estimated number of increased 10 tonne truckloads that will be required by a number of Asian cities by the year 2010.

Table 4.2: Estimated increase in the number of 10 tonne truckloads needed to feed selected Asian cities by 2010

Name of Asian City

Increased Number of Trucks


58 200


104 000


302 700


313 400


205 000


21 500


196 500


32 000

Ho Chi Minh

83 500

Hong Kong

18 300


205 000


217 000

Kuala Lumpur

17 800


115 000

Metro Manila

162 400


29 900


85 700


359 700


86 900

Source: FAO data elaborated by Aragrande and Argenti (2001). Base year: 2000.
Disregarding the importance of rural-urban linkages can result in significant rates of food spoilage. “Food losses between the production and retail stages are estimated to range from 10 to 30 percent and are caused by a combination of on-farm, transport, distribution and spoilage problems which are greater in urban than rural areas” (FAO, 1998: pp. 3-4). In India alone, 30 to 40 percent of annual vegetable production goes rotten (Bhogle, 2000). “According to the Ministry of Food and Civil Supplies, 10 percent of India’s total food grain production, that is 20 million tonnes, is lost to rodents and insects because of bad and inadequate storage facilities” (Roy, 2000, pp: 67-68).

Box 4.3: The magnitude of post harvest food loss

Total on-farm rice (paddy) losses in Asia were earlier estimated to be of the magnitude of 25 to 30 percent. More recent studies by FAO projects have put such losses at about half of that level. While not quite so dramatic as original estimates, loss levels of 12 percent in India and Sri Lanka, 13 percent in Bangladesh, 15 percent in Thailand and 16 percent in Nepal nevertheless represent a significant waste of food, labour and inputs. Even if it were possible to reduce such losses economically by just one quarter, the food saved in Asia could amount to around 15 million tonnes per annum. (Shepherd, 1996: p 8).

Improving food processing and distribution to reduce post-harvest losses can result in significant cost savings for food consumers.

Private and public investments urgently need to be made in Asia over the next ten years to improve the current state of rural-urban food linkages, particularly in terms of improving transportation systems and networks. Poor linkages, especially inadequate roads, result in a great deal of food being spoiled before making it to market. Improving transportation infrastructure takes time and is expensive, often requiring international financing in the case of poor Asian countries. Hence, there is a need to recognise the related importance of food processing as discussed in the following section.

4.3.4 Food processing

Food processing is a “downstream” activity leading to value-added transformation of raw foodstuffs through a variety of operations such as peeling, cutting, milling, grinding, as well as pickling, fermentation, dehydration and other methods of conservation.[8] It also ultimately includes cooking as one of the final forms of processing before consumption. Processing also indirectly includes packaging and other such activities linked to the processing of food.

Some food processing activities still take place in the home though the historical trend has been toward the industrialization of these activities so that they are performed by enterprises of various sizes: micro, small, medium or large. Food processing is important to consider for three main reasons.

First, as previously discussed, given the high post harvest losses in poor countries that lack adequate transport infrastructure, simple post harvest technologies must be adopted in order to avoid food spoilage.

The second reason food processing ought to be considered a central aspect of feeding Asian cities is the fact that demographic change is leading to a rapid increase in demand for value-added food products. Urban lifestyles, particularly the large-scale entry of women into the paid labour force, leave little time for home-based food processing and cooking. Whereas it used to be common for families to prepare their own preserves, bring sacks of grain to the mill for grinding and cook most food at home, the trend is now toward the purchasing of labour saving “convenience” items.

Third, the demand for value-added foods represents significant income generating opportunities. Food can be and often is processed by a variety of micro, small and medium enterprises. Women, who traditionally possess cooking and other food-related skills, are in a good position to undertake business activities related to food processing and, in Southeast Asia for example, traditionally predominate as food processing entrepreneurs. Food microentrepreneurs can benefit, however, from training in the area of food handling and business management to enhance food safety and income-generation respectively.

There are a number of other concerns and challenges related to food processing in general. Many of them are aggravated when they take place in a concentrated manner in and around cities.

Like food production and distribution, the processing of food requires adequate assembly, packaging and transportation of foodstuffs from their point of manufacture through to the final place of consumption. Likewise, there is a need for small-scale food processing industries to easily access information, credit and marketing services.

The processing of food products of animal origin is of concern not only because of increasing demand but also because of the risk of contamination associated with meat, fish, eggs and dairy. All these types of foods are particularly susceptible to harmful bacteria and viruses. Current concerns over bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) linked to animal feeding practices, has recently emerged as a major food safety problem in the beef industry. Other public health problems linked to animal feed, such as dioxin contamination and the improper use of antimicrobials have underlined the need to have adequate controls throughout the entire animal production chain including consideration of animal feed. Hence, to safely supply the growing taste of Asian urban consumers with meat and animal products, there is a need for adequate attention to all aspects of animal production and processing as well as hygienic distribution systems.

There are significant veterinary, environmental and public health concerns surrounding intensive livestock rearing, particularly in and around cities. The current European “foot and mouth” disease epidemic is a case in point. Asian urbanites are consuming greater amounts of meat, eggs and dairy products as incomes rise so this matter will certainly become more important in the next ten years.

Slaughterhouses in many Asian cities are insufficient and badly managed. Their poor state is a matter for immediate concern as are the unnecessarily cruel practices followed in many of them. In addition, a significant proportion of the meat consumed in Asian cities is raised and butchered in informal, unregulated home-based microenterprises (Heinz, 2000).

As previously indicated, Asians consume a great deal of fish, seafood and related products. Fish and seafood, which are easily contaminated, present special challenges for safe and hygienic processing. At the same time, East and Southeast Asia are home to traditional fish and seafood processing activities for the fabrication of comestibles such as fish sauce, fermented fish paste, surimi (fish paste) products such as fish balls and condiments such as fish flakes. These well-established cottage industries can be developed as livelihoods for the urban and periurban poor.

4.3.5 Urban food distribution

This section provides an overview of the issues related to food distribution within Asian cities. The term urban food distribution here includes concerns related to intra-urban transport, wholesale and retail markets and the range of other food retailing activities in urban areas including food shops of various types and sizes, supermarkets and foodservices ranging from the small-scale street food trade to the mainstream restaurant industry. Intra-urban transport

To get food from wholesale to retail markets and other retailing outlets, CLAs need to recognise the importance of an efficiently designed and functioning intra-urban transport system. Good intra-urban transport involves easing traffic congestion, particularly around markets, and providing proper storage and handling facilities, especially for perishables such as meat, fish, dairy products and eggs. A lack of attention to intra-urban transport will result in a host of future problems including:

As many Asian cities already suffer from the problems outlined above, the need to improve intra-urban transport becomes all the more urgent. Wholesale and retail food markets

Urgent concerns affecting wholesale and retail markets are their location, design, maintenance and management. Wholesale markets continue to play a central role in urban FSDSs in Asia, mostly because of the current Asian preference for the purchasing of food from small, neighbourhood retail markets rather than supermarkets. This is no longer the case in many Western countries where “vertically integrated systems of food distribution, from the farm to the supermarket,” tend to predominate, with the exception of Southern Europe, where one can still find traditional wholesale and retail markets.

Of the four wholesale markets in Hanoi only the Long Bien market was planned, whereas Cau Giay, Bac Qua, Nga Tu So, Trung Hien crossroads developed spontaneously, operating along streets in the early morning with no proper market facilities and management. They are all now located in the inner city, which makes it very difficult for food trucks to reach markets as traffic jams are the norm and parking space is insufficient. Market and storage facilities are inadequate and poorly maintained, although traders pay a fee. As a result, food damage and losses are high, quality of food is reduced, especially for fresh foods. Consequently, consumer prices are higher than they need be (Quang and Argenti 1999: p. 1).
The above example from Hanoi points to the myriad challenges with respect to wholesale market development in Asian cities. It highlights the need for advanced planning, proper management and services to market vendors such as storage and docking bays. Conflicts over space around public markets and rising food prices are historically sources of violence in cities.

There is a range of unanswered questions about the future development and need for wholesale markets in Asian cities. Among the most important are the types and size needed, the technical, financial and institutional factors involved and, particularly in the case of meat and fish, hygiene concerns (see Tracey-White, 1991, 1997 and 1999).

Retail markets specialize in the sale of raw foodstuffs such as fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. There are several inadequacies in Asian cities with respect to retail food markets. Most of them also apply to wholesale markets.

These include:

Locational issues: food markets are often poorly located forcing low-income urbanites to travel long distances at great expense to purchase food on a daily basis because small quantities are more easily affordable.

Design considerations: sometimes pavement traders and weekly fairs are crowded whilst local markets built by Municipalities remain underutilized or are abandoned. Good design attracts and retains shoppers.

Congestion: markets tend to be in high traffic areas resulting in conflicts between vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Congested traffic in and around markets can also contribute to air pollution problems. Many markets were built years ago and are now located in highly dense urban areas adding further congestion. Unplanned markets, resulting from the insufficient number of formal markets, are ubiquitous and result in conflicts over land-use and traffic congestion.

Hygiene: improvement is needed to give market vendors and their customers access to potable water, toilet facilities and training on personal hygiene, food handling and waste disposal.

Waste management: markets generate considerable organic and packaging waste, some of which can be recycled and composted. Other liquid and solid waste requires proper waste disposal mechanisms.

Improving food markets is particularly important for the hygienic sale of meat and other animal products. The emergence of new food retailing outlets in Asian cities is already leading to changes in the food distribution system when it comes to animal products.
The traditional marketing system of unrefrigerated meat and milk with a period of only a few hours between production and consumption will in many places sooner or later become obsolete. This is due to necessary longer distribution channels from slaughter/processing plants to consumers and introduction of new food marketing schemes through supermarkets, fast food restaurants, etc. (Heinz, 2000: p. 4). Other retail food outlets

It is at various retailing points that urban consumers have the most direct contact with FSDSs. Food may be purchased in a relatively “raw” (unprocessed or semiprocessed) or “ready-to-eat” state in a variety of retail outlets. These outlets include public and private markets of various sizes as already discussed above, western style supermarkets, itinerant food markets, shops, street food vendors and larger eating or “food-service” establishments such as restaurants.

The retailing of prepared food consists of a variety of establishments in the Asian urban landscape. These range from the well-known hawker stalls and other types of street foods through more formal eating establishments such as canteens, cafeterias and restaurants.

Street foods are defined by the FAO as “ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and/or sold by vendors and hawkers especially in the street and other similar public places” (FAO, 1997). Street foods play an important role in provisioning the food needs of the urban poor as well as middle-class consumers such as working mothers, youth and students (Tinker, 1997). Their affordability and “good value for money” drive demand for street foods as do cultural factors.

The street food business is a viable livelihood for the urban poor and in some parts of Asia, such as Southeast Asia, women visibly predominate in the trade. In almost all cases throughout the world, the preparation and sale of street foods is a family enterprise providing needed income, particularly in times of economic crisis where other jobs may not be available.

Food safety, and the nutritional quality of street foods, is frequently cited as a public concern. Though foods that are cooked and sold immediately are relatively safe, high coliform counts are often found in food that remains exposed for long periods of time, particularly in a hot humid climate. Hence, the safety of street foods must be improved. As well, “poor food hygiene, fouling of the environment as well as obstruction of pedestrian and vehicular traffic are widely cited as important negative facets of street food trade” (Clarke, 2000: p. 1).

In some Asian cities, such as Singapore, street food vendors have been largely relocated to “hawker centres” or food courts. This may be a possibility for other Asian cities. It is certain that progressive and proactive municipal policies to recognise the importance and support the needs of the “informal” food sector are a necessity throughout the region. This includes less visible food distribution microenterprises such as catering operations.

Larger food-service establishments are also susceptible to the food contamination risks associated with street foods as well as liquid and solid waste generation. The growing number of “formal” canteens, cafeterias and restaurants where an increasing number of Asian urban consumers purchase meals must also be considered part of the urban food distribution system. A final point that should be noted is the fact that more and more supermarkets and convenience stores are beginning to sell “ready-to-eat” foods. This trend signals the need to look beyond street foods when it comes to assessing food hygiene and also points to growing competition for street foods from other sectors.

All sectors of the FSDS, including households, are responsible for the generation of tremendous amounts of waste. How to manage this waste in a sustainable manner is the subject of the following section.


The management of waste from the urban food system, particularly from markets and slaughterhouses, poses one of the greatest challenges to city managers. Slaughterhouse waste is related to a host of hygiene, health and environmental problems thereby requiring safe disposal. “Growing quantities of waste from processing plants, markets and slaughterhouses together with dumping of plastic packaging and waste burning boosts health risks and the pollution of water, soil and air” (Argenti, 2000: p. 4). These problems are compounded by the lack of urban space for landfills to dump solid waste.[9]

This section will profile three types of food waste where there are opportunities for improvement of current disposal practices in Asian cities, specifically: waste from slaughterhouses and food markets, the composting of organic household kitchen waste and wastewater use for periurban aquaculture.

The issue of waste from slaughterhouses is a delicate problem of management, technology and information that has serious repercussions for health and hygiene. There are growing quantities of waste from abattoirs in most Asian cities due to increased meat and poultry consumption. Appropriate technology must be acquired to process this highly volatile type of waste and the knowledge must be transferred to employees for the correct utilization of this technology. Managing this particular type of food waste properly is clearly a question of public and environmental health.[10]

Organic waste from food markets such as vegetable and fruit scraps ought to be viewed as a valuable resource due to the ease with which they can be composted if waste is properly handled before it leaves the markets. Proper handling is most importantly a question of the separation of organic and inorganic waste at the source of disposal.

In the marshy periurban areas of Calcutta and Dhaka, sewage-water fed aquaculture is a traditional, environmentally friendly practice that provides the majority of the fish consumed by millions of urban residents. The practice is also reported in Vietnam. Wastewater aquaculture is a partial answer to the question of how to manage the volumes of sewage from the megacities of Asia.

There are two main considerations necessary to address all of the above issues: first, the role of local authorities in wholesale and retail market planning and operations; and second, the promotion of private investments in FSD activities and facilities, including markets.


4.5.1 Why develop FSD policies, strategies and programmes?
4.5.2 Role and needs of cities and local authorities
4.5.3 The role and responsibilities of other institutions
4.5.4 The nature of an effective FSD policy
4.5.5 Measuring success

It is certain that the problems and constraints introduced in the previous sections of this technical overview will be aggravated by urbanization if no concrete measures are taken to address them. CLAs can and should play a key role in addressing the challenges that have been outlined in the previous sections of this technical overview. Their role in improving FSD involves outlining an appropriate FSD policy, which is defined as:

... 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 (Argenti, 2000: p. 12).

4.5.1 Why develop FSD policies, strategies and programmes?

Appropriate FSD policies must be developed by CLAs for several reasons. First, national policies, when they even exist, are often not tailored to meet local needs and conditions. Food issues generally tend to be viewed as the purview of central governments, rather than local authorities. Policies are therefore often of a general nature and may lack the detail necessary to be relevant and effective for specific cities.

Second, CLAs are in close contact with the local community and already manage numerous key institutions in the FSDS such as markets and abattoirs and food sector regulation mechanisms such as inspection services. CLAs are also responsible for infrastructure and institutions indirectly related to the FSDS such as intra-urban transport and should therefore be planning and managing their cities with the present and future needs of the FDS in mind.

Finally, given the trend of devolving decision making from the national to the local level in many matters of economic planning, designing a technically sound and feasible FSD policy enables CLAs to undertake proactive partnerships with a range of local stakeholders. These stakeholders include private sector enterprises (including the “informal” sector), other government agencies at various levels and civil society.

4.5.2 Role and needs of cities and local authorities

Before developing an FSD policy, Asian CLAs need to understand their involvement in FSDSs. There are five principal role that CLAs can play (Argenti, 2000: p. 7-11):

A smoothly functioning FSDS requires appropriate and coordinated planning at municipal, metropolitan and regional levels. A priority, therefore, is to sensitize urban and regional planners and municipal managers to the importance of FSDSs and the nature of the food system in their localities.

... a primary task planners have to carry out is to understand how FSDSs work as far as production, transportation and distribution are concerned, the infrastructure and services needed, and the most appropriate technical and financial alternatives. Moreover urban managers need to identify the solutions having the greater potential for mobilizing the resources available locally, while defining norms and standards that meet the capacities of both the public and the private sector (Balbo, 2000: p. 1).
As well, it is important to ensure that positive attitudes toward the food sector be inculcated in mayors, municipal officials and planners.

Approaches adopted for the development and implementation of an urban FSD policy must be consultative, participatory, open-minded, alliance seeking and technically sound (Argenti, 2000: p. 18). Other principles include the fostering of competition, resistance to fleeting “fashions”[11] and letting the private sector run activities that can best be managed by businesses.

There are several technical gaps that need to be filled before CLAs can successfully design and implement an FSD policy. These include lack of critical information and technical expertise that are necessary to play a meaningful role. Many of these lacunae can be overcome through training and well-designed collaborations with other cities (see the following section).

One of the major hurdles to CLAs developing FSD policies relates to their increasing role in all spheres of local development in the face of dwindling resources, particularly financing. All of the recommendations made in this report are therefore predicated on adequate monetary, human and institutional resources being available to develop, implement and monitor FSD policies.

4.5.3 The role and responsibilities of other institutions

CLAs should be the lead institutions for the formulation of urban FSD policies. Their role ought to be to coordinate rather than coerce other stakeholders from various levels of government, the private sector (including “informal” enterprises) and civil society organizations in the formulation of an FSD policy and its associated goals, objectives and strategies. The example described below of an attempt to formulate an FSD policy in Amman, Jordan underscores the need to have CLAs as the lead institutions.

Box 4: FSD policy development in Amman, Jordan

Local authorities in Amman have little concern for urban food security. Generally speaking, there is an inadequate understanding of the importance and impact of FSDSs on the socio-economic development of the city and its environment. This leads to the problem of insufficient data concerning the food system. Interventions to improve urban FSDS should target municipal authorities and recognise the city as the lead organization to coordinate a multistakeholder policy development process.

Specific programmes for food micro and small enterprises are urgently required. Records indicate that there are more than 17 000 micro and small enterprises operating in the food sector in Amman. These economic activities play an important role in feeding the city and generating income for the families that own and operate the businesses. Nevertheless, the legal and financial environment hinders, rather than enables, the creation of such food enterprises. The absence of training programmes and poor lobbying power of the food sector businesses results in their needs not being addressed by local authorities. The creation of a “central unit for developing food micro and small enterprises” for the region of Greater Amman is therefore deemed necessary (Awamleh 2000; Sunna, 2000).

Once general goals, concrete objectives and specific strategies have been agreed upon by all stakeholders, CLAs must take the lead in designing programmes in the area of FSD that impact municipal, metropolitan and regional jurisdictions. These programmes, which should address food supply, distribution and related health and environmental concerns, consist of individual subprogrammes. Each subprogramme, in turn, contains specific action plans with clearly identified results that can be measured in the immediate, short, medium and long term.

4.5.4 The nature of an effective FSD policy

An FSD policy needs to: 1) respond efficiently and equitably to expected changes in the amounts and sources of food required; 2) meet changing consumer preferences; 3) make food of good quality accessible to all city inhabitants at accessible prices; and, 4) reduce and possibly eliminate food-related health problems. These four areas should be priorities for CLAs.

The goals of a comprehensive urban FSD policy are threefold: economic, to improve efficiency and lower costs; social, to enhance equity and food security; and health and environment related, to reduce food borne illnesses and negative environmental impacts related to the urban food system. An example of a policy goal would be to better locate a city’s public markets.

Policy objectives refer to the concrete measures that need to be undertaken to achieve policy goals. They are typically short term and involve one or more operational units. To be effective, objectives should be attainable, feasible, credible, technically sound, consistent with central government priorities and socially as well as politically acceptable. An example of a policy objective with reference to the aforementioned policy goal of improving the location of public markets would be to amend the land-use regulations of the city in question to facilitate relocation of public markets in the next three years.

Policy strategies point to the ways in which clearly defined objectives can be attained. To continue with the above example, a relevant strategy to enable the fulfilment of the objective to amend a city’s land-use plan might be to consult with and involve the stakeholders who are likely to be opposed to such a change. This step would ensure that their needs are addressed and their views are included in the process of changing the land-use plan.

The goals, objectives and related strategies of an FSD policy proposed by a CLA must be complementary with related policies in the area of health, economic development and so on. Care must be taken to forecast policy and programme conflicts to mitigate their potential negative impacts.

4.5.5 Measuring success

Finally, the outcome of a successful FSD policy can be measured by the presence of:

Having benchmarks, such as the three outlined above, is important for gauging the impact of the implementation of an FSD policy in a given urban region.


Technical cooperation among CLAs in the area of FSDSs is relatively new. Nevertheless, this frontier field offers tremendous potential for the sharing of experiences, best practices, information and technical know-how between cities of the developing world (i.e. South-South cooperation) and between Asian cities and those of Western Europe or North America (i.e. North-South cooperation). The fact that well-established international networks of local authorities such as CityNet and the International Union of Local Authorities already exist facilitates technical cooperation among CLAs with respect to FSD. Information and communication technologies open the door technologically to the expedient and efficient sharing of experiences and information through, for instance, virtual databases and on-line networking and training resources.

There are a number of preliminary steps that need to be undertaken to ensure that technical cooperation among CLAs takes place smoothly. To have effective cooperation and agreement, all actors involved should:

CLAs can cooperate on a North-South or South-South basis to share and develop information, build awareness of the importance of FSDS issues and develop specific training packages in technical areas such as urban and periurban land management, wholesale market operation and food enterprise development. CityNet and the European Union’s “Asia Urbs” programme have already undertaken steps to foster technical cooperation among CLAs in the area of FSD. The seminar workshops listed several areas where Asian CLAs need technical cooperation:

CLAs can facilitate their cooperation with one another by collaborating with existing networks in the region like CityNet and international organizations with an expertise in FSD such as the FAO. Examples of the types of materials and activities that can be produced to facilitate information exchange and training include:


The range of urban FSD problems identified in this technical overview point to a number of challenges faced by Asian cities, which are certain to exacerbate in the next ten years if proactive steps are not taken. These current and future difficulties in the area of FSDS also present opportunities for creative North-South and South-South technical cooperation that include the participation of CLAs, international agencies and the gamut of other stakeholders who are involved in the various activities involved in the feeding of Asia’s growing cities.


Although all workshop documents were consulted for the preparation of this technical overview, specifically key, discussion and background papers, the following works were cited directly.

Aragrande, M. & Argenti, O. 2001. Analysing Food Supply and Distribution Systems of Cities in Developing Countries. Methodological and Operational Guide. (Draft version DT/36-99E) Rome: FAO.

Argenti, O. 2000. Food for the cities: Food supply and distribution policies to reduce food insecurity. (DT/43-00E) Rome: FAO.

Awamleh, M. 2000. Proposed structures for food micro and small enterprise development. The city of Amman. Short background paper presented to the regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Balbo, M. 2000. Discussion paper for workshop C2. Regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Bhogle, S. 2000. Personal Communication. Technology Informatics Design Endeavour (TIDE), Bangalore, India.

Clarke, R. 2000. Discussion paper for workshop B5. Regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

FAO, 2000a. Agriculture towards 2015-30. Technical Interim Report, Rome: FAO.

FAO, 2000b. Seminar addresses feeding Asia’s cities. FAO News Highlights November 30, Rome: FAO.

FAO, 1998. Feeding the cities (excerpt from: The state of food and agriculture) (DT/39-98E) Rome: FAO.

FAO, 1997. Street Foods. Report of an FAO technical meeting on street foods, Calcutta, 6-9 November 1995. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper 63. FAO. Rome.

Heinz, G. 2000. Discussion paper for workshop A5. Regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Inoue, Sotaro and Titapiwatanakun, Boonjit. 2000. Dietary pattern change in Asian countries. Research on food consumption structure and marketing system (sic) under economic fluctuations in Japan and other Asian countries Tokyo: National Research Institute of Agricultural Economics.

Jakhanwal, S.P.2000. Food supply and distribution in a mega city: a case study of Delhi. Short background paper presented to the regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Moustier, P. 2000. Discussion paper for workshop A1. Regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Roy, A. 2000. The Cost of Living. Frontline, February 18, p. 67-68.

Ruckes, E. (2000) Discussion paper for workshop B4. Regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Sawant, U. 1997. Slaughterhouse Waste: a Resource. Worm Digest Issue#15. Eugene, Oregon.

Schiere, H. 2000. Periurban livestock systems. Problems, approaches and opportunities: An FAO report based on case studies, literature and expert consultations. Rome: FAO.

Shepherd, A. 1996. Food for Consumers: Marketing, Processing and Distribution (DHS/01-00E) Rome: FAO.

Sunna, S. 2000. Feeding Asian Cities: Urban Food Distribution Issues. Key paper presented to the regional seminar “Feeding Asian Cities.” Rome: FAO.

Quang, C. & Argenti, O. 1999. Food Supply and Distribution to Hanoi - Workshop report. (AC/22-99E) Rome: FAO.

Tinker, I. 1997. Street Foods: Urban Food and Employment in Developing Countries. New York; Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Tracey-White, J.D. 1991. Wholesale Markets. Planning and Design Manual. Agricultural Services Bulletin, No. 90, Rome: FAO.

Tracey-White, J.D. 1997. Retail Markets Planning Manual. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin, No. 121 and Food into Cities Collection, Vol. 02/98. Rome: FAO.

Tracey-White, J.D. 1999. Market Infrastructure Planning. A guide for decision makers, Agricultural Services Bulletin, No. 141. Rome: FAO

UNCHS, 1996. Global Report on Human Settlements, Nairobi: United Nations Centre for Human Settlements.

[5] These figures are aggregates for various cities in East, Southeast and South Asia (excluding West Asia).
[6] Due to the lack of a pastoral tradition, much of the population in East and Southeast Asia is traditionally lactose intolerant. Nevertheless, many large food multinationals are aggressively marketing and distributing dairy products in the cities of these two regions.
[7] Bangalore, Bangkok and Cebu are prominent examples of Asian cities experiencing difficulties supplying sufficient water for their populations. See the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change working group documentation for information on global warming and food security.
[8] Canning is a common home-based food processing activity but requires sound training before being undertaken commercially.
[9] Many would argue that landfills are an inefficient and outdated form of municipal solid waste management.
[10] For an explanation of the issues surrounding the composting of slaughterhouse waste see Sawant (1997: pp. 18-19).
[11] By fashions, Argenti is referring to developments that foster goals such as “modernization” or the preservation of tradition while losing sight of the primary objective of poverty-alleviation by stimulating income-generating opportunities and lowering the cost of living.

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