Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


By Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi and Dato’ Lakhbir Singh Chahl
The challenges of food security in Asia

It is estimated that by the year 2030, nearly five billion people (61 percent) of the world’s 8.1 billion people will be living in cities. Also, 16 of the world’s 25 largest urban areas will be in Asia. This growth has left a large proportion of the world’s urban population in poverty with threats to their food security. In the developing world, 790 million people do not have enough food to eat, according to the 1995 to 1997 estimates, and this number is growing.

Threats to food security result when people cannot afford an adequate food intake because of high food prices or prices that are not compatible with their purchasing power. Many low-income households often have to incur additional expenses in obtaining food, mainly because they tend to live away from established urban markets, where food prices tend to be lower. As clearly discussed in the previous technical sections of this seminar, food prices tend to be higher than necessary because of numerous constraints and inefficiencies affecting FSD systems to cities. Specific problems outlined include:

As cities grow, the demand for land for housing, industry and infrastructure compete with the demand for land for agricultural production. Thus food supplies are likely to originate from greater distances.

By improving their food production and distribution systems, city and local authorities can greatly improve the health of their citizens, generate additional employment and income opportunities and in the end, contribute to alleviating poverty not only among urban consumers, but also among food producers.

Many Asian city managers do not sufficiently realize how much the daily activities of their institutions can influence the food security of their constituencies. Local governments in the Asia Pacific region rarely take FSD aspects into account in their planning. Those who do often lack the necessary understanding and skills for effectively developing efficient FSD activities, almost all of which are carried out by the private sector. City and local authorities are increasingly recognised as important local development actors and need to be regarded as direct partners in food security and development activities. It is necessary to address ways to increase their skills and understanding.

The growing importance of cities and urban areas

The world we are living in is changing rapidly. People work and live differently. As technology progresses quickly, improved communication and transportation, and the removal of economic and physical borders, have provided boundless opportunities for development.

With national borders becoming less important and there is increasing cross border cooperation, globalization is reshaping the regions where urban areas are located. Globalization, praised as a giant wave that can either capsize nations or carry them forward, has apparently offered many opportunities to developing nations, regions and localities (World Bank, 1999). In turn, governments that are responsible for creating and promoting national wealth have responded differently to the globalization trend. Experience shows that where development trends were well understood and managed, there has been a greater level of achievement of societal goals.

Many countries are facing the demand for self-determination and are experiencing the decentralization processes. As a consequence, national governments are transferring a number of their economic and administrative powers to local governments. Power transfer to local authorities has offered both immense opportunities and challenges. With the emergence of mobile capital investments, world-wide economic opportunities and international institutions, city governments have found it increasingly difficult to integrate these opportunities into their urban development processes. At the same time, these global economic forces have transcended national boundaries and frameworks.

The fact is that cities are becoming important components of the global network. For achieving a sustainable level of growth, cities should have a specific strategy for development. In this regard, the World Bank agenda for city development strategies advocates that cities be liveable, competitive, well governed and managed and bankable (World Bank, 2000).

With this background, city leaders have the complex task of finding innovative ways of generating a good quality of life in their cities by profiting from the opportunities that are offered. Kearns and Paddison (2000) identify four distinct changes related to city development:

1. Cities are trying hard to ‘sell’ themselves for investments not only from developmental budgets, but also from private and international sources.

2. As a part of inter-city competition, cites are attempting to develop their local, distinctive cultures to attract business investment.

3. Cities have viewed national governments as less able to help them and less relevant to their fortunes.

4. Cities have oriented themselves toward the international arena through cross border cooperation and trans-frontier networking.

With this set of changes, new relationships among agencies, institutions and organizations are being created. These relationships are important factors in forging links among cities of different countries and have helped to generate inter-city exchange in different fields. International and UN organizations have contributed significantly to achieving cooperation among local bodies, highlighting networking and information and technology transfer as effective tools to cope with changing situations.

In addition to such efforts, local governments themselves have gathered together and worked more closely by creating their own networks. Some of them include CityNet, International Union of Local Authorities (IULA), International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI), Metropolis, United Towns Organization (UTO) and so on. These efforts in networking among cities and their local stakeholders have resulted in a high degree of cooperation and transfer of knowledge and information on a wide variety of good urban practices.

These networking initiatives have to be looked at from the perspective of a technological evolution, which has radically changed the way that people work and communicate. More than ever before, information can be accessed as well as shared quickly and cheaply. Virtual libraries, laboratories, and organizations have provided inexpensive and easy access to dissemination of knowledge. Virtual networking is increasingly recognised as a tool in peer-to-peer learning and in the upgrading of knowledge and information. The importance of technology and networking is being increasingly recognised by cities for sharing ideas, documenting good practices, communicating with local stakeholders, encouraging better local participation and governance and influencing a change in behaviour, especially toward sustainability and sound local environmental practice.

Importance of North-South and South-South[16] cooperation

North-South and South-South cooperation among local governments has to be looked at from the perspective of decentralization and local autonomy. The twin processes of decentralization and local autonomy have brought local governments to the fore, placing high expectations on them in terms of leadership and creativity in solving local problems of development. Cities in Asia and the Pacific region are facing increasing pressure in their efforts to internationalize. This pressure is most manifest in the need to attract foreign investment, entice the human resources and skilled persons to absorb the investment and create the quality of life and living environment desired by residents. Some cities are circumventing national and regional governments to go global on their own, much like a multinational company, by identifying and fostering financial and human resources.

In order for cities to be competitive and attractive, they will have to foster and partner with a range of stakeholders working at different levels of governance (local, regional, national and international) in order to raise the resources and meet the challenges of globalization (and simultaneously of decentralization).

The key problem faced by cities is a lack of capacity within the local governments to handle the pressures and needs of decentralization and local autonomy. This weak internal capacity forces cities to look outside themselves to fill the gaps in capacity and resources for effective urban development and management. Partnering with other local and global stakeholders in managing the city has become a necessity for cities in this age of globalization. Cities have sought to privatize their urban infrastructure functions, to seek private sector participation in developing and managing urban services and to seek opinions and suggestions from the broader civil society (including NGOs and citizens groups) for better urban governance. Concepts of participation and partnership have moved beyond being just buzzwords to become a key component that underlies all urban policies and programmes.

But challenges remain due to the sheer diversity of problems being faced by urban local governments and the magnitude of these problems. Local governments (who form the bulk of CityNet’s membership) have begun to strengthen processes and programmes that use more local resources to solve local problems. Partnering with stakeholders within the city, and also with others outside the city and country, has become a critical element that has seen currency in urban management programmes.

South-South and North-South cooperation needs to be seen through the perspective of cities facing a myriad of problems and challenges, and of the need for support, partnership and participation from a number of stakeholders who can assist local governments in better managing cities. Thus, terms such as partnership, cooperation and knowledge sharing have come to be part of the vocabularies of local governments.

Research carried out by UNDP has found that some of the improvements to poor communities in the South have come about through their links with the North (UNDP, 2000). It is also noted that municipalities in the South have gained through cooperation with their partners, by sharing knowledge and experience to address needs in management and administration. The areas include financial management, tax collection, environmental management and urban planning. Many links have also proved effective in addressing local concerns for greater civil awareness and good governance.

Some examples of successful North-South cooperation initiated among CityNet member cities are:

(a) Lille, France and Hue, Vietnam on heritage conservation;
(b) Lyon, France and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam on town planning and management;
(c) Yokohama, Japan, and;
(d) Bangkok, Thailand on flood control measures.
North-South cooperation not only benefits Southern partners. Northern partners are also able to learn from Southern partners. For example, as a result of Toronto’s links with São Paulo, Brazil, Toronto developed a programme to provide quality food at affordable prices to low income communities (Gilbert et. al., 1996). The Toronto programme ensured that community organizations were strengthened and social interaction increased through potluck suppers. In the long run, the health of the families served improved.

South-South cooperation holds particular promise for various reasons: cooperation works well when the socio-economic conditions of partners are similar; there is great potential for transferability and adaptability of ideas and knowledge between partners and the focus is on long-term planning and implementation.

A typical example of this process is CityNet’s Technical Cooperation among cities in Developing Countries (TCDC) programme. The TCDC programme is a vital force for initiating, designing, organizing and promoting cooperation among developing countries so that they can create, acquire, adapt, transfer and pool knowledge and experience for their mutual benefit and for achieving the national and collective self-reliance essential for their social and economic development.

CityNet, whose secretariat is located in Yokohama, has facilitated more than 30 transfers of best and/or good practices among local governments and other organizations, mostly in the Asia-Pacific region. A transfer implies identification and awareness of the solutions, matching the demand with supply of experience and expertise and taking a series of steps to help bring about the desired change (CityNet et. al., 1998). To help various stakeholders, CityNet, UNDP and UNCHS have developed guidelines in the form of a practical manual for fostering South-South cooperation by transferring effective practices.

Examples of successful South-South cooperation include the transfer of best practices from Olongapo (Philippines) on integrated solid waste management to Tansen (Nepal) and Guntur (India). Through the network of municipalities, cities benefit not only through a one-to-one approach, but also through a one-to-many approach.

Another example of success is FAO’s programme for the use of experts for technical cooperation among developing countries and countries in transition, the TCDC/TCCT Experts Programme.[17] FAO has been strenuously promoting technical cooperation among developing countries for a number of years, but this initiative provides an innovative mechanism by which to promote cooperation and ensure that technical cooperation targets those most in need in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

The FAO’s TCDC/TCCT Experts Programme enables developing countries and countries in transition from Central and Eastern Europe to assist each other through the provision of experts in a spirit of shared responsibilities and shared costs. The beneficiary party provides local board and lodging, the releasing party continues to pay salary and other home-based entitlements, while FAO provides international travel, approved internal travel, medical insurance and a subsidy of US$ 50 per day towards living expenses.

A total of 125 countries have signed agreements on the programme and by the end of June 1999, some 1 500 TCDC/TCCT experts had participated in wide-ranging FAO priority programmes and projects to benefit member nations. Experts from the private sector and non-governmental organizations have also undertaken a number of assignments.

An analysis of the above examples of North-South and South-South cooperation activities brings up a number of key ingredients for success. All partners involved have to have a clear understanding of cooperation and the duties and responsibilities that it will entail. Clear expectations will have to be identified, communicated, nurtured and met by the parties involved. Having a good understanding of cooperation principles and apprehending the possible results, there is a clear need for commitment between the partnering governments or entities. Community-wide participation of all stakeholders is also critical for the success of the enterprise. This goes hand in hand with reciprocity that recognises and respects the individual strengths and experiences/expertise of the partners. The cooperating partners will have to recognise that third parties (especially NGOs, community based groups, etc.) need to be assigned a role in filling the gaps within their own set-ups. The role of external organizations such as CityNet is also considered an important aspect to help in fostering cooperation on a bilateral and multilateral basis by matching demand (for expertise, for human resources, for experiences sharing, etc.) with supply. The role for third parties and reciprocity ensure complimentarity of resources, another critical element of good cooperation efforts. Finally, as mentioned earlier, it is the similarity of socio-economic and cultural issues that will help in ensuring success.

While the ingredients mentioned above are applicable to all types of cooperation efforts between cities, and among cities and other entities, there are critical differences in the importance placed on them with respect to North-South and South-South cooperation activities. This is reflected in Table 8.1.

Table 8.1: Key points for successful North-South and South-South cooperation

Key points

North-South cooperation

South-South cooperation

Understanding for cooperation



Clear expectation









Community-wide participation



Role of third parties



Complementarity of resources



Similar level of development, geographical, cultural, economical and technological condition



Note: [18]

ÖÖ  Indicates higher importance
Ö  Indicates lower importance

There are also, of course, several cases of unsuccessful efforts in North-South and South-South cooperation, particularly where the key issues listed in Table 8.1 were not adequately incorporated in the programme or plan. For instance, lack of understanding of the importance of partnerships in which Northern partners tend to dictate what the South should do and do not pay sufficient attention to their Southern partner’s ideas or suggestions on how to solve local problems. Other reasons include the high expectation and dependency of Southern partners on their Northern counterparts.

Operationalizing North-South and South-South cooperation

1. Possible areas of cooperation

There are many ways in which North-South and South-South cooperation can prove useful to both urban dwellers, who are consumers of agricultural products, and the rural populations, who are the main food producers and the consumers of urban services. The ultimate goals of such initiatives would be to establish a real symbiosis between cities and their rural hinterland. Possible decentralized cooperation initiatives can be broadly divided in several categories, which are given below as examples:

Strengthening linkages between urban and rural areas:

This could be brought about through improving the delivery of agricultural products to urban markets through the building of cold storage facilities and the provision of relevant vehicles to farmers via integrated policies including a credit component (provision of soft loans to farmers) and the establishment of cooperatives.

Improving the quality and increasing the supply of agricultural products:

Enforcing appropriate land tenure and land adjustment policies:

Increasing trade links between urban and rural areas:

Access can be achieved through the extension of feeder and main roads linking rural areas and urban markets as well as through improving rural markets, which very often serve as outlets to larger urban markets. Additional initiatives geared to strengthening related capacity building in rural areas are also needed: e.g. encouraging the building of cooperatives, providing training and soft loans, etc. Special schemes focusing on women, who are often very active in trade in an Asian context, are strongly desirable: e.g. the creation of women’s corners in Bangladesh union towns’ markets.

Ensuring that the mix of rural and urban land-uses inside metropolitan areas remain sustainable:

With the geographical expansion of metropolises, rural and urban land-uses are becoming increasingly mixed. This is true in less developed countries of Asia, but it is also true in places like Japan where forms of urban agriculture continue to be practiced. In some cases, the pollution of water used for irrigation purposes creates environmental problems and jeopardises the continuation of agricultural activities within cities and in their peripheries. Animal husbandry is also a cause for concern in some Asian urban areas.

2. Bringing partners together

North-South and South-South cooperation could usefully take place in the fields provided above as examples. Some initiatives have been already conducted.

For example, the experience gained by some Japanese cities in land-use planning techniques addressing situations in which agricultural and urban land-uses are highly mixed could be usefully shared with other Asian cities of the South. This experience sharing would be especially useful with regard to conflict resolution in farming communities at the edge of large cities and to the supply of water for agricultural activities within metropolitan areas or at the periphery of urban centres.

With regard to land-use policies, cities in the South could also learn a lot from efficient policies and support technologies developed in the North, using geographical information systems (GIS) for instance. Some European cities, in association with local agricultural research institutions or professional schools, have already shown their interest in working in close collaboration with Southeast Asian towns in the area of urban management to address problems raised, and opportunities offered, by urban agriculture[19].

Also, many small service towns in the North catering to the urban hinterland have developed an expertise in the delivery, storage and marketing of agricultural goods, which could be usefully shared with cities and towns in the South.

Conclusions and reflections

North-South and South-South cooperation efforts have been used to fill the gaps of financial, technical and human resources that are occurring within cities. Sharing experiences and expertise among southern cities has had particular benefits for the partnering cities that go beyond mere aid or financial investment.

However, effective implementation of such cooperative efforts has not been easy. The partnering entities have faced a number of difficulties, limitations and constraints. Key among these are adequate and timely information, a thorough knowledge of the needs and priorities of the partnering entities, the process of finding and accessing required/relevant experiences, and expertise and funds to facilitate cooperative efforts.

These difficulties and barriers are not insurmountable. Cities have to recognise that there is a clear need for them to articulate their successes and their disappointments and to offer each other expertise in the cooperative effort. They will have to understand the expectations and limitations of the partnering entity and attempt to find a middle ground in overcoming difficulties. Communication and understanding are indeed at the core of a successful partnership.

Central governments, on the other hand, also have an important role to play in terms of creating an enabling environment where cities can seek, identify and foster partners for cooperation. Of particular importance are the priorities that central governments place on the cooperative efforts of city governments and the funding, legislative and administrative support that they can provide.

The role of international organizations and networks is critical in generating an inventory of resources, expertise and knowledge on cooperative processes. The organizations can not only document and disseminate information, they can also assist in providing the necessary expertise in fostering the cooperative effort itself. Highlighting the key ingredients of success of existing cooperative activities helps in avoiding pitfalls and ensures that the aims and objectives of any cooperative activity are met.

A better understanding of the need for North-South and South-South cooperation has to be generated. Such cooperative activities will have to move beyond just piece-meal projects or initiatives. They will have to be mainstreamed into urban development and management practices. Efforts will have to be made in making these cooperative activities an integral part of urban policies and programmes.

In conclusion, opportunities offered by North-South and South-South decentralized cooperation for feeding Asian cities are numerous and challenging. The crux is to identify channels to bring potential partners together on the basis of mutual interests.

The authors

Bernadia Irawati Tjandradewi is the Programme Manager of the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements (CityNet) where she implements projects for local government throughout the Asia Pacific. She worked for JICA in Indonesia and for the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPP-Technology) of Indonesia. Ms Tjandradewi has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore and one in Atmospheric Physics and Environment from Nagoya University, Japan. She holds a B.Sc. from Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia.

Dato’ Lakhbir Singh Chahl is the Secretary-General of the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements (CityNet). He was first elected as the Secretary-General by the General Council of CityNet in 1991 and re-elected for second and third terms in 1993 and 1997 respectively. Dato’ Chahl worked for the Municipal Council of Penang Island as Municipal Secretary from 1981 to 1992. He was named Barrister-at-Law by the Middle Temple, London, United Kingdom. He is stationed in Penang, Malaysia where he is currently working as an advocate and solicitor.


CityNet, UNDP & UNCHS, 1998. Guidelines for transferring effective practices: a practical manual for South-South cooperation, Thailand.

Gilbert, R., Stevenson D., Girardet H., & Richard Stren, 1996. Making cities work: the role of the local authorities in the urban environment, Earthscan Publications Ltd., UK.

Kearns, Ade, Ronan Paddison, 2000. New Challenges for Urban Governance, Urban Studies, Vol. 37, No. 5-6, pg. 845-850

United Nations Development Programme, 2000. The Challenges of Linking,

World Bank, 2000. Cities in Transition: A Strategic View of Urban and Local Government Issues, The World Bank.

World Bank, 1999. World Development Report 1999/2000: Entering the 21st Century,

[16] The terms “North” and “South” are used to indicate the group of countries being industrialized and developing, respectively.
[17] For further details:
[18] The information is taken from CityNet’s experience and UNDP’s findings.
[19] Examples can be found in the Asia Urbs program of the European Commission.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page