Feeding the world's cities is one of the most important issues of our time. Today, from China to Chile, policy makers and planners are grappling with the question of how to provide for the fundamental needs of their rapidly increasing urban populations.

FAO advises local and central government on how to improve urban food supply and distribution systems, a complicated process in crowded cities with chaotic traffic and poor infrastructure.

In the market of Pokhara in mid-western Nepal, Shova Baral brings a large conical basket full of lettuce to the centre of town. Before, she used to carry the basket for three kilometres and spend the entire day selling her produce, although she was never guaranteed sales. But with a little help, she and others don't have to sit on the dusty street anymore. FAO has helped set up the Pokhara wholesale market, an impressive space the size of a football field, with 105 stalls. It is big, but what is most impressive is that it has made my life easier, said Baral.

"I used to come into the city and sell in the street direct to the customer, which took a lot of time. Here I get a good price for a basket of vegetables and I can head straight home and get back to work... now this is a good system," she said.

The FAO provided training in market management and vegetable handling, as well as setting up a market information service. The project supported the development of a number of small collection centres, in addition to the Pokhara market. The UN Capital Development Fund and the government of Nepal provided US$3.6 million in funding.

Suresh Gupta, a wholesaler from Lucknow, India, has come to work as a wholesaler of bananas, groundnuts and oranges. Armed with his cell phone and calculator, he is ready for business. "The new market is great. I can check the prices in Kathmandu and Narayangadh, so I know what I should pay and what I should charge. The stalls are very big. There is lots of parking, no crowds and the people are very cooperative," he said.

A trader filling the back seat of a taxi with oranges that he will provide to retailers is equally enthusiastic. "The market is very good for me because I don't have to waste time looking for sellers in the street," said Prem Poudel, 32. "My business is coming along. I'm making more money."

Bhoj Raj Khanal, the Pokhara Market manager trained by FAO, is proud of his domain. "Every day we have 1,000 buyers and sellers using the market. They pay only five rupees to enter -- the price of a cup of tea -- which maintains the market," he said.

"We don't set market prices, but every morning we canvass five buyers and sellers in each commodity and post average prices. We fax or e-mail prices between wholesale markets and broadcast them on the radio so that sellers can go where the price is right for them," he added.