In 2002, twenty cities around the world have a population of more than 10 million, and by 2005, over half of the world's population will be living in cities. Supplying these people with safe and affordable food will strain the food supply and distribution chain to the breaking point. The difficulties of matching supply and demand and problems with transport, refrigeration and markets will lead to losses and raise prices. Urban food production can help, but urban farmers lack sufficient land, water and knowledge.

FAO assists central governments enhance food security, mostly in rural areas. But during the last few years FAO has also been concentrating on the role of local authorities in cities in developing countries, who play a key role in creating the right conditions for feeding their cities as they are responsible for establishing regulations for food hygiene and trade, are responsible for road constructions, transport facilities, slaughterhouses and infrastructure. Development of expertise within all sectors - transport, agriculture, nutrition and public health - are needed to ensure that enough safe, affordable, good-quality food reaches urban residents.

FAO's initiative for "Food Supply and Distribution to Cities" addresses the relationship between urbanization, urban poverty and food insecurity. It focuses on the impact of urbanisation on the efficiency of food supply and distribution activities and the need to stimulate private-sector initiatives and investment.

In 2000, 1.9 billion people lived in cities in developing countries. The number is estimated to grow to nearly 3.9 billion in 2030. In Latin America, and the Caribbean 75% of the population is currently living in cities. This figure will climb to 83 percent by 2030. Comparable figures for Asia and the Pacific are 37 and 53 percent; for Africa, 38 and 55 percent.

Although poverty is still more likely to be rural, it is growing in urban areas, and urban poverty is not just found in capitals or mega-cities. Provincial centres of a few hundred thousand people can also have many poor inhabitants, and practical food supply and distribution problems. Food security concerns are especially important in the developing world's cities, where the rate of people living in poverty often exceed 50 percent: for example, Guatemala City (80%), Chittagong, Bangladesh (78%) and Kampala, Uganda (77%).

Poor urban consumers:

  • spend as much as 60 to 80 percent of their income on food, making them especially vulnerable to higher food prices, such as those caused by transport costs or monopolistic practices by powerful traders;

  • spend an average of 30 percent more on food than in rural areas but consume fewer calories;

  • are the last link in a long food chain, and have little choice of where to buy, increasing the risk that they will consume food of poor quality.