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37th Committee on Food Security (CFS)

"Food for the Cities" side event

(Rome, Friday 21 October 2011)

The “Food for the Cities” multi-disciplinary initiative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) organized a side event on 21 October, 2011 during the 37th Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Paul Munro-Faure, chair person of the “Food for the Cities” multi-disciplinary initiative, moderated the side event that addressed the impacts of current crises on food and nutrition security of urban households, including recent food price volatility, and the engagement of local authorities to help build more resilient food systems.

Contributions from FAO and various partners, including World Food Programme (WFP), ICLEI- local governments for sustainability, members from the private sector and civil society have presented a varied picture from diverse perspectives.

Alexander Müller, assistant director general (ADG) of the Natural Resources Management and Environment (NR) Department of FAO (see video at 5’50’’) made an introductory presentation stressing that the food and nutrition security for urban dwellers is one of the hottest topics in the future for three main reasons:

  1. In 2007 and 2008, due to rising food prices, more than 20 countries experienced riots. Urban hunger and civil unrest made hunger more visible showing that in urban areas hunger can destabilize political systems.
  2. Urban populations will rise to 3 billion people by 2030 and nearly doubling the world’s present urban population.. The most important challenges will affect the poorest in low income countries. Climate change will have a negative impact, making the challenges even bigger. Producing some food in urban and peri-urban areas, while clearly not the only solution, has to be taken into consideration to increase access to vegetables and fresh fruits and to contribute to livelihoods of small holder and poor producers and consumers;
  3. Cities are increasingly the main drivers of change. What happens in cities will have impacts on agriculture, water, environment, etc. This is why, new and stronger urban-rural linkages are needed. Food and nutrition security for urban dwellers is a global issue, affecting not only urban population of low income countries but also the rural poor in low and high income countries.

To move forward on the challenges of urbanization for food, agriculture and cities, there is now a need to support and create networks of cities at different stages of development to develop common solutions.

A detailed presentation on an Egyptian case study was made by Fatima Hachem of the FAO Regional office for Near East (see video at 14’20’’). She raised the issue of lower nutritional status for urban dwellers, specifically in the context of subsidized staple food over the past 30 years in Egypt, and particularly bread and sugar.

The panel then addressed urbanization challenges from different perspectives, including providing relevant examples of local actions that support more resilient food systems through strengthening urban-rural linkages.

Davinder Lamba from the Mazingira Institute in Nairobi (see video at 26’30’’) represents the urban poor constituency of the Civil Society Mechanism for CFS established in 2009. He has focused on the wellbeing of urban dwellers, highlighting the inter-linkages between poverty and food and nutrition security. He highlighted how inequalities are playing a role in urban areas as well as in rural areas, affecting the wellbeing of people. Action is needed not only at local level, but also at global level. Davinder Lamba made a number of different recommendations:
- There is a need of disaggregated data for mapping food security and nutrition,
- This political issue needs a macro-economic reframing,
- Dignity and human rights are to be addressed,
- Agriculture and food production in urban areas is part of the answer.

A presentation on Resilient Cities was given by Russell Galt (Cities Biodiversity Center from ICLEI - Local Governments for Sustainability) (see video at 35’). He reported the interest of local authorities in having food dimensions included in their agendas. Multifunctional green spaces are considered as a key to generate an array of ecosystem services from tigthly contested land. To become more resilient, cities must modify their policies and encourage adaptive approaches to protecting both food security and biodiveristy. Food and nutrition security and agriculture are now high in ICLEI's agenda and will be addressed at the 2012 ICLEI World Congress in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

Arif Husain from WFP (see video at 42’30’’) has presented the work done by FAO and WFP, in the framework of the Inter-Agencies Standing Group (IASC) Reference Group on Meeting Humanitarian Challenges in Urban areas (MHCUA). It provides  "Guidance on food and nutrition security in urban crisis contexts” which will be developed in collaboration with several NGOs in few countries of the world.

Finally, Luca Torre (Co-CEO, Ambers Capital) (see video at 50’30’’) illustrated “How micro-finance can contribute to building more resilient food systems”, focusing on smallholder producers, especially in peri-urban areas.

The FAO Food for the Cities position paper “Food, agriculture and cities - the Challenges of food and nutrition security, agriculture and ecosystem management in an urbanizing world”, for which Thomas Forster (IPSA) was coordinating author, was reviewed as framework helping connect perspectives from the different presentations. The summary guided the following open discussion (for further information see summary and the full text of the paper).

The discussion included interventions from Member country delegations and media representatives on issues such as what strategy should be proposed for situations like Haiti regarding the balance between local food and global market supply for Port-au-Prince, the urban and peri-urban production potential in Egypt, or the impacts of the real estate market on local food production in and near cities.

As a way forward, Thomas Forster has stressed the need of working on case studies and collaborating with cities, while bringing different international organizations to work more closely together.

Paul Munro-Faure concluded that the urban food issues go far beyond cities alone. New work on urban food and nutrition security must embrace urban-rural linkages. Innovation is required to move forward. Governance is at the forefront. Cities are taking innovative steps in this arena and international organizations like FAO need to support approaches bringing food and agriculture into the urban agenda.

The above mentioned video of the side event is available here

Some photos have been collected by CFS organizers, available here and here