Food for the Cities


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The Land and Water Division and the “Food for the Cities” multidisciplinary initiative of FAO organized a seminar on Water for cities: responding to the urban challenge” in the framework of World Water Day Events.

It aimed at addressing the food and agriculture challenges associated with water for cities, the FAO approach and its actions through normative approach and projects along with its partners, particularly through the FAO Water Platform. It is an internal coordination mechanism to better address water-related issues across the strategic objectives of the Organization, designed to meet a number of objectives: provide internal coordination, ensure programmatic coherence, and develop a strategic vision for water to be projected all partners.

As the world's urban population continues to swell, the need to employ new and innovative approaches to ensure safe and adequate water for city dwellers in developing countries is  increasingly urgent. On World Water Day, FAO stressed the need to ensure adequate water supplies to swelling urban populations (Press release on 22 March 2011).

In urban areas, water is needed for food and agriculture: Households need clean and safe water, at an affordable price, for drinking as well as for preparing, washing and cooking food. Agro-industry, food processing and the entire  food supply chain, particularly the wholesale markets, requires  appropriate water supplies in order to ensure food safety. Urban and peri-urban agriculture (horticulture, livestock and aquaculture) rely on access to water, including water reuse. Food and agriculture have impacts on water flow and quality, particularly at the urban-rural interface with important interactions with land management. Agriculture and forestry contribute to ecosystem and water management, from the quality of the water catchment to management of the watershed, contributing to the reduction of the impact of extreme weather events in a context of climate change.

Adequate water supply, particularly for  poor people, contributes to the implementation of the right to food. FAO proposes to address water management in a comprehensive approach associated with the food system centered on the city.

FAO promotes good governance by supporting:

  • stronger urban-rural linkages for a better management of natural resources and disaster risk reduction,
  • adaptation strategies in a context of climate change,
  • commitments from all involved stakeholders: public, private and civil society.

The discussion was moderated by Audrey Nepveu of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The different presentations are available by clicking on the title of the presentation. Links to documents and publications are available within the documents.


Opening / Welcome speech and Introduction of the FAO Water Platform

Parviz Koohafkan – NRL

Introduction of “Food for the Cities” multidisciplinary initiative water related activities and approach

Paul Munro-Faure – NRC

FAO activities:

Water quality and food safety

Vittorio Fattori – AGND

Water Re-Use and Urban and Periurban Agriculture

Javier Mateo-Sagasta – NRL

Integrated fish farming strategies: towards efficiency in water reuse

Ruth García Gómez – FIRA

Watershed management: contribution of urban and peri-urban forestry (with the comments)

Michelle Gauthier – FOMC

A donor’s view on Water for Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture

Alberto López – TCSR

Field project: Promoting the use of quality water for urban and periurban agriculture: A reality check in Dakar, Sénégal

Mama Touré – FAO Senegal

These presentations were followed by a plenary discussion. In particular, discussions addressed the ways in which to replicate and scale up the approach and projects implementation, by building upon the collective knowledge. There is a need to provide advice on how to design projects and convene partners and ensure their  support. The usefulness of a comprehensive multi-dimension approach, including urban-rural linkages, was underlined in order to address economic as well as environmental and social issues. FAO is well equipped for this role and has the capacity to work with many partners. The ongoing projects should therefore be considered as "living labs" where different thematic approaches can be addressed, with the possibility of progressively adding some components to the projects. Cities in arid and semi-arid areas or subject to water scarcity are part of the priorities.

Audrey Nepveu (IFAD)
Audrey Nepveu (IFAD) - moderator of the seminar

The key points of the discussions during the seminar can be summarized as follows:

  • Food for the cities may originate either from urban & peri-urban agriculture (UPA) or from rural areas. The purpose is to secure the existence of a resilient food system.
  • Water is a key resource for agriculture and food production in all its forms.
  • For a number of reasons, the share of water to be used by the agricultural sector cannot increase: agriculture has now to evolve to use water more efficiently to produce more and serve the changing needs of an increasing population.
  • In order to ensure food safety, the quality of water used at each step of the food supply chain (production, processing, marketing, preparation) has to be considered. Alternative technologies and processes are available when the quality of water available is not good enough.
  • In order to ensure food security, there is a need to secure additional water: rainwater harvesting and water reuse represent local solutions for horticulture, forestry and aquaculture in and around the cities. Additionally, recovering nutrients from municipal wastewater represent an opportunity for these activities.
  • A particular case is the wastewater-fed integrated aquaculture where human, agriculture and livestock wastes can be recycled as nutrients for aquaculture, thus increasing the production of proteins-rich foods.
  • There is a need to capitalize on the practices relevant to decrease risk in the food supply chain based on the use of (raw) wastewater.
  • As a consequence, “Food for the cities” challenges the agricultural sector to reach out to other sectors: health, water, urbanization, etc.
  • Changing scales and considering options at watershed level creates opportunities. In particular, Payment for Environmental Services (PES) and forestry can have positive results for the city like increased water availability, decreased risks or even economical savings (for wastewater treatment, as compared with a treatment plant).

Different material was put on display in the Atrium of FAO including:

Other interesting publications are: