Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Call for experiences and effective policy approaches in addressing food security and nutrition in the context of changing rural-urban dynamics

David Suttie
David SuttieIFADItaly

Dear CFS colleagues,

The below contribution is based upon research conducted by IFAD's strategy and knowledge department, examining the role of smallholer farmers in rural transformation, structural transformation and urbanization.

David Suttie
Policy Analyst
International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Main responsible entity


Funding source

Focused on sub-Saharan Africa

While increased proportions of people living in larger towns and cities can be observed throughout much of the developing world, rates of urbanization in Africa, particularly SSA, are, in general, lower than in other regions. In Africa, 40 per cent of the population lives in urban areas compared with 48 per cent in Asia, which is the next least urbanized region of the world. The process of urbanization is expected to continue in the decades ahead, however, with the figures rising to 56 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, by 2050, and with SSA frequently described as the latest and most rapidly urbanizing region. The urbanization process is bringing major changes in economic and social development processes, with significant implications for inclusive development, investment, markets, infrastructure and finance in both rural and urban areas.

Though agglomeration in urban centres can offer certain development advantages – for example by enhancing access to services, generating economies of scale in the provision of education, health services, infrastructure, energy, water and sanitation, and business services – many people who live in rural areas, and particularly those in more remote areas, are often unable to access these services at reasonable cost in terms of time and resources. These people include social categories that typically constitute the majority of the poor and hungry: smallholders, particularly rural women and young people, the poorest people in rural areas, migrants and indigenous peoples.

To respond to these gaps in the discourse around urbanization, a series of papers, events and policy briefs were prepared:

1. Rural-urban Linkages and Food Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa (research paper available at:
2. Territorial Approaches, Rural-urban linkages and inclusive rural transformation (conference report available at:
3. Sustainable urbanization and inclusive rural transformation (policy brief available at:
4. Inclusive rural transformation and urbanization implementation (

The initiative is a series of research papers and policy briefs which focus on advancing the interests and galvanize the role of smallholder farmers in promoting inclusive rural transformation and sustainable urbanization.

Key characteristics of the experience/process
The analysis and conclusions emphasize the role of smallholder farmers in driving agricultural and structural transformation processes which are central to ensuring positive food security and nutrition outcomes from urbanization processes. A systems-wide perspective, focusing on opportunities and challenges emerging for groups at risk of exclusion, is adopted with a primary entry point of focusing on the interests of smallholder farmers.

Key actors involved and their role
Smallholders are the key actors, with the role of governments central to ensure this group is given the opportunity to contribute to, and benefit from, key transformations in rural and urban areas.

Key changes observed with regards to food security and nutrition and sustainable agriculture and food systems

Challenges faced
Operating in the informal sector and being geographically and institutionally removed from political processes, there is a serious risk that debates surrounding urbanization exclude the interests of smallholders.

Lessons/Key messages
1. Smallholder access to urban markets, productivity-enhancing technologies and training opportunities are contingent upon greater connectivity and smoother flows of goods, services and information between rural and urban areas. In this respect, improving rural-urban connectivity will be critical for food systems and broader national development. Particular areas of priority include: facilitating linkages between rural and urban economies through better infrastructure for transportation and communication; sound institutions facilitating inclusive food systems, and leveraging the role of small and medium-sized towns as conduits between rural and urban economies; financial inclusion and migration flows spanning rural and urban areas; and sustainable management of ecosystems and natural resources shared by urban and rural areas.

2. Developing stronger connections between the different segments in agricultural value chains can foster wider market opportunities for smallholders and can lead to inclusive outcomes for rural areas and cities that depend on this group for the majority of their food. In this regard, adopting a value chain approach and prioritizing strategic and complementary investments along the whole value chain will be needed. For instance, at the input supply stage, the training and employment of people as input vendors in distribution networks is an effective means of promoting inclusivity. Ensuring equal access by smallholders, particularly rural women and young people, to improved seeds, other agricultural inputs, rural finance and advisory services is critical to enabling them to honour contracts, and to meet expected production quotas and quality and safety standards. At the processing and marketing stages, upgrading storage facilities, using modern technology to distribute timely information, and addressing infrastructure challenges all help to foster inclusive and tightly linked value chains. The role of local traders in value chains is key and must be supported with inclusive market approaches and business models and establishing regulations that safeguard against monopsonic structures.

3. A systems perspective is vital to analysing and understanding the linkages from smallholder production, agricultural value chains and consumer demand – whether that be in urban or rural areas. In this context, a territorial perspective and city-region food system approaches create a critical lens for analysis, underpinning policy transformation and implementation.

4. Providing incentives and regulations, where appropriate, for supermarkets and agribusiness operators sourcing from rural areas and small towns to prioritize the creation of decent employment across value chains, from local producers, input suppliers, processors, transport workers and so on, will be central to ensuring that people working in food systems are themselves able to access sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

5. Urban-rural migration needs to be reflected in urban and food system planning processes. Effective planning and political commitment can lead to better and more integrated city region planning, leading to a reduction in slums in urban centres, better employment opportunities and improved living conditions. In addition, facilitating migrant remittances and the capacity of migrants to invest in and move back to rural areas as opportunities evolve, can – under the right conditions – enhance opportunities for inclusive development in both rural areas and urban centres.