The CFS draft paper Urbanization and Rural Transformation: Implications for food security and nutrition seeks to build upon the February CFS technical workshop on this topic, and sets out a framework for further debate on complex interrelationships between urban and rural communities concerning food and nutrition security. Unfortunately the paper presents the complex challenges and opportunities in a sectoral and thematic approach that tends to reinforce the siloed, sectoral thinking that has led to many of the problems that plague rural to urban relations around the world today.
Integrated territorial development to strengthen rural urban linkages must address intersecting systems of supply and distribution, marketing systems, ecosystem services, social protection, food production and land tenure systems from rights based and holistic, multi-disciplinary, multi-sector and multi-actor approach. These intersecting systems have complementary functions but inequitable distribution of resources across the urban rural continuum. The CFS is the intergovernmental body that can and should address these intersecting systems and approaches.
In general, there is a non-committal treatment of whether certain policy and market forces, for example trade policy, land conversion/grabbing and climate change (just to name a few of the more contentious issues) impact the rural and urban poor and especially smallholders, positively or negatively. This projected neutrality may appease fundamentally divergent views on controversial topics that arose during the technical session, but it can also lead to a false complacency with the status quo.
In my view (as one participant in the February technical session) these divergent views are important to pursue in relation to the points of entry for particular disciplinary and sectoral positions (backing these positions with evidence and data where available) but that is only the first step to an intelligent approach to joined up systems thinking. For example entry points may through efforts to fortify global supply chains to feed cities in an uncertain world, or through efforts to empower smallholders or social movements in rural and urban settings to become active participants in strengthening the economic, social and environmental dimensions of food systems, or as city planners, managers, or place-based food movements.
There is an attempt to build from existing literature on urban rural linkages and territorial development in the draft paper. But there are some important contributions that are missing from past and current expert and practitioner deliberations. The 2012 cutoff to include literature in citations used for the technical session is not held to in the draft paper which mentions studies on the topic that go back two to three decades. A 2011 study for the FAO Food for Cities Interdisciplinary Initiative took a comprehensive approach that prefigured many of the insights of this paper, but treated the need for geographic specificity, horizontal and vertical integration of food system governance differently, and in ways that informed a number of subsequent studies that are cited in the paper. The 2011 paper, called Food, Agriculture and Cities: Challenges of food and nutrition security, agriculture and ecosystem management in an urbanizing world can be found here.
While there are likely issues that others will argue are missing, what I wish to call out is the urgent need to understand how the sectoral and thematic issues can be considered together and systemically at different levels of governance. The CFS draft paper acknowledges the many calls for “multi-actor, multi-level” integration of rural and urban, and points to a lack of detailed, concrete food system related cases of such integration. In fact there are current cases that should be incorporated from the FAO/RUAF City Region Food Systems Assessment and the Milan Urban Food Pact, among others. I would argue that this is one of the most important and valuable areas for the CFS to concentrate, though there will certainly themes such as land tenure, right to food, access to markets, social protection and other CFS work streams that need to be linked directly to the dynamics of urbanization and rural transformation.
The challenge of implementation for new goals and targets in the 2030 agenda including urbanization and rural transformation is in the CFS agenda. Thus the New Urban Agenda related to SDG 11 on sustainable urbanization as it addresses rural transformation will also be important to this workstream. It is noticeable how little the paper takes up the current framing debates about integrated territorial development and urban rural linkages in the context of Habitat III (which will produce the New Urban Agenda). Similarly there is little treatment of the integration of goals and targets related to SDG2 and other goals CFS will have the most engagement with as an intergovernmental body reporting annually to the ECOSOC High Level Political. If the CFS is to be concerned with the question of how rural urban linkages can be strengthened in inclusive, balanced and equitable ways, as part of the post 2013 and New Urban Agendas, then the framing for integrating goals such as 2 and 11, needs to be incorporated into the paper in later drafts. Indeed, some influential actors in the SDG implementation process are saying there will be “no 2 without 11”.
Importance of CFS as a space that champions rural values, communities and spaces cannot be underestimated, especially as in other intergovernmental spaces the urban predominates and the rural tends to disappear or even becomes invisible. With all the references to rural urban linkages and integrated territorial development, there are always going to be differences and qualities uniquely rural, where the natural environment and its careful stewardship is more pronounced and smaller towns and intermediate cities are closer to the populations of producers and caretakers of those natural resources. The balance of urban and rural interests at the territorial level will require the inclusion of subnational urban and rural authorities, and for this coming CFS43, it would be good to balance the planned Mayors Summit on 14 October (Milan Urban Food Pact cities) with rural and territorial authorities attending the CFS.