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Thank you for the useful and provocative document. I hope that the comments made will be useful. I write from the perspective of the work we have conducted with the African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN) in 11 cities in 9 southern African countries and our Consuming Urban Poverty project, which focuses on secondary cities in Africa.
My comments do not speak directly to all four of your questions. I support the various interventions that have been made, particularly those that speak of the need to more closely align the work to nutrition concerns.
1. Many of the key issues are addressed. My fundamental concern with the document is the assumption of the strength of ongoing rural-urban linkages. As urban growth is increasingly the result of natural growth, and as the food system becomes ever more globalized, it is likely that these connections are just one kind of connection that cities have. Initial work from one of our projects tracking where fish sold by traders in a Copperbelt town in Zambia has found that although some fish is regionally procured, much of it originates in Namibia or even China. Likewise, at the Market in Kisumu, Kenya, the eggs had come from Uganda, and the chickens in a market in Maputo, Mozambique, from Brazil. If we are tracing food from field to fork we will see strong rural-urban linkages, but perhaps if we look from fork to field, a different set of linkages become evident. Both local and distance linkages are important for the resilience of the food system, and for rural livelihoods.
My concern about the focus on the city-region food system is that it encourages neglect of the global players shaping the food system and the ways in which powerful actors are ignored. Many of the policy responses that emerge as a result of this kind of framing are about supporting small scale farmers and perhaps traders, without considering the need to regulate and govern that large actors driving food system and consumption change.
The work on climate change could be elaborated to consider the impact of climate change along all points of the food system from production to consumption, and to consider the vulnerability of different types of food flow at different points (for example, in what ways is the supply chain (and storage component) of chicken vulnerable to climate change if you consider a supermarket supply chain that may cross continents and if you consider a chicken reared by a local small holder sold live in a local market?).
3. Governance: The point about decentralization is an important one, however, we have a concern that decentralization without an extension of the better understanding of food security issues in cities on the part of national and local governments will mean that policy and governance responses will merely reflect the “urbanization” of food security programming conceived in the rural realm (namely the promotion of urban agriculture). Without a clear understanding of the spatial and structural drivers of food insecurity in urban areas, policy and programmes will be poorly aligned, with local government merely implementing programmes from higher levels of government rather than “speaking up” to help formulate appropriate responses.
A second point within the governance discussions in the role of non-state actors. There are a number of authors who have been critical of the promotion of public-private partnerships in development, particularly within the realm of food security where large private sector players are viewed as having an important role in accelerating the nutrition transition. I would welcome a more nuanced representation of the role of non-state actors, and a broadening of the scope of who “non-state actors” are (for example, to what extent are small-scale traders and their associations viewed as non-state actors?).
Finally, the document is correct in highlighting the importance of secondary cities. It is important however, to note that these secondary cities have particular economic vulnerabilities, such as dependence on one industry (as in the case of cities in the Copperbelt Region of Zambia). If that industry should fail, the impact on food security and rural urban linkages is profound. A more important point is that these secondary cities may also have governance challenges, associated with limited capacity within government and a lack of supporting institutions.
4. In terms of value add, I think it would be important for the CFS to provide connections between the multiple large-scale research and policy projects working on city region food systems and urban food systems. Further, the issue of urban food insecurity is largely off national and local policy agendas. In order for it to become a part of national and local debates, it will be necessary for global agencies to raise its profile in international discussions. This is a key role for the CFS.
There appear to be some inconsistencies within the document. This is most likely the result of the authors managing such wide ranging and often conflicting literature. However, I think that some of these inconsistencies need to be recognized and addressed.
For example, much of the document suggests that urbanization is largely the result of migration from rural to urban, and that this sets up new and deeper forms of rural-urban linkages. However, on p. 7 it is noted that from 2000-2010 less than half the world’s urban population growth was the result of migration. If cities’ population growth in increasingly the result of natural growth, this would seem to be a challenge to the notion of increased rural-urban linkages.
While I fundamentally agree with the material in the first paragraph of p.8 that talks about how current dominant measures of poverty may under-estimate urban poverty (Satterthwaite’s perspective), the point is a little lost in the narrative. This could be strengthened, as it really gets to the heart of why the urban has not been an area of focus by agencies working on food security, and also why the urban is different and requires different responses.
At the start of the consumption patterns section changing diets are attributed to rising incomes. However, the second and third line of p. 9 contradict this. I would support the fact that increasingly consumption of ultra processed foods is an indicator of poverty as much as one of wealth. This suggests that there are some fundamental issues within the food system that require addressing.
I found the final section of the first paragraph of p. 10 hard to follow. Is it possible to make this clearer?