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Food for the cities programme

Need for sustainable and resilient City Region Food Systems

Food and food policies increasingly feature on the agenda of cities and city regions worldwide. It is recognised that urban growth and escalating urban poverty, food price hikes and climate change, new consumption patterns and the rise in diet-related health problems, all call for increasing attention to how cities and their inhabitants are fed. It is also understood that urban growth is directly related to increased demand for natural resources (land and water) that provide vital food and ecosystem services and that integrated territorial development and balanced urban-rural linkages have to be pursued for the benefit of the urban and rural population alike.

City region food systems (CRFS) offer concrete policy and programme opportunities within which these developmental issues can be addressed and through which rural and urban areas and communities in a given city region can be directly linked. Improved city region food systems will help achieve better economic, social and environmental conditions in both urban and nearby rural areas.

  • Access to affordable and nutritious food from local and regional producers will improve consumer food security and nutrition and will enhance transparency in the food supply chain
  • Access to markets and support to alternative markets (i.e. farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture) will improve livelihoods of both small-scale and large-scale producers in the city region
  • Local and regional food hubs and shorter value chains and more broadly, efficient and functioning agricultural supply chains that link hinterland producers to market systems can contribute to sustainable diets, reduce food waste along the chain and stabilise livelihoods in distribution, processing and manufacture of food and fibre products
  • Water, nutrients and energy can be resourced, recovered and reused in agricultural production in the city region
  • Participatory governance structures are created to include stakeholders from multiple sectors from both urban and rural areas in a given city region.

A city region is defined here as: “as larger urban centre or conglomeration of smaller urban centres and the surrounding and interspersed peri-urban and rural hinterland”. Although contexts differ across cities and regions, such urban-rural partnerships and inter-municipal cooperation always extend beyond traditional administrative boundaries. A CRFS  is defined as “all the actors, processes and relationships that are involved in food production, processing, distribution and consumption in a given city region”.

A growing number of cities/city regions have already realised the importance and potential of their food system and their responsibility towards it. City regions can apply a large number of strategies and tools, including the promotion of (peri)urban agriculture, preservation of agricultural land areas and watersheds through land use planning and zoning, development of food distribution and social protection programmes for vulnerable groups, support for short supply chains and local procurement of food, and promotion of food waste prevention, reduction and management, as well as the recovery and redistribution of safe and nutritious food for human consumption. The development of a resilient city region food system however requires political will, the use of available policy and planning instruments (infrastructure and logistics, public procurement, licences, land use planning), the involvement of different government departments and jurisdictions (local and provincial), and new organisational structures at different scales (municipal, district etc.).

In order to support on the ground policy transformation and implementation of sustainable and resilient CRFS, it is important that city regions assess their food dependencies, identify weaknesses and potential pressure points, and where possible, develop targeted strategies to improve their food systems. Each city region is unique. It has its own specific characteristics, challenges and solutions. This toolkit provides an approach tested in 7 cities worldwide to map and assess their own food system and to plan specific interventions that address local key issues and needs. In this way the examples and tools documented here provide valuable experiences and lessons that may accelerate the development of similar initiatives in other city regions around the world, wishing to apply, to customise, and to up-scale similar practices.