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Leveraging local governments to strengthen community food systems - The Urban Food Agenda


25 April 2019 –Over half of the world population lives in urban areas today. By 2050, this number will increase to a staggering 70%. Ensuring resilient and sustainable food systems that can adapt to the global urban transition will be essential to maintain a healthy population, planet and economy.

To highlight how cities are already taking steps to strengthen sustainable food systems, FAO North America and the University of Buffalo hosted a roundtable discussion examining case studies on local government actions in low and middle-income countries. James Tefft, FAO Senior Economist and Liaison Officer seconded to the World Bank’s Agriculture Global Practice, moderated the roundtable discussion.

“Local governments and urban planners play a critical role in the development of resilient food systems from farm to fork” said Vimlendra Sharan, Director of FAO North America, in his opening statement.  

Jorge Fonseca, FAO Advisor on food system management, underscored that FAO’s Framework for the Urban Food Agenda focuses on leveraging sub-national and local government action to ensure sustainable food systems and improved nutrition. FAO has worked for several decades on Urban Food Systems, including the Food for the Cities initiative, the City Region Food Systems project, active participation in the HABITAT III, the World Urban Forum, and collaboration with the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), among others. He highlighted territorial policies, integrated food systems planning, short supply chains, public procurement, agrifood innovations, green spaces, circular bioeconomy and evidence based outreach for urban food governance are key action areas identified. FAO is working in with local governments in Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, Rwanda, Senegal and Ecuador. Fonseca shared that some of the most innovative initiatives to save the planet come from local initiatives. He also underlined the importance of working with academia and research institutions in the production of knowledge on urban food governance, hence highlighting the importance of the new study by the University of Buffalo, with support from FAO, entitled Planning for Community Food Systems: Opportunities, Innovation, and Equity in the Global South.

Samina Raja, Professor at the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab, University of Buffalo, presented the findings of the report on community food systems planning which explores case studies from Ghana, Jamaica, and India. “Food system is an economic powerhouse even in urban settings,” said Raja. Urban planning and decisions on transport, affordable housing, land use and zoning, as well as water all impact the food system and food security. Urbanization often disrupts local and traditional food supply chains, disconnecting local producers, retailers and consumers. She underlined that there are 40 000 local governments in the U.S., and understanding local government functions is a key step to add a food lens to them. The study from the University of Buffalo is a guide to help local governments strengthen sustainable food systems in an inclusive way. “Networks, rather than scale is the solution for inclusive and sustainable urban food systems,” Raja added.

Amani Ishemo, Associate Professor for Rural Development at the University of Technology in Jamaica, showcased the community food system in Clarendon Parish (Jamaica), including its local governance structure, community driven food systems initiatives, and policy actions. Key challenges include weather events, lack of market access, economic viability, heavy reliance on chemical application, land rights, weak local government capacity and the liberalization of food markets. Opportunities for transformation towards sustainable food systems include increased government capacity, viable farmer cooperatives, diversification of income sources, public private partnerships, infrastructure investments, youth empowerment, and better agricultural research and development.

Kazuki Kitaoka, Head of Marketing, Outreach and Reporting at FAO, underscored that major investments into urban food systems will be essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and food security for all. FAO seeks creative alliances and partnerships for implementing the Urban Food Agenda to turn policy into action.



FAO framework for the Urban Food Agenda:


The Urban food action platform:

FAO Urban taskforce:



Planning for Community Food Systems Webinar Series:


Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab:


Growing Food Connections (USA focus):