Seminar addresses feeding Asia’s cities

A fish market in Madras, India
FAO/G. Bizzarri/19582


With the world's urban population growing by more than 60 million each year, cities are expected to surpass rural areas in population by 2005. By 2015, 26 cities in the world will have populations of 10 million or more, 16 of them in Asia. The food security implications of this population shift are enormous. The challenges in feeding Asian cities in particular are the topic of a seminar in Bangkok, Thailand, from 27 to 30 November.

Growing cities, growing challenges
Urban expansion means that more food must be produced, moved to cities and distributed, requiring the coordinated interaction of food producers, transporters, market operators and retail sellers. Shortcomings in the food supply and distribution systems in many cities mean that low-income urban households pay high prices for food. According to FAO estimates, these households spend 60 to 80 percent of their budget on food, 30 percent more than rural households.

The population of many Asian cities will double over the next 20 years. Asia faces considerable challenges in providing its urban residents -- already some 45-55 percent of the total population -- access to safe and adequate food.

Food production, processing and distribution issues will be discussed in a series of technical workshops at the seminar, organized by the Association of Food Marketing Agencies in Asia and the Pacific and the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements (Citynet), with the technical support of FAO.

One objective of the seminar is to prepare a plan of action for the next ten years to strengthen the capacity of city and local authorities to enhance urban food security.

Greater collaboration needed
Government agencies, both national and local, and the international community do not fully appreciate the extent of urban food insecurity and possible interventions to alleviate it, according to Olivio Argenti, an FAO economist specialized in food marketing in developing countries.

"National policies address food production, but often not from the perspective of meeting expanding urban food needs," says Mr Argenti. "City authorities often think of urban food security as being the responsibility of the central government. They also often take an antagonistic attitude towards food producers, traders, shopkeepers and street vendors. We need to strengthen the skills of local governments in identifying problems and sustainable solutions, in formulating sound policies and programmes, and create meaningful cooperation in an area where there has not traditionally been cooperation."

The seminar will also aim to facilitate South-South and North-South collaboration and exchanges of technical assistance between cities to address specific urban food supply and distribution constraints.

This event will be attended by 130 participants, among them the mayors and other high-ranking executives of a number of cities in the region, including Calcutta, India; Jakarta, Indonesia; Karachi and Lahore, Pakistan; and Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic. Henry Chabert, the Deputy Mayor of Lyon, France, will participate in his role as President of INTA, the International Network for Urban Development, an association that encourages the exchange of best practices on urban development worldwide.

Also attending will be representatives of food marketing agencies; ministries of agriculture, planning, urban development, commerce and health; research institutions, non-governmental organizations; and donors. Each participant has submitted a short paper on a specific food supply or distribution topic.

"There is commitment in Asia to discuss the issue of urban food insecurity and to determine what can be done," says Mr Argenti. "This seminar will open the door, but its success will depend on how serious city and local authorities are in following up on the recommendations made and on whether the international community will respond by providing the technical assistance local authorities need to address the critical constraints their cities are facing."

23 November 2000


For more, listen to interviews with FAO expert Olivio Argenti (2'17") Mp3 (1,040Kb), Realaudio (282Kb), Henry Chabert, Deputy Mayor of Lyon and President, INTA (In French - 2'51") Mp3, (1,290Kb) Realaudio (351Kb) and Mookerjee Subrata, Mayor of Calcutta (1'57") Mp3, (942Kb) Realaudio (242Kb)

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