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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Implications of Urban Expansion and Rural Change for Food Security

Before we proceed to identify the implications of urban expansion and rural change for food security, it is necessary to see which aspects of them could have a significant impact on it.

Urban expansion has two main causes; urban birth rate and migration of people from outlying areas. The former leads to a gradual increase in the need for an adequate food supply to an urban centre, while the latter brings about an abrupt increase in it. So, other things being equal, urban expansion may result in a combination of those two increases in the need for food, which could threaten the food security of an urban centre.

At present, rural changes that need concern us represent emigration of people from the rural to urban centra.  Most rural populations are engaged in agriculture related activities in a labour-intensive manner. A simple real-life observation is sufficient to convince anyone of this fact in many parts of Africa, Asia, South America, etc.

This would inevitably lead to a reduction in rural food production, which could have a significantly adverse effect on the food security of the outlying urban centra. Today, this can be easily observed around the big cities in Angola, South Africa, India, etc., etc.

At this point, it is essential to remember two things, viz.,  lack of food security entails hunger now, and its alleviation calls for urgent practical measures. Let us next look at the relevant aspects of the problem, with which we have to deal.

First, I will outline what we cannot do. We cannot wait for long term solutions while millions go hungry every day. It is unrealistic to talk about finding employment for the migrants for even if they are qualified and work exists, that does not  entail an increase in food supplies to urban centra. Moreover, even if they found work, they will have to wait for their potential salaries to purchase food, which is highly uncertain for reasons described above.

Further, it is the rural poor who migrate to urban centra, and a considerable portion of them represent unskilled labour. It only requires a day’s observation tour to any of the immense camps/settlements/slums  around the big cities I have noted earlier to see this stark fact of real life.

Even though urban expansion has become global,  the extent of its adverse effect on food security, varies with the priority agriculture receives in a given country and people’s expectations. It is unfortunate that in many  poor and unevenly affluent countries,  political sources elicit in people  rather unrealistic expectations, which motivate them to migrate from their villages in search of ’a better life’.

This has resulted in millions of people exchanging their rural poverty with abject urban poverty involving greater deprivation. One may take it as a rule that in most affected countries, authorities give priority to ‘industrial development’, ‘high technology’, and ‘ICT’ as though that entails a commensurable increase in food supply!

Food security remains an unknown entity to millions of living people who live under appalling conditions around many large urban centra in Southern Africa, Asia, etc.  They all have left their rural homes leaving once cultivated fields lying fallow today. So, this change in rural and urban demography will inevitably threaten food security by increasing the need for food at urban centra while reducing food production.

I suggest a two-pronged approach to resolve this problem insofar as it can be resolved in isolation. Obviously, common humanity demands an appropriate action to deal with  hunger now, i.e.,  achieving a temporary food security by carefully targeted food supply, whose details are area dependent.

It may range from free distributions of food rations to subsidised food supplies, both of which ought to conform to the local food culture. Extra precautions ought to be taken to ensure that such food supplies end in the bellies of the hungry.

Remembering that this problem is endemic to poor and to countries where wealth is highly sequestered in a  few hands, it is imperative that labour-intensive agriculture  and the infra-structure it requires are given the highest priority.  At the same time, it is necessary that the governments emphasise to the public how vital is agriculture to human well-being, and that it has logical priority over ‘high technology’ and ‘ICT’, which in the final analysis are mere means of secondary support to actual food production.

Hence, agriculture ought to be given the prestige it has in real life, for it is the sole means of sustaining life most of us have at our disposal. Let us underline the obvious; without food, there will be no life for anything else. Food security is the goal whose achievement ensures that we all have access to an adequate food supply.

Lal Manavado.