Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición (Foro FSN)

Dear all,

The Contribution below is on how how cities could get involved in addressing food security and nutrition.

Getting Cities Involved in Food Security and Nutrition

Jackson Kago & Remy Sietchiping[1]


The subject of how to feed the cities is increasingly gaining momentum with increasing urbanisation. Food security is both a rural and urban issue. In addition, urbanisation and globalisation is increasingly dictating the kind of activities that are taking place in rural areas including the kind of agricultural products that are grown this has a significant effect on food security. A significant proportion of the World population is moving to urban areas are from rural areas, further increasing the food demand in cities while also leading to the depopulation of some rural areas which has contributed to the diminution of the number of farmers in some countries. Another significant phenomenon is the transformation of the city edges in an unplanned and uncoordinated manner in some developing countries; with cities extending into peri-urban and rural areas in the process encroaching into fertile land. The pressures on land as a result of the diminishing land base caused by overuse, manmade/natural phenomena, population growth and lack of good land governance; creates intense competition for different uses including urbanization and requirements to meet human survival. Management of land use in these peri-urban areas is critical to balance city expansion so that it does not compromise food production. (UN-Habitat, 2016)

Urban-rural linkages and City Region Food Systems provide a good framework to systematically address food systems challenges. The key issue is how urban-rural linkages affects the whole food chain from food production, distribution to consumption in the context of cities and towns, as well as in rural areas?

Thus the interconnectivity between food security, agriculture and urbanization remains relevant. The positive transformative potential of urbanization and strengthened urban-rural linkages in achieving sustainable development has been seen to inter alia, contribute to:  eradication of poverty, social inclusion, inclusive economic growth, enhancing access to basic urban services, supporting inclusive housing, enhancing job opportunities, productivity, creating and sharing benefits, and creating a safe and healthy living environment. It is also useful in uplifting the livelihoods of youth and people in vulnerable situations in the context of gender equality. (UN-Habitat, 2015)

Emerging Global Policies on Urban Food Security

Food Systems and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

As the World moves from the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, addressing the issue of food security in both rural and urban areas will cut across multiple goals and targets as set in the agenda including: Goal 1 to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” more specifically Goal 2 to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture;” Goal 3 Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Goal 11 to “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.” Goal 12 to “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.” Goal 13 to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Goal 15 to “Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

Food Systems in the New Urban Agenda

New Urban Agenda, adopted in Quito in September 2016 has shifted the notion rural and urban development from that of two separate challenges, the, clearly refers to the “urban-rural continuum of space” in several of its paragraphs (paragraph 49, 72, 95 and 96). With the New Urban Agenda, Member States have committed to a balanced territorial development, “promoting equitable growth of regions across the urban–rural continuum” - and to “leave no one behind, by ending poverty in all its forms and dimensions” (paragraph 14,a).

The New Urban Agenda para 123 more  specifically commits to “… promote the integration of food security and the nutritional needs of urban residents, particularly the urban poor, in urban and territorial planning, in order to end hunger and malnutrition…..promote the coordination of sustainable food security and agriculture policies across urban, peri-urban and rural areas to facilitate the production, storage, transport and marketing of food to consumers in adequate and affordable ways in order to reduce food losses and prevent and reuse food waste. We will further promote the coordination of food policies with energy, water, health, transport and waste policies, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and implement other policies in urban areas to maximize efficiencies and minimize waste.”

Milan Food Policy Pact

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact adopted by Mayors during the Milan Expo 2015 advocates for an international protocol, engaging the largest number of world cities in the development of food systems, based on the principles of sustainability and social justice. It is a good model of collaboration to improve inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, nutritious and affordable food systems in urban areas. More noticeable here is not only the partnership that such initiative emulates but also the central role local authorities play to ensure safe and secure food system for the growing urban population.

Why Should Cities get involved in City Food Systems?

The current trends of urbanization, have seen sections of populations migrating to urban areas marginalized and living in informal settlements and in impoverished conditions. The urban poor are food insecure and sometimes have to skip a meal in order to survive. Evidence from UN-habitat indicates that a number of indicators referred to as “urban penalty” show that vulnerable urban populations are as bad as or worse than those of rural populations. Research shows that as a result of inflation, urban dwellers may be forced to use 70 - 80 per cent of their disposable income to purchase food. Research also shows that during famines and droughts, the situation of the urban poor is much worse than that of the rural poor as a result of increase in the price of essential food commodities. In addition, ‘social capital’ is often weaker in urban areas compared to rural areas where people have kin and support networks. Rural poor are often cushioned by food aid by international agencies and government, although more international Non-Governmental Organization are increasingly providing cash transfers to slum populations to enable them meet their basic needs. (UN-Habitat, 2006)

The poor urban dwellers are additionally vulnerable to fluctuations of food prices, often lacking alternatives means to access food compared to their rural counterparts. The resultant effect is that they often result to unhealthy means to survive including skipping meals, scavenging, reducing the quantity of food intake and poor choice of foods. This leads to malnutrition among the urban dwellers, particularly those living in slums.  Although in general, malnutrition is much higher in rural and slum areas as compared to non-slum urban areas (UN-Habitat, 2006). Research on mal-nutrition in slum areas in Bangladesh and Indonesia for children under 5 years of age showed that there were more underweight, stunted and wasting than in the rural population (Mohiddin et al., 2012). Out of the over 4 million urban food poor in Kenya, almost a third of them were located in the City of Nairobi, where 60% of Nairobi’s population live in slums. A study of the impact of fluctuations in food price rises in Nairobi’s slums found that up to 90% of households had reduced the size or frequency of meals. (Oxfam, 2010)


What is the role of Small and Intermediate Towns in Strengthening Food Systems?

Small and intermediate towns surrounding the Cities are important in facilitating effective food systems. These are the towns that form the first link of rural dwellers to urbanisation. These towns can play a key role in enhancing robustness of the food system from production, distribution to consumption through enabling access to farm inputs like fertilisers and insecticides and other related goods and services to boost and ensure the continuity in food production. They also are contribute to value adding and also host to agro-processing industries that enhance the quality of farm produce or contribute to the storage of farm produce reducing losses and wastage of perishable goods. (Sietchiping et al, 2014)

Small and intermediate towns are also where farmers are able to sell their produce.  Access to markets is important to rural farmers and is necessary in strengthening food security. Connecting these small scale producers to urban centres would generate employment that would build their capacity to produce more. Efficient market systems that reduce exploitation by middlemen increase the income by the farmers and consequently ensure the continuity and increase in production. This is also key in reducing rural poverty.

Further, populations living in or near small and intermediate cities are also consumers of products produced in the rural areas. This is visible in the character of the markets located in the small and intermediate towns where rural dwellers throng the market to buy food products that they do not produce.  Effective distribution of food is useful in ensuring that the rural dwellers access other nutritional food products at an affordable rate. The larger the availability of food products, the more the nutritional choice available to the consumers. It is through markets located in these towns that farmers are also able to get other processed good and services, creating a link with the city.

Small and intermediate cities also create an enabling environment for commerce and engagement in non-farm activities. They create an opportunity for food processing industries and commercial activities to thrive, further boosting economic opportunities for rural populations. Through markets located in these towns, surplus food produced in other parts of the region or country is made accessible to rural households who either are faced by low yields or do not engage in farm production. Small and Intermediate Towns also play a role in building food resilience among rural dwellers in case of droughts. It is in these towns where food relief is distributed by government and non-government agencies in case of droughts.

For these towns to effectively contribute to strengthened food systems, there is need for sufficient and affordable infrastructure in the form of access roads to ensure efficient transportation of produce from the farms and also proper links to the surrounding cities. Critical factors that support the growth of small and intermediate towns are access to land and water, good infrastructure including electricity, communications and roads connecting them to larger urban centres as well as to the surrounding rural region. (Tacoli, 2004., Sietchiping et al., 2014b)

  1. What can Cities do to strengthen City Region Food Systems?

Some of the key factors that are considered in the location of cities are usually linked to the suitability of the locations to support the growth of that settlement/ city. These include suitable soils, adequate sources of water and proximity agricultural hinterland.  In deed many cities formed as agricultural town and some are still sustained by agricultural activities. Urbanisation challenges have however strained the sustenance of agricultural activities in cities. A significant one being the uptake of prime agricultural and livestock keeping land by urban sprawl. Secondly the Cities lack adequate laws to govern agricultural activities, and current policies prohibit urban agriculture. The uncontrolled sprawl spilling over jurisdictional boundaries through illegal subdivision of private holdings and planned invasions of idle lands creates defective urban structures and also usually destroys good soils, forestry, contaminates water and creates unbearable environment. This sprawl may lead to disruption of rural livelihoods in the peri-urban areas and also interfere with food production. Some of the ways cities can enhance food systems are:

  • To enhance food security, in the peri urban zones, it’s important to improve access to land tenure with a focus on gender-equitable distribution to women and youth. Improvements in land holdings, land tenure security, is bound to have an impact on crop production, and productivity, and consequently on income and food security. The Global Land Tenure Network (GLTN) has experiences in securing land and property rights for all.
  • The uptake of peri-urban land by the built up environment calls for land management mechanisms that will promote regulation of land use in these zones. This should be participatory in such a way that it does not infringe on owners’ rights but also encourages farming activities. One such strategy would be to encourage co-existence of farming activities and other land uses and removal of prohibitory laws that inhibit urban agriculture in residential areas. Another incentive would be less land rates/ tax for vacant or farming land. This can encourage private owners to transform vacant land to urban farms in order to get the tax reduction.
  • Urban agriculture can be encouraged by creating flexibility in zoning laws to allow for controlled farming activities in areas that are not built up by removing prohibitive barriers. Cities can also encourage urban agriculture by giving special permits to farmers, and also by increasing collaboration with community organizations engaging in urban agriculture. 
  • Food distribution can be encouraged through strategic positioning of markets within the city region. Robust local food markets are beneficial to farmers, and are associated with more revenue from local sales compared to mainstream markets, since farmers are able to sell directly to consumers reducing the exploitation by middlemen (Hamilton et al, 2013). Supporting infrastructure to support the operation of markets should be put in place including proper water and sanitation, storage, security, waste management and road infrastructure. In addition the relevant city departments should engage stakeholders to ensure that the required zoning, health, and waste management and other regulations do not inhibit the operation of these markets.
  • Informal food/street traders make food accessible to urban households at strategic locations, increasing convenience and reducing the cost of transportation to but food.  Street markets are usually located close to residential areas offering food commodities in their natural, or processed form. In addition the informal traders offer quantities that are affordable to the urban poor. Planning regulations should be flexible to allow the operation of street food markets which play an important role in increasing access to food to urban dwellers at an affordable amount especially in developing countries.
  • Zoning can be restrictive in nature and may present barriers to effective food systems. Thus cities and Metropolitan authorities can rezone some parts of the city, especially the peri-urban zones in conjunction with the user communities to accommodate urban agriculture. Zoning regulations could cover aspects governing home gardens, urban farms, recycling of waste and composting, and approval of green houses and animal sheds. Zoning regulations can also allocate areas where street vendors and farmers markets can operate for instance in proximity to hospitals, universities, schools, commercial/ residential areas, and parks both private and public spaces in conjunction with relevant stakeholders. Zoning can also encompass activities related to food processing and packaging in the city, outlining areas and modes of operation.
  • Zoning can be used to regulate the operation of fast food businesses, to control their location and density in proximity to schools and areas where children frequent to curb issues of obesity. Zoning should could additionally encourage location of food related enterprises trading in nutritious products such as fruits, fresh local unprocessed food to encourage healthy diets.
  • Food processing is a sensitive issue due to the health risks involved. The City's health departments could enact rules to guide the processing of food products in the City in their various forms and complexity.
  • Cities can also enact regulations to guide transportation of food into the city and waste from food markets and consumption through various modes including through bicycles, wheelbarrows, hand carts, motorbikes or trucks by designating areas of operation and rules on offloading.
  • Lastly policies that govern recycling and re-use of waste from food consumption and distribution should be put in place. Cities should also aim at reducing the amount of waste from food processing and packaging. Waste management offers a big opportunity for the cities to engage unemployed youth to get gainful employment in this sector.


In conclusion, it is increasingly evident that cities have a key role to play in sustaining food security systems and ensuing that there are clear policies to feed its population in a sustainable manner. Cities should formulate the necessary regulations to support city region food systems from production to consumption. Food systems should not be approached in dichotomy but through an integrated approach that does not view rural areas only as producers or urban areas as consumers.  Further the link between the Cities’ and the region is important in developing efficient city food region systems.



  1. Hamilton, J., Carver, L., Tanguay, J., & Conroy, J. (2013) Municipal Food Systems Planning Toolkit for MAPC Communities.  CLF Ventures, Inc. and Metropolitan Area Planning Council
  2. Mohiddin, L., Phelps, L., & Walters, T. (2012). Urban malnutrition: a review of food security and nutrition among the urban poor. London: Nutrition Works. International Public Nutrition Resource Group, 19-35.
  3. OXFAM (2010) Urban Poverty and Vulnerability in Kenya Final Report On Policy Analysis for Development in Urban Slums the Case of Nairobi
  4. Remy Sietchiping, Jackson Kago, Xing Quan Zhang, Jane Reid, and Raf Tuts (2014) The Role of Small and Intermediate Towns in Enhancing Urban-Rural Linkages for Sustainable Urbanization” in the “Regional Development Dialogue Vol. 35 on Urban-Rural Linkages in Support of the New Urban Agenda, 48-62
  5. Sietchiping, R., Kago, J., Zhang, Q. X., Augustinus, C & Tuts R., (2014b) The Role of Urban Rural Linkages in Promoting Sustainable Urbanisation. Environment & Urbanisation Asia, 5(2), 219-234.
  6. Tacoli, C. (2004) The role of small and intermediate urban centres and market towns and the value of regional approaches to rural poverty reduction policy.
  7. UN Habitat (1996) Habitat II – Dialogue #6: Land and Rural/Urban linkages in the Twenty-First Century.
  8. UN-Habitat (2006) The State of The World’s Cities Report 2006/2007 30 Years of Shaping the Habitat Agenda.  Earthscan: London.
  9. UN-Habitat (2015) 25th Session of the UN-Habitat Governing Council Resolution HSP/GC/25/L.9
  10. UN-Habitat (2016) Un-Habitat. World Cities Report 2016.



[1] Extracted from a developing discussion paper on “The Role of Urban Rural Linkages in Feeding the City” by Remy Sietchiping & Jackson Kago