FAO Liaison Office in New York

Cities work to ensure urban access to food in times of COVID-19


COVID-19 is creating significant food security and nutrition challenges that cities worldwide need to respond to and that go beyond the health emergency. According to a recent FAO survey targeting municipalities worldwide and that received responses from over 800 cities in 76 countries, measures taken to contain the spread of the pandemic have resulted in suspension of school meal programs and a decreased supply of food because of restrictions to movement, to food sales in public spaces and to the functioning of markets.

The survey provides details on the range of challenges cities face due to the pandemic and identifies ways in which local governments are working to ensure that all their citizens continue to access safe and nutritious food. Direct food distribution to vulnerable populations, coordination with private sector and non-governmental actors and monitoring food availability and prices in urban food markets are some of the measures cities are taking, revealed Jamie Morrison, Food Systems Programme Leader at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Morrison spoke in a webinar organized by FAO and partners on 15 May, which reviewed strategies to maintain access to safe and nutritious food for vulnerable populations in times of COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison also emphasized that most city governments are responding to the COVID-19 emergency without having access to additional funds. He added that FAO is commuteed to rebuilding urban food systems to become more resilient, inclusive and sustainable. In this regard, FAO’s Urban Food Agenda Programme and the Green Cities Initiative promotes an integrated approach for food systems and green spaces to improve urban and peri-urban livelihoods, and increase the resilience of cities and people in the face of changing climate and shocks.

Cities in both developing and developed countries are facing food security challenges. New York City, for example, saw a rise of food insecurity numbers from 1.2 million to over 2 million people because of the pandemic. Kate MacKenzie, Director of the New York City Mayor's Office of Food Policy, presented the Feeding New York plan implemented to address this issue, ensuring that every New Yorker in need has access to three free meals a day and keeping local supply chains alive. MacKenzie also stressed the importance of building long-term resilience and the need to strengthen infrastructure, including cold storage.

Esau Galukande, the Kampala Capital City Authority Deputy Director for Production and Marketing, presented a contactless delivery initiative that has been proven very successful in Uganda’s capital. The initiative aims to reduce congestion in markets during the lockdown.

David Jácome Polit, Metropolitan Director of Resilience for the Municipality of Quito, said the Ecuadorian capital’s response to response is rooted in the systemic perspective of the "City Region Food System" approach that aims to build resilience at different scales of the food system. He also called for better coordination between different levels of government to ensure that interventions are made in a timely manner.

The webinar was part of a series of webinars on the Food Systems Approach in Practice promoted by members of the One Planet Network Sustainable Food Systems Programme, a global multi-stakeholder platform to support countries in the transition towards sustainable food systems and that includes FAO, the United Nations Environment Programme, Local Governments for Sustainability, Resource Centres on Urban Agriculture and Food Security, and Rikolto.


The recording of the event can be accessed here.
The presentations made during the event and an additional list of Questions & Answers with the speakers can be accessed here.