Incorporating urban food security into cities: the SDG urban goal (11)
On May 12th, 2016, the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) organized a meeting at the UN buildings in New York to discuss how urban food security had been incorporated into the Habitat 111 Zero Draft of new SDG goal 11: The New Urban Agenda. This is a 23-page document which proposes a Quito Declaration called ‘Cities for All’. There is no doubt that the zero draft will change in the discussion processes leading up to Quito.
The meeting in New York was attended by representatives of from various international agencies concerned with urban areas and food, academics, and some country representatives. Vanessa Watson attended for CUP. This document below, on key issues in urban food security, was requested from attendees prior to the meeting, and is a response by the African Centre for Cities CUP Programme on how urban food security appears in the zero draft (Zero Draft available here).
Cross-Cutting Expert Group Meeting: “Integrating Food into Urban Planning”
The Zero Draft of Goal 11 (May 6th 2016) currently mentions food most frequently in the section headed FOSTER ECOLOGICAL AND RESILIENT CITIES AND HUMAN SETTLEMENTS paragraph 67 onwards (69, 70, 73, 74, 82) plus it is mentioned in connection with urban public and open space (36) presumably as a place to grow food. This is an entirely ‘productionist’ approach to addressing the issue of urban food insecurity and while production both in and outside of cities is of course important, it does not recognize:
- that food insecurity manifests itself in the forms of both hunger and obesity (para 22 mentions hunger only) and hence is a problem of both the lack of food and lack of access to nutritious and healthy food (the phenomenon of ‘food deserts’ in many global north cities – Cummins 2014). This is because of urban spatial change in food supply outlets, the spread of fast-food chains, and reduced physical access to healthy food sources;
- that urban agriculture provides a very small source of food supply in many parts of the world and this is certainly the case in many African countries (Badami and Ramankutty 2015, Warren et al 2015).
- that urban food insecurity is also in very large measure attributable to the changing economy in the urban food supply system ie the supermarketization of food supply and linked national and international food supply chains) along with the erosion of opportunities for informal and smaller food supply outlets which in the past were a major source of supply to poorer households (Crush and Frayne 2011).
Food insecurity is therefore a health and nutrition problem, and a food access problem, as well as a food production problem.
In relation to both a and c, urban planning can play an important role, but this needs to be considered along with governance mechanisms which frame appropriate food policies, programmes and strategies at urban, regional and international scales.
Key points to be included in the NUA:
- A recognition of the impact of urban food insecurity in the form of hunger but also, and significantly, in the form of obesity (and other health-related problems).
Why: the link between obesity and the relative accessibility of healthy and less healthy foods is well-documented, and this requires policy action that extends beyond nutrition education. Hence large numbers of food-insecure poor people are also obese in African cities, and elsewhere, because they access cheaper and non-nutritious food sources (Wiggins and Keats 2015). A concern purely with food production does not address this issue.
- A recognition that urban food insecurity is caused only in part by a lack of production and supply of food to cities, and significant contributing factors are urban poverty and a lack of physical access to nutritious food (Battersby 2012).
Why: this will focus attention on the range of factors beyond production and supply which contribute to food insecurity and related health problems. It will draw attention to the many roles of urban planning in addressing the ways food is supplied in cities.
- A recognition of how the changing economics of the food system, which results increasingly in supermarkets being the dominant food supply source, is changing both physical access (particularly of the poor) to food and access to nutritious food (Igumbor et al 2012).
Why: this will raise a central issue for urban planning as a way to promote urban food security: understanding and intervening in the proliferation and distribution of supermarkets; intervening in the distribution of fast-food outlets; incentivising outlets for healthier and more physically accessible food; and promoting informal food traders and markets as food source hubs.
- A recognition of the important role played by informal traders as traditionally an important source of fresh food in poorer parts of the city, and how this sector of the economy has been undermined and regulated by planning laws resulting in its marginalisation (Riley 2014).
Why: In global south cities informal food traders play a vital role in the food systems in poorer parts of the city, supplying fresh food in more affordable units and accessible times and places than large, formal retailers. Yet urban planning regulations frequently act to remove these traders and markets to remote locations.
- A recognition of the importance of food system governance at local (municipal) level, as well as national and international level. (Pothukuchi and Kaufman 1999).
Why: Food security policy in most countries is seen as a national and sometimes a provincial function (due to the focus on production) but rarely a local government function. If planning is to play a role in addressing urban food security it is essential that local governments develop integrated urban food policies that address the entire food system, and not just urban agriculture. This is also a starting point to focus on urban research and data to better address food insecurity.
Badami, M.G. and Ramankutty, N., 2015. Urban agriculture and food security: A critique based on an assessment of urban land constraints. Global food security, 4, pp.8-15,
Battersby, J., 2012. Beyond the food desert: Finding ways to speak about urban food security in South Africa. Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 94(2), pp.141-159.
Cummins, S., 2014. Food deserts. The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behavior, and Society.
Crush, J. and Frayne, B., 2011. Supermarket expansion and the informal food economy in Southern African cities: implications for urban food security. Journal of Southern African Studies, 37(4), pp.781-807.
Igumbor, E.U., Sanders, D., Puoane, T.R., Tsolekile, L., Schwarz, C., Purdy, C., Swart, R., Durão, S. and Hawkes, C., 2012. “Big food,” the consumer food environment, health, and the policy response in South Africa. PLoS Med, 9(7), p.e1001253.
Pothukuchi, K. and Kaufman, J.L., 1999. Placing the food system on the urban agenda: The role of municipal institutions in food systems planning. Agriculture and Human Values, 16(2), pp.213-224.
Riley, L., 2014. Operation Dongosolo and the geographies of urban poverty in Malawi. Journal of Southern African Studies, 40(3), pp.443-458
Warren, E., Hawkesworth, S. and Knai, C., 2015. Investigating the association between urban agriculture and food security, dietary diversity, and nutritional status: A systematic literature review. Food Policy, 53, pp.54-66.
Wiggins, S., Keats, S., Han, E., Shimokawa, S., Alberto, J., Hernandez, V. and Claro, R.M., 2015. The Rising Cost of a Healthy Diet: Changing Relative Prices of Foods in High-Income and Emerging Economies. Overseas Development Institute Report. May, 67.