13.06.2017 |

Cities are powerful agents in addressing food system challenges, IPES report

Urban farming in San Francisco (Photo: SPUR, Sergio Ruiz,,

Cities around the world play an increasingly important role in addressing food system challenges by adopting policies that bring about change. This is the message of a new report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), published on June 12th. The report presents an analysis of the innovative and diverse ways in which five cities – Belo Horizonte, Nairobi, Amsterdam, a Canadian city region and Detroit – developed urban food policies. “Cities are taking matters into their own hands to try to fix the food system,” said lead author Corinna Hawkes, Director of the Centre for Food Policy at City University London. “Hundreds of cities around the world are taking concerted policy action – whether it be to ensure access to decent, nutritious food for all, to support farm livelihoods or to mitigate climate change.”

According to the report, the city of Belo Horizonte is renowned worldwide as a pioneer in city-level policy to address food insecurity. In 1992, it established a dedicated food agency within city government, the Secretariat for Food and Nutrition Security (SMASAN) and put in place an integrated set of policies and programmes that amount to a state-led alternative food system to ensure access to quality, nutritious and safe food for everyone. Belo Horizonte’s approach has survived for 25 years. The case study of Nairobi stands for a U-turn of city authorities, from hostility to active promotion and regulation of urban farming. In the late 1970s, Kenya’s capital experienced a massive influx from the countryside. For those poor and food-insecure families, urban agriculture became a means of survival – whether for subsistence or to supplement meagre incomes. However, for decades they were doing so illegally. Nairobi City Council staunchly opposed farming in the city, considering it a threat to public health and land rights. In 2015, city authorities passed the Nairobi Urban Agriculture Promotion and Regulation Act, intended to boost food security by facilitating food production in the city, to promote job creation, value addition and value chain development, to protect food safety and environmental health, and to regulate access to land. Now, the city government is responsible for training farmers, for ensuring their access to organic waste, and for developing marketing infrastructure.

Although the urban food policies portrayed in the report were all developed in different contexts, the authors identified a number of factors that were seen to drive policy forward. “The cities we studied were tremendously innovative when it came to harnessing the factors that drive policy forward, and overcoming the barriers,” said Hawkes. “They found ways of extending budgets to enable full implementation of the policy, institutionalizing policies to help them transcend electoral cycles, and even obtaining new powers if they did not have the authority to develop and deliver the policy they wanted.” The objective of the report is to provide insights into the factors that enable the development and delivery of urban food policies so that others can learn from these lessons. “Sharing these experiences is crucial. Looking at what has been done elsewhere can help cities of all sizes that are working to improve their food systems – from small towns that are taking their first steps in designing food-related policy to big cities that are striving to maintain highly-developed, integrated policies”. (ab)

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