Ensuring sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems is crucial for cities

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On 8 March, the event “Cities and sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems” co-organized by the Global Cities Hub (GCH) and the Nutrition in City Ecosystems (NICE) project, in collaboration with FAO, raised huge interest. It gathered city representatives from Bangladesh, Kenya and Rwanda, and various international stakeholders dealing with the issue, including FAO, WHO, RUAF, ICLEI, GAIN, SUN, UNECE, WFP, Helvetas, academic institutions, private foundations, etc.


As the world urbanizes rapidly, the number of cities increases. They grow bigger over time and often become disconnected from their rural zones producing food. How we will manage to feed these cities in the future is a truly existential question for the majority of the world’s population. Cities consume 80% of the food worldwide, while 80% of the food is still produced in rural areas. Although the issue of food systems used to be of interest mainly in the “Global South”, it is today largely recognized that ensuring sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems is a concern for all countries.


The issue is not only about the availability of food, but also about food that is safe, nutritious, healthy, and tasty. It is about reflecting upon all components of complex food systems which include various food-related activities: production, aggregation, processing, wholesale, retailing, purchase, preparation and consumption. It concerns many actors: farmers, consumers, public authorities at all levels, private businesses, NGOs, etc. It cuts across various dimensions: economic, social, health, cultural, environmental, political, etc., and has a huge impact on every one of us.


The event held at GCH headquarters discussed the importance to include cities, local and regional governments (LRGs) in international debates addressing the transformation of food systems. Indeed, given their understanding of the local context and issues at hand, their capacity to work following a multistakeholder approach and their competencies in shaping food systems, it is crucial to include LRGs in the debate, so as to foster “multi-level governance”. However, for that to become a reality, it is necessary to clarify the roles and responsibilities of LRGs in relation to the food system in place. It is also crucial to facilitate the connection between LRGs and the national level, to support city-to-city learning on the issue and to strengthen advocacy in favour of multi-level governance in collaboration with various partners.


At the event, it was interesting to learn about the NICE project which seeks to reduce poverty and improve nutrition in six secondary cities in Bangladesh (Dinajpur, Rangpur), Kenya (Bungoma and Busia) and Rwanda (Rubavu, Rusizi), with a focus on vulnerable urban populations. It does so by strengthening food system governance through connecting all relevant actors, and by working both on the supply and demand sides at local level for safe, nutritious, healthy and sustainable food.


Ensuring sustainable, resilient and inclusive food systems is crucial for cities. It is important that the issue gets more visibility within the International Geneva ecosystem which gathers various stakeholders in the area of food, nutrition, health and urbanization. The Global Cities Hub will continue to engage on this issue in order to elevate it on the agenda of the international community in Geneva.



Photo credit: Rachel Natali, Sight & Life Foundation