Urban Food Systems


Resilient, sustainable food systems are high on the international agenda. Urban food systems strategies have the potential to amplify national and international efforts towards sustainability and facilitate a more integrated approach to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

African cities are characterised by rapid urbanisation, population growth, urban poverty, rising food prices and urban food insecurity. Within this context, the need to better understand urban food systems is increasingly being recognised. An urban food system encompasses all the activities involving the production, distribution, processing and consumption of food. This includes the networks of actors involved in the supply of, and demand for, food and their activities and interactions at multiple levels across spatial, temporal, jurisdictional and other scales, together with the network’s food and nutritional security outcomes over time(1).

Cities present opportunities for building resilient and sustainable urban food systems. In order to develop these, a holistic approach which integrates all aspects of the food system, is required.

Resilient urban food systems can preserve food diversity, stimulate food innovations (such as, short supply chains, urban agriculture, and new forms of supply procurement) and have the potential to optimise resource management, infrastructure and waste recycling.


Why should local and regional governments be engaged?

  • For resilient city-region food systems multiple and diverse sources of food supply are needed. Localised production in the form of urban and peri-urban agriculture is recognised as one of these sources (but by no means the only one), which increases food and income security at household level and buffers shocks to hikes in food prices, market distortion, and imported supplies.
  • City-region food systems offer opportunities for resource recovery (urban waste) and climate change adaptation.
  • Resilient city-region food systems are also characterised by lower urban footprints, and reduce emissions related to food transport and food waste. This is achieved by protecting the agricultural land base around the cities, optimising the role of agriculture in providing other urban and ecosystem services, and strengthening urban-rural linkages.
  • City-region food systems offer new enterprise and marketing opportunities, while local production and consumption will also result in keeping money in the local economy.
  • City-region food systems are an increasingly important driver for many other urban policies such as health and nutrition, education, economic development, transport, environment, waste and water management, disaster risk reduction, adaptation to climate change and social welfare.
  • Resilient city-region food systems contribute to urban food security and nutrition, and therefore are also important determinants of urban health and well-being.


The ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD network aims to accelerate local and regional government action on sustainable and resilient city-region food systems by combining networking with training, policy guidance and technical expertise to its participants. CITYFOOD is open to local and regional governments, whether they are engaging with the issue for the first time or working to implement the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact and at the frontier of innovative food systems work.

CITYFOOD is active in both the Global North and South and will build a strong south-south-north exchange platform for learning amongst cities. It will establish direct connections with people on the ground and between staff engaged in policy development.


City-to-City Food Systems Forum for southern and eastern African cities

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and ICLEI are collaborating, together with RUAF Foundation and C40, to collectively promote and support subnational take-up and engagement regarding food policy and action. This is being undertaken in line with global targets and ambitions articulated in SDG 2 and through initiatives such as the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact. It is also intended to build on the existing ICLEI-RUAF CITYFOOD Network and related initiatives of all the partners in Africa.

The project partners and the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality are organising a three day City-to-City Food Systems Forum from 18 to 20 April 2018 in Durban, South Africa.

The workshop will facilitate dialogue and sharing of lessons learned, good practices and challenges between selected participating cities/city regions in southern and eastern Africa.

The aims and objectives of the workshop include:

  • Enhancing local government capacities to design, implement and monitor initiatives that improve food security and nutrition for their vulnerable population, while also increasing decent food jobs (including for the informal sector).
  • Facilitation of peer learning as a tool to show cities what is possible in similar contexts (often facing similar agro, political and socio-economic challenges).
  • Facilitate sharing of experiences and city-to-city collaboration in the transition towards more sustainable urban food systems.
  • Workshop outcomes and the way forward for the initiative will be shared upon the conclusion of the event.

(1) Misselhorn, A., Aggarwal, P., Erickson, P., Gregory, P., Horn-Phathanothai, L., Ingram, J., and Wiebe, K. 2012. A vision for attaining food security. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 4:7-17.

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