Gareth Haysom, Researcher at the African Center of Cities, University of Cape Town
Jonathan Crush, CIGI Chair in Global Migration and Development, Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University
Prof. Bruce Frayne, Professor and Director, University of Waterloo
Gareth Haysom is a researcher at the University of Cape Town. Funding for this work was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the International Development Research Center (IDRC) under the Program for International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies (IPaSS) in the part of the Hungry Cities Partnership.
Professor Jonathan Crush is an extraordinary professor at the University of the Western Cape and a professor at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Canada. It received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
Bruce Frayne receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada.
The world’s urban population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion between 2018 and 2050, with almost 90% of the increase in Asia and Africa. In contrast, the rural population is expected to begin to stabilize and decline from 2021.
As the Global South becomes predominantly urban, food offers a way to examine development opportunities and challenges, as well as the political impact and regional economic role of cities in the future. Like a town planner once Put the: a city is what it eats.
Understanding the complex and interrelated challenges of urban governance, development and food systems is becoming increasingly urgent. Food insecurity is increasing in cities of Global South, including those of African countries.
It is these complex questions that our new delivered, Manual on urban food security in developing countries, seeks to better understand.
Reframing food security
Governing food in cities means understanding how cities and their food systems connect. the urban food system encompasses production, processing and packaging, distribution, retailing, consumption and waste. All of these activities affect food security, environmental security and other societal interests.
It’s not just about how urban households are fed but also how the infrastructures, transport, retail systems – both formal and informal – and various other systems influence access to food and affect people’s lives.
Food is plentiful in most cities in southern Africa and Africa, but many people do not have access to this food.
Recently the High Level Panel of Experts of Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report that called for a new way of approaching food security. He kept the four pillars availability, accessibility, usability and stability, but proposed two others: agency and sustainability.
It is clear that food security is not just about producing enough food (availability). This is how the policies of most African countries tend to formulate it. In most southern and African cities, the challenge is that nutritious food is unaffordable for most city dwellers (accessibility).
Given the nature of urbanization in the South, particularly in Asia and Africa, informality dominates in housing, services, economic activity and access to food. Inadequate infrastructure and services mean that the price of fuel – including electricity – directly influences the types of food people buy and how they are prepared.
Likewise, access to storage and refrigeration plays a direct role in what foods people buy, and how they are stored and prepared (use). Climate variability, political instability, and broader vulnerabilities (such as COVID-19) all affect the durability and stability access to food.
Despite the ambitions of greater autonomy for cities in national governance process, city dwellers cannot always make decisions about alternative urban food systems. This is the result of poverty, informality, poor infrastructure and rural-oriented food policies.
Likewise, cities have a limited voice in the design and operation of national food systems.
In this context of rapid urbanization, it is now widely recognized that cities in the South are facing a deepening crisis of lack of access to food. This is characterized by increasing food poverty, hunger and malnutrition as well as lack of dietary diversity. Wasting and stunting in children are also on the rise. The same is true of vulnerability to infectious and chronic diseases and obesity.
Despite the enthusiasm of donors and philanthropists for new “green revolutions” – use industrialized agriculture to produce more food in the countryside – they will not effectively feed these newly urbanized populations. Nor will they meet the needs of cities with rapidly growing populations.
As COVID-19 has shown, urban populations suffer when the stability of the food system is disrupted (such as with lockdowns). Likewise, poor health resulting from dependence on an inequitable and poorly functioning urban food system increases vulnerability.
The knowledge gaps are numerous. Hence the urgency of a vast research in the cities of the South to discover the dimensions and the complexities of the food challenge in urban areas. It is equally important for cities in the South to consider the governance of the food system as an urban mandate and a governance obligation.
Our delivered does not seek to provide answers to complex challenges. Rather, it seeks to start a much needed conversation about the intersection between changes in food systems and rapid urbanization in the South.
Dramatic changes in cities and food systems mean that understanding how rapidly urbanizing populations are going to be fed, and well nourished, will be one of the critical development challenges of the next 50 years.