10 examples of urban food policies: Feeding the cities, part 2

Feeding our cities in a way that regenerates the planet’s ecology is one of the biggest challenges facing humanity. Many cities are developing policies to tackle this issue, while others have not even begun to consider it.

Empress Green, Staten Island, New York.

Urban growing in the town of Colomb, near Paris, France.

Cities have limited (and variable) powers and responsibilities to deal with food issues within their boundaries. Some of the issues are dealt with at national level, others not at all.

To generate a policy to tackle these issues typically requires different government departments and policy areas to talk to each other and new bodies to be established.

Most policies have targeted actions with specific goals – such as addressing health or food waste. These can later be incorporated into more general, integrated food policies, as understanding of the issues increases amongst participants.

The policies form just one part of the broader scale food systems change that is ongoing. This consists of overlapping policies at local, national, regional and global level.

Types of policy

Hundreds of cities around the world have food policies or governance structures. They are often focussed on specific food-related issues such as:

  1. lack of access to nutritious food (for example the Public Policy on Food Security, Food Sovereignty and Nutrition in Medellin, Colombia, which includes improving agricultural production in the city districts);
  2. obesity (for example the Healthy Diné Nation Act, Navajo Nation, US – a tax on junk food);
  3. climate change and waste (for example protection of the “greenways” in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Fasso, and the zero waste policy in San Francisco, US)
  4. reviving the local economy and providing jobs, especially for women (for example urban agriculture policy in Cape Town, South Africa; and the Central Market programme in Valsui, Romania)
  5. leveraging existing policy responsibilities (for example public food procurement) to achieve new ends
  6. rethinking urban planning systems to achieve multiple win-wins (for example the Policy for Sustainable Development and Food in Malmö, Sweden)
  7. or a whole a range of different urban challenges (for example the Toronto Food Strategy, Canada).

Ten examples of urban food policies

  1. 140 signatory cities (as of April 2017) of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, launched in late 2015, have committed to working towards “sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse” — and to encouraging others to do the same
  2. The concept of City Region Food Systems has taken off, which involves a “network of actors, processes and relationships to do with food production, processing, marketing, and consumption” across a regional landscape comprising urban, peri-urban and rural areas. This is particularly exciting because it aims to maximize ecological and socio-economic links and co-governance by both urban and regional players 
  3. The UN Committee on World Food Security is preparing policy recommendations on “Urbanization and rural transformation: implications for food security and nutrition”, to be put forward later this year
  4. The C40 Food Systems Network is a workstream of C40. In cooperation with the EAT Initiative, it supports the efforts of 80 global cities to develop and implement measures to reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience in food systems
  5. EUROCITIES’ food working group is a “creative hub” for sharing information, ideas and best practice on urban food between members of the network of elected local governments in 130 European cities. Its new report will be out next month
  6. The UK Sustainable Food Cities Network has 48 member cities that are developing cross-sector partnerships to promote healthy and sustainable food. Its Policy 1.2.1 calls for “the establishment of statutory Food Partnerships in each regional, metropolitan and local authority in England built on broad civil society and cross-sector participation”
  7. The Association des Régions de France signed the Rennes Declaration for Territorial Food Systems in July 2014, through which they committed to promoting agriculture and food policies for territorial development, economic development, and sustainable use of natural resources
  8. In the Netherlands, 12 cities, one province and three ministries signed the CityDeal “Food on the Urban Agenda“ in early 2017. Not only will the cities and province include food in their own plans and strategies, but they are also collaborating to build an integrated food strategy for the whole country
  9. Dame Ellen MacArthur – who sailed single-handedly round the world – calls cities “great aggregators” of resources and materials – especially nutrients from food. The opportunities to collect and reuse these is described in her Foundation‘s latest publication, URBAN BIOCYCLES, which “highlights the opportunities to capture value, in the form of the energy, nutrients and materials embedded in the significant volume of organic waste flowing through cities, through the application of circular economy principles” [insert urban-biocycles.png]
  10. Gunhild Stordalen, from the EAT Forum in Sweden, believes food is the main issue around which coalesces all the others: climate change, poor health, social inequality, soil loss, biodiversity loss. “Food is the biggest driver of climate change. There is no scientific consensus on solving these interconnected problems. We need action to change this and to end the disconnect between consumption and production”. Her work encourages collaboration across sectors globally. “We need new business models as much as new practices.”

These are all very exciting, but we are only at the beginning. The potential is huge for involving cities’ populations in providing their own food, and linking them back to the origin of their food, and so to nature – a connection all too easily lost in urban life.

The issue of feeding cities sustainably is gradually rising up the political agenda. The next article will examine the question of productivity and look at six examples of cities leading in this field.

David Thorpe is the author of The One Planet Life, a Blueprint for Low Impact Living.

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