June 19, 2013

Tackling Urban Food Security

By Sung Lee

Urban food security should be recognized as a critical 21st century policy issue. This is the central recommendation put forward by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ 2013 Emerging Leaders Program in a newly published report, Feeding an Urban World: A Call to Action. The report highlights the critical importance of addressing urban food security and offers 10 recommendations on how cities can promote food and nutritional security.

The world is witnessing the largest growth of urban population in human history. Between now and 2050, the world urban population is projected to grow from 3.6 billion to more than 6 billion while the population in rural communities is expected to decline worldwide. This rapid increase in population, dietary consumption changes, and more frequent and extreme weather brought on by climate change create enormous challenges to cities and urban centers, many of which already face the overwhelming burden of providing basic services to millions of inhabitants living in poor conditions.

Today’s population growth and migration are taking place much more rapidly in developing countries. According to the report, 93 percent of urban population growth is occurring in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Africa’s urban population is estimated to grow at a much faster rate of 3 percent compared to a mere 0.33 percent in Europe and 1 percent in Northern America.  Moreover, urbanization has led to the rise of mega-slums, where more than 60 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population resides without adequate access to clean water, sanitation, fuel, and nutritious and affordable food.

Access to sufficient, nutritious and affordable food is not only a basic human right but it provides the foundation for one’s ability to grow, learn, prosper, and reach his or her full potential. Furthermore, with the world population projected to surpass 9 billion by 2050, addressing food and nutritional security in both rural and urban areas is of paramount importance to eradicating extreme hunger and poverty. Although food security issues are now at the front and center of many development agencies and governments, the report states that not enough attention has been paid to urban food security and its challenges.

In addition to raising the clamor as to the importance of urban food security, the report provides a new framework, the Urban Food Model. This model, designed for policymakers and city leaders, seeks to provide an analytical tool to evaluate a city’s current food security situation and offer policy options. The report goes on to provides concrete steps that the City of Chicago can take to address its urban food security challenges, such as convening a food security task force and establishing a transnational municipal network for urban food security.

The report also draws lessons from domestic and international case studies including programs in Detroit, New York, and Los Angeles, as well as the Zero Hunger program in Brazil, the Clean Food Good Taste Project in Thailand, MercyCorp’s Kedai Balitaku food carts program in Jakarta Indonesia, the Mega Food Parks in India, and the Homestead Food Program in Bangladesh.  The common theme across these successful cases is that one size does not fit all. Food security programs that are tailored specifically to meet the local conditions, and designed and implemented by the locals are more likely to be successful and sustainable.

The 21 members of the Chicago Council’s emerging leaders program will present their findings tonight at the Chicago Council event. You can follow @globalagdev, @chicagocouncil for livetweets starting at 6:00 p.m. Central Time. More information about the report is available here


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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| By Roger Thurow

Our New Gordian Knot

Fifty years ago Dr. Norman Borlaug recieved the Nobel Peace Prize for cutting the "Goridan knot" of population and food production. Now the planet faces another seemingly intractable problem: how to nourish the planet while preserving the planet.