Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Urban Food Security: Ideas and action for municipal leaders

International development organizations are increasingly interested in improving urban food security. Over the past few months, two organizations have released publications making the case for the importance of urban food security to policymakers. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leaders Class published “Feeding an Urban World: A Call to Action,” and ICLEI published the outcomes of their June Resilient Urban Food Systems Forum. The two offer different takes on the issue of urban food security: The Chicago Council offers broad strokes on policy actions that municipal officials can take, while ICLEI compiled challenges and opportunities practitioners currently working on these issues are finding in the field.

The Chicago Council defines urban food security as “urban residents have sustained physical, economic, and social access to safe, sufficient, diverse calories and micronutrients required for a healthy lifestyle.” Their report goes on to outline the principles of availability, access, and appropriate utilization as the three necessary elements to a food secure population.

Participants in the ICLEI forum, on the other hand, looked beyond the issue of access and noted that the goal of food security should be linked to other policy agendas, “like health and education, but also in sectors that are usually neglected: transport and logistics – getting food to where it needs to be going, disaster and emergency management, urban food networks for urban poor, and food infrastructure.” In short, ICLEI forum participants suggested a systems approach to improving the urban food environment.

The Chicago Council’s report centers around a matrix they created to rate food security interventions called the Urban Food Model. Interventions are categorized as addressing different components of the three pillars of food security (availability, access, utilization) which are further split out into smaller categories, while also being measured against their consideration of institutional, environmental, technological, economic and cultural factors (see graphic below). All six of the case studies are ranked using the matrix to determine if the intervention takes a holistic approach to the problem of urban food security.

 Chicago Council Urban Food Model Matrix

The report concludes with 10 recommendations to improve urban food security across the globe:

  1. Recognize urban food security as a critical 21st century policy issue
  2. Utilize the Urban Food Model to develop and analyze policies
  3. Adopt a regional approach to addressing urban food security
  4. Remove regulatory and policy barriers and promote coordination
  5. Think locally around neighborhoods
  6. Leverage opportunities for policy diffusion and advocacy
  7. Treat perishable supply chains as a vital asset
  8. Build sustainable and resilient urban food ecosystems
  9. Take concrete steps to encourage entrepreneurial activities related to food security
  10. Position Chicago as a world leader in addressing urban food security

Meanwhile, the ICLEI report did not outline recommendations, but instead contained a short list of ideas cities should consider to make the food system more resilient. These included; collaborate with other actors including NGOs, international organizations and local youth and elders and to use space wisely (urban gardens in parks or through multifunctional agriculture incorporating wind/solar energy harvesting). These suggestions are a few creative ways to think about the city’s role in the food system, but they fall short of providing concrete examples of ways these ideas can become political reality.

Taken together, these two reports offer a good introduction to improving urban food security–one provides the framework of urban food systems as a problem embedded in many different aspects of urban life, while the other provides a tool to determine whether or not interventions take a holistic approach, and if not, what additional interventions may be needed. Rounding out both reports are a number of interesting case studies on urban agriculture and agricultural value chains–policymakers working on urban food security may do well to learn from these.


Marisol Pierce-Quinonez

Marisol Pierce-Quinonez is a Knowledge and Learning Specialist working on USAID’s KDMD project. Marisol holds an MS in Agricultural Policy and an MA in Urban & Environmental Planning, both from Tufts University.

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