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

Urban Food Security: A new Agrilinks blog series

We’re living in an urbanized world. In 2007 the UN announced that the world passed the urbanization tipping point, and for the first time in history the majority of the worldwide population now resides in cities. They also estimated that 93 percent of all future urban growth will occur in developing countries as the rural poor and subsistence farmers migrate in to cities to seek out new opportunities. Given the dual reality of a shrinking farmer base and an expanding urban stomach, this new blog series highlights the opportunities and challenges of feeding cities through innovative agricultural development interventions. 

USAID has recently delved into the issue of urban food security in a draft of their new policy on sustainable urban services. Food security is the first of the seven core principles (also including health, climate change, economic growth, governance, humanitarian assistance, and crisis prevention and response). USAID is addressing food security through the lens of sustainable urban services because “approximately 28 percent of urban under-five children in developing countries are chronically malnourished,” and “the extreme poor are particularly vulnerable to malnourishment during food spikes given the high share of their household budgets—ranging from 50 to 75 percent—devoted to food.” The food security policy addresses the entirety of the urban food system, and highlights the importance of agricultural development to cities and vice-versa: “The linkages between cities and villages are critical for inclusive agricultural growth, providing new markets and better prices for produce and expanded employment and income opportunities for all….Thus, as urban residents and businesses depend on rural-based resources, such as agriculture and energy, and farmers rely on urban-based facilities, such as markets, financing, and ports, the Agency’s commitment to agricultural and urban development are mutually reinforcing and inextricably linked.”

The policy tasks the Bureau for Food Security with implementing interventions that strengthen the entirety of the value chain including “improved processing, farm to market roads, storage and handling facilities, and market development." These interventions have potential outcomes that include: “more competitive value chains based on an increase in the efficiency of support services in market towns; increased employment opportunities in agriculture based enterprises; increased food security, and improved nutrition.”

USAID’s draft policy on Sustainable Urban Services is a good first step towards ensuring food secure cities. However, there are many questions that arise when trying to feed a rapidly urbanizing world, such as: how do we ensure that food is finding its way from rural areas to some of the densest, poorest slums? How do we sustainably incorporate urban links into the agricultural value chain? What sort of urban infrastructure is needed to improve food security? Should cities carve out spaces for agriculture or favor the “highest and best use” when developing urban land? How do we ensure that the nutritional needs of the urban poor are being met? How do we find work for an influx of urban immigrants with agricultural backgrounds?

This blog seeks to address these and other similarly complex questions that fall under the rubric of urban food security. Projects, reports, programs and interventions profiled in this blog series are coming from USAID, implementing partners, or are directly relevant to urban food security in the developing world. 

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.