Background: Urbanization, food security and Milan Pact, a role to be played by urban  agriculture

It is recognised that urban growth and increasing urban poverty, food price hikes and climate change, changes in consumption patterns and the increase in diet-related health problems, all call for increasing attention to how cities and their inhabitants are fed. It is also understood that urban growth is directly related to increased demand for natural resources (land and water) that provide vital food and ecosystem services and that integrated territorial development and balanced urban-rural linkages have to be pursued for the benefit of the urban and rural population alike.

It is estimated that currently more than half of the world’s population is living in urban areas. With most urban inhabitants being net consumers, and with increasing urban poverty and unemployment, there is a need for the development of innovative initiatives, strategies and practices of urban food security, institutionally and community-based. Urban and peri-urban agriculture are one such strategy.

The Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, signed by over 133 cities, including the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem and Hebron, ‘recognises that family farmers and smallholder food producers, (notably women producers in many countries), in urban, peri-urban and surrounding rural areas, play a key role in feeding cities and their territories, by helping to maintain resilient, equitable, culturally appropriate food systems; and that reorienting food systems and value chains for sustainable diets is a means to reconnect consumers with both rural and urban producers’. The Pact recommends different actions for promoting food production by:

  1. Promoting and strengthening urban and peri-urban food production and processing based on sustainable approaches and integrate urban and peri-urban agriculture into city resilience plans.
  2. Seeking coherence between the city and nearby rural food production, processing and distribution, focussing on smallholder producers and family farmers, paying particular attention to empowering women and youth.
  3. Applying an ecosystem approach to guide holistic and integrated land use planning and management in collaboration with both urban and rural authorities and other natural resource managers by combining landscape features, for example with risk-minimizing strategies to enhance opportunities for agro-ecological production, conservation of biodiversity and farmland, climate change adaptation, tourism, leisure and other ecosystem services.
  4. Protecting and enabling secure access and tenure to land for sustainable food production in urban and peri-urban areas, including land for community gardeners and smallholder producers, for example through land banks or community land trusts; provide access to municipal land for local agricultural production and promote integration with land use and city development plans and programmes.
  5. Helping to provide services to food producers in and around cities, including technical training and financial assistance (credit, technology, food safety, market access, etc.) to build a multigenerational and economically viable food system with inputs such as compost from food waste, grey water from post-consumer use, and energy from waste etc. while ensuring that these do not compete with human consumption.
  6. Supporting short food chains, producer organisations, producer-to-consumer networks and platforms, and other market systems that integrate the social and economic infrastructure of urban food system that links urban and rural areas. This could include civil society-led social and solidarity economy initiatives and alternative market systems.
  7. Improving (waste) water management and reuse in agriculture and food production through policies and programmes using participatory approaches.

This recognition of the role agriculture can play in sustainable urbanisation is shared by agriculture ministers of 65 nations, including the Palestinian Territories, who:

  1. ‘are aware that as much as three-quarters of the global population will live in cities and urban agglomerations by 2050;
  2. emphasise that food security is a prerequisite for political and social stability and crucial for planning and managing the urbanisation process successfully;
  3. are concerned that the national and international debate on urbanisation is not paying sufficient attention to food security;
  4. wish to make food security for cities an international priority and underline the role of sustainable agriculture in its three dimensions (economic, social and environmental) plays in urbanisation processes; and
  5. Highlight the capability of agriculture in rural, peri-urban and urban areas to supply urban agglomerations not only with food but also with a wide range of public goods and services’.

They conclude that: “We, the agriculture ministers, are convinced that successful urbanisation needs agricultural and call for urban food security to be made a priority on the global agenda”.

This call, next to others, was taken up in the New Urban Agenda, adopted in Quito last October 2016 that will guide implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals for the coming years. In the New Urban Agenda, food security and nutrition are now indeed placed at the centre of urban and territorial sustainability. In Our Shared Vision, food security and nutrition are first in a list of public goods and services that fulfil the social function of cities.