23 January 2024

The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism (CSIPM) for relations with the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the largest international space of civil society organisations (CSOs) working to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition. All participating organizations in the CSIPM belong to one of the following 11 constituencies: smallholder farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, Indigenous Peoples, agricultural and food workers, landless, women, youth, consumers, urban food insecure and NGOs. This collective written contribution has been prepared by participants from the CSIPM Urban and Peri-Urban Working Group which was constituted in January 2024 to follow this CFS workstream.

General comments on the zero draft of the HLPE-FSN report

The CSIPM welcomes the V0 Draft of the HLPE-FSN report on “Strengthening urban and peri-urban food systems to achieve food security and nutrition in the context of urbanisation and rural transformation”. The CFS had a policy workstream on Urbanization and Rural Transformation and Implications for Food Security and Nutrition but despite many efforts and resources dedicated to this workstream, and although there was a consultation process, it did not result in a final negotiated policy document. For this reason, the CSIPM welcomes an HLPE report on this topic and sees the opportunity to raise awareness of the priorities of the most affected constituencies in urban and peri-urban contexts through this work stream.

This six-chapter report provides a definition of urban and peri-urban food systems in the first chapter, followed by a historical perspective on the process of urbanization, the current context of urban growth and the number of people living in urban areas in food insecurity. The third chapter examines the nutritional transition and food security, and how the human right to food can be guaranteed. The fourth chapter analyses urban and peri-urban food systems, addressing the different processes, actors, and how people access food, such as through reliance on supermarkets and the proliferation of convenience stores. The fifth chapter discusses urban food governance, laws, an urban food policy, the different regional actors, and how participation in urban policy takes place. Chapter six discusses policy partnerships, and the different actors involved in these responses, as well as international issues and the international market.

The CSIPM recognises that one of the important aspects of the HLPE-FSN report is that it builds its conceptualisation on the six dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilisation, stability, agency and sustainability.

Furthermore, we also find it positive how the report differentiates between the urban and peri-urban concept for the global north and the global south to recognise the different ways in which poverty, migration and internal inequalities have increased in each country. We also welcome the fact that the report talks about malnutrition, given the impact of the penetration of ultra-processed products in urban and peri-urban contexts.

However, we also see some weaknesses and spaces for improvement, such as the fact that the report does not look at the human right to food and the different dimensions of human rights in a holistic way. The report should elaborate more on the indivisibility and interconnection between the right to and the right to the city, or to housing, or the right to work and social protection, or the right to a healthy, clean, safe and sustainable environment. There is a very limited section on addressing gender or inequalities that could be expanded, and which could benefit from previous CFS policy outcomes as a reference, especially the “Voluntary Guidelines on Gender Equality and Women’s and Girls Empowerment in the Context of Food Security and Nutrition”. The report should also focus more on youth as agents of transformation in urban and peri-urban food systems. Young people are vital to achieving economies of wellbeing defined by food sovereignty, dignified livelihoods, and healthy environments in rural and urban areas. Food systems transformations are urgently needed to ensure that youth can live well in the countryside and cities, restore ecological harmony, and receive fair remuneration for their work in food systems. Young people are often forced to migrate to cities because life in rural areas is made impossible by structural constraints. Systemic shifts in food systems should centre the core principles of rights, equity, agency, and recognition of the role of youth as collective and individual protagonists of social change.

The report could also benefit from an additional section in chapter 4 looking at existing alternatives to supermarkets and convenience stores, such as territorial markets, community supported agriculture, food buying groups and cooperatives. There must also be an examination of the proliferation of charitable food aid provision in a variety of settings from food banks to schools and religious spaces.

While urban and peri-urban agriculture is addressed, the report does not consider agroecology as a transformative approach for urban and peri urban systems. Among the CFS documents we have a basis for moving forward on urban and peri-urban agriculture based on agroecology and the report should refer to the FAO 10 principles of Agroecology and the CFS Policy Recommendations. There is also an increasing body of research on Urban Agroecology and recognition of its practices and values, that address power and injustice, provide social and wellbeing benefits beyond the production of food and embraces a variety of holistic low impact, low input sustainable food production methods. Some references are provided below.

Moreover, there is no systemic and connected vision between political systems and public procurement services, for example with regard to procurement programmes, there is nothing about a public procurement network. With regard to governance, the report does not touch on urban planning and management instruments, it only calls on social participation councils, but not with the objective to put the food perspective as transversal in the design of urban planning instruments, such as the budget, the urban infrastructure and the different existing public services.

For the CSIPM, social participation is key to create urban and peri-urban food systems that can impact malnutrition and food insecurity. The most affected people and constituencies -such as gypsy, Roma and traveller communities, youth, refugees, migrants, pastoralists, peasants, homeless people, low income groups, including women, racialised people and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities, older people and children among others living in urban and peri- urban areas- should be included in policy making spaces through transparent, democratic and effective processes that respect the autonomy and self-organizations of social movements, feminist movements and civic movements. For example, there is an absence of the workers’ perspective, and the perspective of the social and solidarity economy and social protection that consider the conditions for providing quality of life.

Assumptions that should be challenged (Shifting the paradigm)

  • The urbanization paradigm, and modernization itself, that requires living in cities away from rural areas. It is well documented that urbanisation often leads to the very problems it is aiming to solve: poor housing, overcrowding, unemployment, poverty and destitution, food insecurity, health disparities, traffic congestion, pollution, lack of proper infrastructure such as a good food environment, schools, transport, water, energy and sewage.
  • Many developed countries still retain a very significant proportion of their total population in rural areas. For instance, countries like Austria, Poland, Slovakia, Ireland and Thailand, among many others, have rural populations of above 40% – close to 50% in some cases. These are indeed real-life examples of countries where the trend does not align with the paradigm, but these examples are often ignored. In China, the successful rural regeneration programme includes many young people and has a strong dimension of Community Supported Agriculture with a key focus on territorial markets.
  • Strengthening territorial markets is key, as rather than focusing on international trade which can have negative consequences and impacts in food security in rural and urban areas and should be further explored.
  • Cities are expanding through urban sprawl. Within and around cities, there were fertile areas for agriculture that now have been converted to built up areas in an alarming manner. It is essential to maintain peri-urban agriculture (using the VGGT where possible), in order to ensure access to fresh nutritious produce for local populations. Furthermore, the rural-urban linkages are critical.
  • The report should take the fact that the urban context is not homogenous and has interconnected institutions or networks made up of different actors who should be taken into consideration. Food security and food sovereignty initiatives, as well as governance and food policy to promote access to food, should pay attention to the different needs, priorities and preferences of the various groups that make up the cities. The urban context includes refugees, immigrants, and different socio-economic classes.

What is missing or could be strengthened

  • Private sector engagement has led to increased production and availability of ultra-processed foods becoming widely available in the urban areas and also widely distributed through food banks. The report should answer the question of how to promote localized food systems and territorial markets in urban contexts to ensure access to affordable, healthy and culturally acceptable diets to consumers. The connection between access to ultra-processed foods and health should be further explored given the rise in consumption of processed foods. On the issue of communal norms and cultural food practices, the report should examine how these influence consumption patterns in urban areas.
  • In Pakistan 65% of population is composed of youth, how can we involve them in this process? Youth make up a large segment of the urban population and rural-urban exodus is on the rise. The potential of youth as actors in the food system in urban areas is crucial and could be further explored. Understanding the context is key, as this baseline study in Uganda shows.
  • Two elements not well addressed in the report are: social function of public procurement services and food provision. This dimension is often absent from analyses but needs to be considered as essential to ensuring food security and food sovereignty. This has been a key focus in Europe in recent years. The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) together with partners such as Slow Food and Urgenci has worked extensively on this question. As the Manifesto for establishing minimum standards for public canteens across the EU. This was also a key part of the work of the European Food Policy Coalition. An excellent example of school organic public procurement using municipal land is the project Une cantine 100 % bio sans surcoût.
  • During the pandemic, we saw how the public supply network and public markets were important to ensure access to adequate food. It is necessary to support the creation of pacts also between municipalities, as they can create pacts and agreements at the national and local level. For example, in Brazil the creation of the national strategy for food security and urban context which intends to create local policies between different actors.
  • The draft is well developed and presents an elaborated description of food security issues in urban and peri-urban areas. However, the concepts of gender and inequality are largely missing from the analysis. Although the report mentions gender briefly as a cross-cutting issue, the report could benefit greatly by developing an inequality framework or proposal on how to address gender, racial, social and economic inequalities when talking about food security in urban and peri-urban areas. An intersectional feminist framework would promote   an understanding of the reasons behind disparities and inequalities in the access and distribution of food, as well as social impacts of these inequalities. See HLPE 18 on Reducing Inequalities for Food Security and Nutrition.
  • Urban areas comprise a large population living in poverty and its impacts affect food security of families and communities, especially women and girls and underserved communities. Moreover, existing literature largely documents that women within families tend to experience more food insecurity, especially during shocks. Therefore, the report should take this into consideration.There is a component of analysis that relates to agency (empowerment), but it is not extensive.
  • Furthermore, the mention of women and gender in the report appears in relation to the children and their role as mothers in addressing the challenges of the children’s food insecurity. The report does not offer a critical reflection on the roles of other actors in the nutrition of children, the positive contribution and value of women in the preparation of food and the time dedicated to feed the family.
  • The report should also include a greater focus on widespread practices that contributed significantly to ensuring food security and food sovereignty during the pandemic and the post-pandemic period. Some of these experiences are synthesized in the CSIPM report Voices from the ground: From COVID-19 to radical transformation of our food systems (2020). As well as Enacting Resilience: the Response of LSPA to the Covid-19 Crisis (2021), a significant report published by Urgenci that underlines the importance and relevance of peri-urban agriculture in feeding urban populations. What is clear in both these reports is the birth of spontaneous solidarity-based, bottom-up citizens’ initiatives that made key contributions to ensuring access and the Right to Food and Nutrition.
  • There is no real exploration of land use, including access to land and tenureship for urban and peri urban food producers, regeneration and its impacts.
  • There is no understanding of urban and peri urban food systems, and particularly food production in the planning and emergency resilience of cities. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there was a lack of preparedness or planning for shocks in the food system for many cities with a reliance on the market to ensure food availability.
  • For the CSIPM there is still more work to do regarding governance. For example, how municipalities can preserve and build more physical and social infrastructure in areas of deprivation. As well as better engagement with marginalised groups who do not participate in the mainstream food system. There  could be more from a legal point of view on how municipalities can create agreements and laws to improve infrastructure and supply.  Some key examples of how this can be done are: https://securite-sociale-alimentation.org/  Other examples exist in Brazil and other countries.
  • It would also be important for the report to include an analysis on loss and waste of food in markets and supermarkets, problems are linked to the just in time system, transport, storage, and the confusing labelling systems of best before, and use by dates that mean that edible food is disposed of before its expiry date. Large quantities of food are also disposed of at source to control prices, such as milk; or to meet supermarket cosmetic standards, or in the home. The report could also provide recommendations on mechanisms that provide better information through scientific recommendations, and that can be useful for many populations, in order to reduce food waste. Studies have demonstrated the fact that food loss and waste are significantly lower in direct consumer food systems such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), as the one on Food loss and waste in community-supported agriculture in the region of Leipzig, Germany.  There are various explanations for this, especially the extensive use of agroecology in CSA, the proximity of CSA to consumers (both physical and psychological), the fact that consumers always accept all fruit and vegetables, irrespective of size or shape, so no grading and rejection processes exist.
  • Food sovereignty is a concept that does not appear in the report, but it is very important if we take into account the territorial or local perspectives and the agency aspect of food security. We must underline the importance of consumers, who must recognise themselves in the food they eat.
  • The report could also include recommendations with regard to the role of public authorities, for example from the ministries of health and agriculture as well as recommendations on local agroecological/organic production for territorial public procurement
  • Access to and the protection of land; and the succession of existing farms for new forms of collectives and cooperatives, such as community farms in urban and peri-urban areas should be prioritized .
  • It would also be important to include in the report an analysis on oligopolies in terms of agriculture, as we see the same in terms of retail globally. Also public goods and wholesale markets.
  • The report needs to be clear regarding where agricultural food production places in urban and peri-urban contexts, such as the promotion of community gardens, allotment backyard gardens using limited space, technologies such as vertical farming, hydroponics, rooftop farming, among others.
  • Also, it should address how the deficit in local production and reliance on importation have an impact on urban and peri-urban food systems.
  • Community Land Trusts and their equivalents need to be recognised by the report as a means of preserving urban and peri-urban agriculture. This form of preservation is very common in New York and increasingly in the United Kingdom, and is recognised in UN Habitat 2. It is a key form of solidarity economy regarding land usage, and is linked to Local Government legislation.
  • We consider it important to emphasize the fact that certain food consumption and production networks that are below the radar have not been taken into account in the report. There should be an extensive look at existing alternatives to long food chains, including Community Supported Agriculture, producers’ and consumers collectives and cooperative shops, small-scale producers collectives of various kinds, and distributive platforms like the Open Food Network, on-line collective producers’ sales (including criteria such as agroecology/organic production). As well as informal trading networks such as the suitcase trade, often black market, between global south and global north in culturally acceptable food products
  • Food Policy Councils are key to developing successfully sustainable urban and peri-urban agriculture and there needs to be an extensive section developed on this subject.
  • It would be important to explore the food, climate and humanitarian nexus in the urban context. How cities are prepared to respond to shocks and humanitarian emergencies, and build long-term resilience in a climate crisis context. Examples are initiatives on early warning systems in Nairobi, Kenya and a similar project in Philippines-B-Ready project.   

We need to emphasize the alternatives that do exist are in many cases deeply anchored, and whose resilience during the pandemic was shown to be invaluable, such as in Brazil, where small scale food producers gave food to people free of charge. As documented in the CSIPM report (2022) Voices from the ground 2: transformative solutions to the global systemic food crises.

  • The French and Belgian experimental food social security trials which are currently underway with the basis of food as a human right and as social protection. There is a reference to the French trials in the report to UCLG, which is possibly the first time that a Local Government network has been referenced in the CFS work.
  • Rural regeneration policy in China, where CSA plays a considerable role should also be referenced. The interesting aspect in China is that there is far less of an issue of access to land, due to the fact that all rural families have a land allocation
  • Food policy councils, and the very interesting work being done now in New York City, Toronto, London and other cities should be highlighted. See Milan Urban Food Policy Pact website for examples

Other references which could be considered

Urban agroecology references

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