Setting the Table for Urban Food Policy | #CFS43 FAO

Samie Blasingame
3 min readJan 11, 2021


I love food. I love cities. But it was only recently that I realized how interconnected these two things truly are.

Tuesday’s Side Event, “Urban Food Policies and their Role in Sustainable Food Systems,” at the United Nations Committee for World Food Security (CFS) in Rome, highlighted the importance of cities in the creation of healthy, viable food systems.

More than six billion people are expected to inhabit urban areas by 2045, much of that growth is projected for developing regions, particularly Africa. This presents a challenge not only for local and national governments but, in a globalized world, for international bodies too.

The goal of event, which presented viewpoints from six members of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food (IPES), was to explore how local, national and international policy levels can work together in order to solve problems such as malnutrition and unsustainable consumption patterns.

In the words of Professor Corinna Hawkes, the event host and a member of IPES”urbanization is not just a problem, it is an opportunity.” And a big opportunity at that.

Nicolas Bricas, UNESCO Chair on World Food Systems, went on to outline six challenges of the current food system in creating urban food policy.

These challenges include the surplus of food via industrial technologies, the disconnect between urban and rural areas, the double burden of food insecurity and malnutrition, changes in food consumption, the balance of power in favour of cities in dictating the food system; and the dissolution of cultural food traditions.

But, cities are hubs of innovation. And, echoing Dr. Hawkes, each of these challenges also presents an interesting opportunity.

Implementation of circular economies can capitalize on surplus food and potentially reduce the amount of nonrenewable resources (80%) that cities, at half the world’s population, currently consume.

Cities have traditionally imported large amounts of food, but as this practice becomes increasingly unsustainable, cities must realize their role as major drivers in the local, territorial food system paradigm

Cheap and fast food does not have to be innutritious. The true cost of meat can and should be represented in its price at the supermarket. Cities must contribute to the continuation of fair trade practices for globally-sourced specialty items.

These challenges and opportunities can all be realized through the creation of sound urban food policy.

Many community initiatives around the world are already working to change their food systems, it is about time that city governments take responsibility for what flows into their cities and onto their citizen’s plates.

And what is the role for international bodies such as the CFS?

According to Guido Santini, technical advisor for the FAO, the inclusion of an “urban constituency” in the committee would be a good starting point. Any mention of cities has tended to be seen as a “red flag,” with committee members worried that this may divert attention away from rural areas. But when considering sustainable food systems, the two go hand in hand.

“The [CFS] offers an opportunity to bring [to light] the right to food and to [elevate] the voices of the people that need the food,” adds Alison Blay-Palmer of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems.

Still, for Mr. Santini, the major challenge remains the participatory process. “In practice it is very challenging, and it can mean different things in different contexts… first of all you have to understand how different sectors are affected by food issues and how they contribute to food issues.”

Which is why food policy councils, which aim to bring stakeholders together to form urban food policies, have seen so much success.

“But,” Mr. Santini adds, “we need instruments to understand it’s not only the participation, but also instruments to assess and to understand the complexity of the food systems.”

Blogpost by Samie Blasingame, #CFS43 Social Reporter — samieblasingame(at) Picture: Markusspiske (via pixabay) This post is part of the live coverage during the 43rd Session of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS). This post is written by one of our social reporters, and represents the author’s views only.

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Samie Blasingame

Samie is a researcher and community organiser passionate about environmental justice and global food systems.