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Food Security and Nutrition in an Urbanizing World

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) launched today its 2017 Global Food Policy Report, which focuses this year on Food Security and Nutrition in an Urbanizing World. The launch event took place in Brussels, on the eve of the European Days, on June 6, 2017, with the participation of SNV World and Welthungerhilfe. I was invited to moderate the keynote interview session on “International Responses to Urbanization”, featuring two wonderful speakers: Brave Ndisela, Strategic Programme Leader for Food Security and Nutrition at the FAO, and Gerda Verburg, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations. 

The IFPRI report shows a clear picture of the massive and rapid urbanization trend that is happening around the world and more strikingly in Africa and in Asia. By 2050, two thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. As urban population grows, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are increasingly becoming urban problems. The speakers addressed some of the priority actions that are needed to counter these trends. 

IFPRI did a Survey (the results are in the report) showing that 73% of the respondents think the expansion of cities and urban population will make it harder to ensure that everyone gets enough nutritious food to eat. The speakers presented the scale and space of urbanization in the developing world and the problems of food security and nutrition that are growing fast among urban population. They also noted the opportunities, in particular more balanced linkages between urban and rural. 

Brave Ndisela is originally from Malawi. Last year, the Government of Malawi launched a new National Agricultural Policy to improve incomes, food security and nutrition. Brave was asked if this policy addresses the challenges of urbanization. Brave noted that Malawi’s urbanization is going at a slow pace and this new food security strategy is going to help the country with early planning for improved rural-urban linkages and for early urban planning. Gerda Verburg noted that the SUN Movement works with 59 countries and 3 Indian States. She noted the need for local answers that will work on access and on consumer choices. 

Plato said « Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich. These are at war with one another. » The pace and scale of urbanization are constantly creating a greater gap between the rich and the poor and this gap can be seen with the nutritional status of urban population. The triple burden of malnutrition exists now around the world in an urban context. Most of the urban poor live in slums. Hans Rosling once asked “Can slums be made history ?”. Both speakers were optimistic that a variety of solutions would be found to not only improve the lives of people living in slums through improved sanitation, public services, infrastructure and provision of healthier and more nutritious food. In addition, Gerda noted the need to provide rural youth greater opportunities in the agricultural sector to slow down the migration flow from the countryside to the cities. 

The audience noted the importance of re-thinking food systems for agricultural production to respond to the needs of nutritional recommendations instead of public policies focused on subsidies for cereal and staple crops. Another comment noted the need to study urban diets closely, of the rich and of the poor. 

More information about the speakers: 

Brave Ndisale is the Strategic Programme Leader for Food Security and Nutrition at the FAO. Brave previously served as Malawi’s Ambassador to Belgium, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Switzerland, The Principality of Monaco, and the European Union. She also held senior positions in government and international organizations, including the African Union Commission.

Gerda Verburg is the Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement and Assistant Secretary-General to the United Nations. Gerda served as Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, and as Chair of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD 17) at the same time. From 2011, she was Ambassador of the Netherlands to the UN Rome-based agencies. In 2013, she was elected as Chair of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS), and in 2014 she was appointed as Chair of the Agenda Council for Food and Nutrition of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

 

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