Urban alliances are needed to ensure healthy cities – now and in the future

Utrecht, 22 August 2017 - 

The world is rapidly urbanising. By 2050, two thirds of the world population will live in urban areas. This has major consequences for peoples’ diets. Cities now face the double burden of malnutrition: micronutrient deficiencies and overnutrition (overweight and obesity). Considering that by 2020 large parts of poor populations will most likely live in urban areas (up to 85% in Latin America and 45% in Africa and Asia), it is especially alarming that for the urban poor it is challenging if not impossible to eat a healthy diet.

A survey conducted by IFPRI for their Global Food Policy Report 2017 showed that 73% of respondents think that it will become harder to fulfil nutrition requirements as cities grow and urban populations increase. City governments are the key actors to make sure that these survey results do not become reality. We need to act now to support them.

It is important to recognise that city governments can’t do it alone. Cities have highly complex food systems and therefore it is essential that alliances are formed with other stakeholders to improve them. Involving businesses is a key requirement because they are at the core of our food systems. In urban environments, there are many key actors in the private sector on whom urban citizens rely for their food. Retailers, such as supermarkets, can have a big influence in giving people better access to a more healthy diet. But we must also consider street food vendors, who are an important source of affordable and convenient ready-made foods in cities across the world. Ensuring better food safety regulation and finding ways to make the foods they have on offer more nutritious, can also be ways to improve the quality of diets.

Aerial view city at night

Cities have highly complex food systems and therefore it is essential that alliances are formed with other stakeholders to improve them. © Shutterstock

Recently, a report by IPES examined the food policies of city governments. It compared a number of case studies and distilled enabling factors for successful urban food policy. Firstly, city governments working together with communities and other stakeholders to formulate policy, is considered an important enabler. Secondly, the report highlights a need for "horizontal" governance, meaning that multiple city departments are involved in the policy, but that there should be one governance body that oversees the overall policy as coordination and clarity on who is accountable are important.

Within national and regional policies, city governments have tremendous opportunities to tackle nutrition challenges. They can make policies and take initiatives that are well-adjusted to their particular context, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Sitting at the heart of urban environments, city governments have the power to connect a variety of private and public stakeholders, driving them towards creating sustainable, fair and nutritious food systems for all. Let’s make sure that we are ready to support them.