Nutrition challenges in urban areas

By 2030, it is expected that six out of ten people will live in cities with 90 percent of this growth occurring in Africa and Asia and most of it occurring in small to medium-sized cities. Currently, about one in eight people live in slums[1]. Cities are facing increasingly complex nutrition challenges: whilst urbanization is linked to overweight obesity, undernutrition is often still prevalent as well. Urban citizens are more reliant on markets than people who live in rural areas, and they rely more often on highly processed food, which in many cases do not contain enough nutrients. People who live in cities also face other challenges, such as access to clean water, sanitation, hygiene, and social capital, which influence food and nutrition security.

Urban food systems too often fail to meet people’s nutritional needs. This is increasingly recognized among international, national and local policymakers, and city governments are becoming ever more important in dealing with these challenges. The New Urban Agenda was adopted at the UN Habitat III conference in 2016 and endorsed by the UN General Assembly. This declaration includes commitments towards sustainable urban development, including food and nutrition security as well as urban governance[1]. City governments are also working together in networks that foster collaboration and mutual learning, the most prominent of which is the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (currently signed by 163 cities). Other collaboration mechanisms and networks include the CITYFOOD network by ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability together with the RUAF Foundation, and the C40 Food Systems Network.

At the city-level, there is growing recognition of the need to improve urban food and nutrition. Several cities have developed or are in the process of developing specific food and nutrition policies.


[1] UN Habitat Slum Almanac 2015-2016,

GAIN’s Urban Governance for Nutrition Program

The Urban Governance for Nutrition program – one of GAIN’s newest programs – is helping urban governments improve their citizens’ nutrition through improved governance of nutrition. The program will result in:

  • Disseminated knowledge on program and policy issues pertaining to urban nutrition governance;
  • Two supported city plans and cases demonstrating the process and outcome of engagement with local governments on urban governance for nutrition;
  • Raised awareness of nutrition (governance) in international urban policy fora and of the importance of improving urban governance for nutrition with international nutrition actors.

It is crucial to generate a better understanding of what successful nutrition governance in urban areas looks like and how it is best achieved. GAIN will work with two city governments – Tanzania and Indonesia – to create sound nutrition policies. At the same time, we are focusing on building a knowledge base on urban nutrition governance. We will build a robust set of methodology, tools and metrics that can be utilized to assess when urban nutrition governance is successful.

As part of this program, GAIN will also collaborate with partners such as the RUAF Foundation, Buffalo University and SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, and team up with the existing (city-to-city) networks to encourage sharing of lessons learned and enabling linkages between cities in which GAIN works and other cities. In addition, GAIN is continuously advocating for prioritization of nutrition in urban policies and the importance of good governance that comes with it.

Two city-projects


GAIN is supporting the Surabaya City Government to translate the national food and nutrition action plan into local policy. We plan to conduct a landscape analysis and to discuss recommended next steps with the city government. The implementation will run from July 2018 – 2020. A multi-stakeholder working group will be set up (city government, academia, media and NGOs) to (1) develop the city action plan with appropriate indicators; (2) identify possible interventions; (3) work with media to develop mechanisms to create transparency and accountability on the plan and its implementation; and (4) provide technical assistance to implement key interventions.


GAIN is in the formative research stage and is selecting a city that has the most potential to be the focus of in-depth support to co-develop urban food and nutrition policy and improve governance. After the city selection an in-depth landscape analysis will be conducted from April – July 2018, culminating a project design workshop.