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OPINION: The future of food systems depends on citiesCities can support the transformation needed in food systems to tackle global challenges like hunger, poverty and climate change.
With rising levels of urban migration, the future of human habitat lies in cities, which also means cities represent the future of food systems.
Already home to the majority of the global population, quickly growing urban hubs face enormous challenges but they are also the centre of opportunity for strengthening food systems at a national and international level.
But we cannot transform urban food systems alone. This is why a collective of cities has taken up a protagonist role ahead of the UN Food Systems Summit in September.
Building on July’s Pre-Summit to correct the course towards the UN’s 2030 Agenda will require the joint action of a wide range of actors at the global level. Cities are key allies.
From Milan to Mumbai to Miami, cities offer the greatest potential for shifting consumption that could reduce the contribution of food systems to climate change.
The Municipality of Copenhagen, for example, has committed to ensuring its 900 public kitchens use 90% organic ingredients to reduce reliance on processed foods, supporting local markets, reduced environmental impact and healthier diets. Meanwhile, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a Municipal Food Bank has been created to prevent food waste, and collect and redistribute food to those in need.
These commitments were made as part of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), an international agreement of Mayors dedicated to better food systems in their cities, which has consolidated in less than six years a group of 200 cities worldwide that share the same pledges to healthy, sustainable and inclusive food systems.
The importance of cities to food systems lie in their shared experiences. Cities committed to healthy, sustainable and inclusive food systems have a lot in common across the continents, from the challenges of urban inequality to the pressure on resources and opportunity for sustainable growth.
The MUFPP is a knowledge-based collective experience that can help greatly accelerate the innovative action by national governments, international entities and of all like-minded organisations.
Some of them, such as the city network C40 Cities with the “Good Food Cities” declaration, as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), have been partnering with cities for a while.
Cities are also beacons of innovation that could profoundly change the way in which we operate school meals, for instance, or advance rural-urban linkages in food production, both of which were on the agenda at the Pre-Summit gathering and are likely to inspire fresh commitments and partnerships at the Summit next month.
Cities are also the engines that power the levers of change, which include empowering women and delivering greater gender quality through food systems. In Dakar, Senegal, micro-gardening has been practised for years as an alternative form of sustainable urban agriculture, with a focus on including women and vulnerable groups.
And in Seoul, Korea, a citizen-led Food Master Plan 2030 is being created, with the support of public-private initiatives while in Washington D.C., food is seen as “medicine”, with a programme aiming at expanding access to healthy and affordable food for low-income residents who suffer from high rates of diet-related chronic diseases.
City mayors are very pragmatic and are used to direct accountability from their fellow citizens, which is why we bring to the table elements of our experience that could be easily reinterpreted and scaled up to sustain the progress embodied by the Summit.
But the biggest legacy is to have finally put food systems at the centre of the global agenda, and with the wide engagement of all interested parties.
This is an excellent basis to chart the future of food systems in a meaningful way. Cities are playing their part and are ready to do more.
We know well that we need the collaboration of all actors to achieve the very ambitious goals we are setting at the Summit. There will be no inclusive food systems if their components are not inclusive as well; there will be no sustainable food systems if they do not take the planet and the people into consideration at every step of development, and there will be no sustainable food systems that do not sustain our collective health.
The UN Secretary-General and his Special Envoy, Dr. Kalibata, have rightly built a comprehensive process of consultation and collective work on food systems.
Those of us representing cities feel that this Summit is the opportunity of a lifetime to change the course of how we feed the planet. The Covid-19 pandemic has made it ever more clear that we are in this together and can achieve our collective goals only by raising the bar of our ambition and supporting each other.
This article was first published by the Thompson Reuters Foundation
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