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Steering Conversations for Building Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Urban Food Systems

Reflections on African cities’ path towards sustainability

by Atula Owade | 2022-07-27

Steering Conversations for Building Climate-Resilient and Sustainable Urban Food Systems

Cities worldwide are attempting to reconfigure their food systems to achieve an array of objectives related to climate change, public health, and social justice. Recognising the importance of fostering the coordination of many actors, multiple fora are dedicated to sharing cities’ experiences and insights in building climate-resilient and sustainable urban food systems. Over the last months, TMG’s Urban Food Futures’ team followed discussions at the #AfricanCITYFOODMonth and the Africities Forum to reflect on African cities’ path towards sustainability.

Background to the #AfricanCITYFOODMonth

The #AfricanCITYFOODMonth is an annual campaign highlighting diverse, innovative, and evolving African urban food systems. The event which runs throughout July was launched in 2020 by ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability, a global network working with more than 2500 local and regional governments committed to sustainable urban development. #AfricanCITYFOODMonth is meant to support cross-sector, multi-stakeholder engagements and knowledge about urban food systems. This year’s theme is “Nourishing our Cities towards Recovery”.

Still ongoing, with the last event taking place Thursday 28 July, the monthlong series of discussions call on participants to reflect on the journey of recovery that African cities are taking in the face of multiple shocks and stresses that disrupt their food systems. Events explore different dimensions of food systems, looking at ways of streamlining multi-level (national and local) food systems governance and investment opportunities in Africa’s urban food systems.

Investing in Urban Food System Transformations

Held virtually by ICLEI Africa and its partners on 20 July 2022, one of the trademark events during the month was titled, “Investment Opportunities in Africa’s Urban Food Systems”. The session was meant to promote sustainable nourishment of urban populations by sparking targeted investments. ICLEI sought to achieve this goal by highlighting urban food system investment opportunities its project sites (Cape Town, Lilongwe, Lusaka, Maputo, and Arusha); identifying governance processes needed to support investments, and matchmaking with funders to invest in key opportunities for improving resilience and nutritional outcomes in the five project cities.

Representatives of the project cities ICLEI works on highlighted the investment priorities in their respective regions. The presentation from Cape Town, focused on encouraging investments to informal traders operating in the Cape Town fresh produce market. The interventions proposed by Rise Africa included: Providing traders with a revolving business loan; investing in food storage facilities, and provision of trainings for business and financial management.

In Arusha, one of the major concerns mentioned was contamination of food particularly along the fruits and vegetable value chain. As such, development of food safety infrastructure is a key area of interest therein. A similar issue was raised by the representatives from Lilongwe, who called for the need for investments in food storage and value addition hubs to minimize contamination and wastage. Furthermore, the Lilongwe team spoke on the need to streamline national and local governance processes to ease private sector investments.

Background to Africities Forum

From 17-21 May this year, the Africities Forum took place in Kisumu, Kenya. Organized by the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) of Africa, the Forum shapes transformative policy reforms to improve the lives of populations in urban areas. This 9th Edition of the event held every three years, facilitated discussions between more than 8000 delegates under the theme, "The Role of intermediary cities of Africa in the implementation of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union".

United Cities and Local Governments in Africa (UCLG-Africa) Secretary General Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi (in brown gown) leads delegates during the closing session of Africities Forum on 21/05/2022 in Kisumu, Kenya.

According to UCLG, intermediary cities have populations of between fifty thousand and a million people. One thousand five hundred such towns are spread out around the continent, holding more than 30% of Africa’s urban population and accounting for 40% of GDP. As urban areas keep expanding amid environmental pressures due to climate change, the need for resilience in urban food systems through adaptation and mitigation is gaining more urgency. Consequently, during this year's conference, some of the main focal points were involved adapting intermediary cities to climate change for food security.

Feeding Intermediate Cities

During the Africities Forum, various delegates proposed ways of building the resilience of urban food systems to climate change through mitigative and adaptive initiatives, with some mentioned here. Arriana Francioni from the WFP pointed out that her organization is building a climate disaster preparedness system. This will serve as an early warning system to analyze cities at serious risk to avert food crises in cities located in Southern African countries. H.E. Joaquim Chissano, Former President of Mozambique, stressed the importance of decentralizing governance to boost the efficiency of food system initiatives. Governor James Nyoro from Kiambu County in Kenya weighed in on urban and peri-urban agriculture. While acknowledging that production next to consumption areas shortens the supply chain and lowers prices, he also warned that" there is stiff competition for land in urban areas between agriculture and more profitable economic activities, especially real estate."

Also speaking on urban and peri-urban agriculture was Jane Weru, an Executive Director at the Nairobi-based Akiba Mashinani Trust, a constituent of Muungano Alliance, one of TMG’s partner organizations. Ms. Weru stated that that a lack of security of tenure, especially among residents of informal settlements, limited any meaningful investments in production. “Such limitations can be overcome by interventions such as the Mukuru Special Planning Area (SPA)." Co-developed and co-steered by her organization and 40+ partners, the Mukuru SPA helped secure land tenure for up to dozens of households in Nairobi's Mukuru Informal Settlement Belt.

Oumar Gueye spoke on behalf of the Senegalese Government. He argued that effective food systems development starts with a comprehensive mapping with all actors in the urban areas and their interactions. Gareth Haysom from the Cape Town-based African Center for Cities, also a TMG partner, pointed out that one of the main tasks for urban planners is to formulate physical and governance structures that strengthen interconnections between food systems and other systems, including health, social, and energy systems. Doing so lays the foundation for interventions that build resilient and inclusive urban food systems.


Building resilience to climate change in urban food systems requires the concerted effort of multiple stakeholders. As these two conferences have shown, there are numerous entry points, including building a climate disaster preparedness system, galvanizing financial resources to fund resilience activities, and developing legislative frameworks to define climate-resilient urban planning and food-sensitive governance and strengthen interconnections with other systems.

To support and steer such entry points, TMG Research’s Urban Food Futures program focuses on action research on transformation of urban food systems through community-led processes. While our projects are centered in large cities such as Nairobi, Cape Town, and Ouagadougou, the lessons drawn will guide building resilient food systems in intermediate cities such as Kisumu. With the Africities Forum behind us and the #AfricanCITYFOODMonth approaching its end, the next step involves formulating the relevant social, political, and technological solutions.

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