With some of the fastest growing cities in the world, Africa faces multiple and interrelated challenges in achieving food and nutrition security, as well as decent livelihoods for all. These include an accelerated climate crisis, population growth, rising rural-urban migration, extensive and largely unregulated urbanization, deepening economic inequality, and the exclusion of large segments of the population from governance structures.
Urban Food Futures is a transdisciplinary action-research programme conducted in cooperation with TMG's partners from academia and civil society. With hubs in Nairobi, Ouagadougou and Cape Town, our research is focused on informal settlements and low-income urban neighbourhoods that are largely locked out of formal service provision and governance structures. With informality as the connecting thread, we explore pathways to transform food systems and achieve the right to food for all.
Trading to eat
Valorizing the contribution of informal livelihoods towards vibrant and food-secure cities
The informal economy is a powerful force shaping Africa’s rapidly expanding cities. Due to the scarcity of formal jobs and the systemic exclusion many poor people face, informal-economy livelihoods are an important safety net across most African cities. This is particularly true for women and youth. However, punitive policies towards informal trade and weak protective mechanisms against economic displacement by more powerful formal entities put livelihoods in the informal economy at risk, and represent an important causal driver of urban food insecurity. Yet it need not be this way. A food-sensitive approach to urban planning and design presents an opportunity to valorize informal traders as allies in cities’ efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition.
Coping with crises
Learning together about how to institutionalize support for bottom-up coping strategies.
Low-income urban communities are largely left on their own to cope with chronic adversity and extreme shocks. Women play a critical role in such coping mechanisms, both at household and community level. However, as our research in Nairobi, Cape Town and Ougadougou shows, successful bottom-up coping mechanisms such as community kitchens or savings groups, continue to rely heavily on women’s overstretched personal resources and unpaid work. Transitioning from such community driven solutions to systemic transformation therefore requires building an enabling environment that fosters both local agency as well as accountability by power holders.
Working with urban communities to strengthen informed decision making and accountability
In fragile settings, governments and civil society often lack information to adequately respond to multifaceted crises. This challenge is particularly acute in densely populated informal urban settlements. While some city-aggregated data on food security may be publicly available, this is often outdated and unlikely to offer localized and real-time insights on food and nutritional dynamics. As demonstrated by the Covid-19 crisis, this lack of place-specific information not only hinders emergency responses, but undermines critically needed strategic planning processes to create more inclusive and sustainable food systems. With targeted support, communities in low-income urban settings could provide much needed contextualized information to tackle this data gap.
With pens and pots to parliament: Bridging the gap between communities and governance processes
“Poverty and inequality are the underlying structural causes of food insecurity and malnutrition in all its forms," (FAO, 2021). By focusing on pathways to progressively realize the right to food as a binding global agreement, TMG and its partners aim to get at the heart of such inequalities. Both South Africa and Kenya recognize the Right to Food in their constitutions and have subsequently developed supporting national policies on food security. However, this "food mandate" remains highly fragmented across departments and spheres of government, making it hard to operationalize, especially at the level of local governments that interface most directly with community organizations.
Controlled Environment Agriculture
Rethinking urban farming for food and nutrition security and climate resilience
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,2021), Africa's agricultural production growth has contracted by more than 30% over the past six decades due to climate change. Continued global warming will further impact African food systems by shortening growing seasons and increasing water stress. Despite accounting for a small fraction of the food needs of Africa's growing cities, urban and peri-urban agriculture can enhance local access to fresh vegetables, pulses, eggs, and other high nutritive value foods. Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) approaches such as hydroponic farming can be a cost-effective and eco-friendly alternative where farming space is limited or where land tenure systems are complex.
Crafting systemic responses to strengthen the informal sector's contribution to food security
Exploring pathways to urban food system transformation
Pathways to transform urban food systems
Bridging the disconnect between policy intentions and the realities of urban food insecurity
Food system transformation requires a compass: Ours is the progressive realization of the right to food in low-income urban settings
“Food is not a peculiar challenge in times of crisis. Food is the common crisis”
Rethinking the Informal Food Sector of Nairobi
This opinion brief puts the informal economy at the centre of the food sector in Nairobi, discusses challenges and potential, current developments and innovations and the importance of informal vendors in supplying the urban poor in the growing metropolis
Written by Christian Sonntag
Published on Nov 2, 2023
The Megatrend Concept and Reflections on it
An opinion brief from the Urban Food Futures programme reflecting on the concept of megatrends as an approach to address the transformation of African urban and food systems
Written by Gareth Haysom, Nicole Paganini
Published on Sep 20, 2023
Culinary Canvas: Exploring Intersectionality and Crises through Cape Town's Feminist Flavors
An opinion brief from the Urban Food Futures programme analysing the role of social capital in building resilience against polycrises from a gender perspective.
Written by Nicole Paganini, Zayaan Khan
Published on Sep 20, 2023
The Right to Food in South Africa and Kenya
An opinion brief from the Urban Food Futures programme examining the Right to Food policy implementation in South Africa and Kenya as a response to persistent food insecurity
Written by Lena Bassermann, Thembeka Sikobi
Published on Sep 20, 2023
Getting the story right and telling it well
This Chapter featured in "Writing Together" published by transcript Verlag, authored by Nicole Paganini & Sanelisiwe Nyaba (Mimi), explores the decolonization of research & academic writing through storytelling and collaborative writing.
Written by Sanelisiwe Nyaba, Nicole Paganini
Published on Sep 20, 2023
Feasibility Study - Ruben Centre Demo Unit
A feasibility study by our partner Miramar International Foundation to determine the most appropriate Controlled Environment Agriculture system and best suited vegetable crops for school feeding in Nairobi’s Mukuru informal settlement.
Written by Francis Kabiru, Catherine Nina, Benadatte Kosgei
Published on Jul 25, 2023
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