TMG Think Tank for Sustainability
Urban Food Futures

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 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

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

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 and Cape Town 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.

Crowdsourcing data

Crowdsourcing data

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.

Mutual accountability

Mutual accountability

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

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.

Regional Dialogue of the Urban Food Futures Programme

Event Programme

Regional Dialogue of the Urban Food Futures Programme

From coping to transformation: Women’s perspectives on achieving food security in times of polycrises.

Written by TMG Urban Food Futures Team

Published on Feb 16, 2024

Rethinking the Informal Food Sector of Nairobi

Article

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

Article

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

Article

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

Article

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

Article

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

18
March
2024
UN Commission on the Status of Women: The Nexus of Food Security, GBV & Addiction
11
March
2024
UN Commission on the Status of Women: Social digital tools safeguarding women´s land
18
February
2024
Regional Dialogue: From coping to transformation: Women’s perspectives on achieving food security in times of polycrises.
29
March
2023
The informal sector as a lever for urban food system transformation
26
February
2023
Towards more inclusive and resilient African cities: Valorizing the informal sector as a critical lever for food system transformation
15
November
2022
Cape Town’s Food and Nutrition Crisis: Crafting systemic responses to systemic challenges

Learn more about our activities

Check out our different channels where we publish articles, videos, and analyses of global and local debates

TMG Think Tank for Sustainability consists of TMG Research gGmbH, an independent, non-partisan, non-for-profit organization registered in Berlin (District Court Charlottenburg, HRB 186018 B, USt.-ID: DE311653675) and TMG - Töpfer, Müller, Gaßner GmbH, a private company registered in Berlin (District Court Charlottenburg, HRB 177576 B USt.-ID: DE306832549).

Our main address is EUREF Campus 6-9, 10829 Berlin, Germany.

© 2024 TMG Think Tank for Sustainability. All Rights Reserved.