“Co-developing knowledge among oppressed communities, women, people of colour, 'the researched' can create transformative agency to knowledge by steering and shaping the narrative around food in cities.”
- Sanelisiwe Nyaba
Our rapidly urbanising and globalising world is fundamentally changing how we produce, distribute, and consume food. As a "stress test" of our resilience, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed just how ill-equipped our governance structures are to manage the complex and interrelated underlying challenges in achieving inclusive and sustainable urban development.
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 urbanisation, deepening economic inequality, and the exclusion of large segments of the population from governance structures. All these interrelated challenges further impact on people's resilience to shocks and ability to drive more equitable and sustainable development.
Urban Food Futures is a transdisciplinary action-research programme conducted in cooperation with TMG's partners from academia and civil society. Our work is centred around hubs in Nairobi and Cape Town, where we focus on informal settlements and low income areas with a high prevalence of hunger and poverty. Informal settlements can be characterised as fragile contexts, largely locked out of formal service provision and governance structures. This requires a fundamental rethink of how to drive meaningful change in such settings. By focusing on informal structures and processes, we seek to contribute to new perspectives on urban food systems and informality with a view to identifying, testing, and adapting pathways for transformation in African cities.  
Our action research approach involves an ongoing process of joint reflection to arrive at a shared knowledge and understanding of challenges faced, possible solutions, and future perspectives. A key element in this is acknowledging different forms of knowledge, as well as lived experience of the communities we work with. Recognising the increasingly vital role of digitalisation in accelerating sustainable development, we also strive to identify opportunities to foster digital transformation processes that address the needs of vulnerable groups in urban and peri-urban settings.  
Funding for the Urban Food Futures programme is provided by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
We work closely with the following partners in Cape Town and Nairobi:








Topics

Governance, food sensitive planning, and urban land access

Governance, food sensitive planning, and urban land access

Food as an entry point to just and inclusive urban governance processes

Despite being melting pots of economic, social and political influences, the governance structures of modern cities were moulded by historical dynamics that are often insufficiently understood. In eastern and southern Africa, for example, colonial policies were designed to maximise wealth extraction by the colonial elite, while avoiding uprisings by an underpaid urban workforce. This led to major dietary shifts where diverse and nutritious traditional crops varieties were largely abandoned in favour of a handful of industrially processed staple foods that were cheaper and more convenient. The legacies of these food system choices remain evident in today’s unhealthy, carbon-rich urban diets, as well as the policy incentives that favour the continued dominance of such unhealthy food choices.
At the same time, African cities are growing rapidly and constantly evolving. How can we ensure that policy choices today are derived from bottom-up and context-specific planning processes that truly address the dynamics the diverse needs and diversity of city populations?
UN-HABITAT (2002) defines urban governance as: “....The many ways individuals and institutions, public and private, plan and manage the common affairs of the city. It is a continuing process through which conflicting or diverse interests may be accommodated and cooperative action can be taken. It includes formal institutions as well as informal arrangements and the social capital of citizens.” 
Food is highly political. It touches on manifold aspects of urban and peri-urban life, such as access to energy, land, and safe water. Despite this, food policies are not sufficiently integrated in urban planning and governance processes. In effect, decision making processes that impact on urban food systems are fundamentally undemocratic and primarily driven by corporate and other powerful interests.
Identifying with "right to the city" discourses, this workstream explores the role of participatory governance processes in opening up spaces for diverse voices, strengthening solidarity, and fostering local agency. By adopting food-sensitive planning and urban design as an entry point, we work with partners to explore systemic solutions for the unprecedented challenges facing cities today.

You can access the poster summarizing the findings from the scoping phase here.

Informality and resilient food systems

Informality and resilient food systems

Unpacking the potential of informality as a driver of resilience 

Our transdisciplinary action research focuses on informal urban settlements with a high prevalence of hunger and poverty. Informal settlements can be characterised as fragile contexts that are largely locked out of formal service provision and governance structures. We focus on the workings of informal structures and processes in order to better understand how to drive food system transformation in these settings.    
Cities function as hosts to a range of agrifood markets, which are in turn supplied by peri-urban and/or rural areas, as well as by global production sites. Since the food choices of urban consumers are quite different from those of rural consumers - who are often also food producers - it is important to understand what drives urban food consumption, especially among nutritionally insecure or vulnerable communities.
Food flows are the lifeline of informal urban settlements. But urban food systems do not always link producers and consumers in an efficient, inclusive, or sustainable way. While urban food production is often presented as a silver bullet for addressing food insecurity, in reality it plays an insignificant role in meeting local demand. In addition, the food produced does not always create positive livelihood or health outcomes. In Cape Town, low-income populations cannot afford to buy food grown in nearby community gardens, which is often targeted at wealthier city residents. Instead, they are often dependent on free, or highly subsidised food served at community kitchens. In Nairobi, on the other hand, food production in informal settlements is hampered by poor access to clean water, sanitation, and poor enforcement of environmental standards, which impacts on food safety.
To address these and other barriers to sustainable and resilient food systems in urban settlements requires focusing on the political economy of food flows. Our research in Nairobi and Cape Town introduces "True Cost Accounting" approaches to assess the full environmental and social costs of food systems. Drawing on consumer-level data and food vendor appraisal in both cities, we aim to strengthen the demand side of food sytems by supporting local communities to express demands for healthy foods while, creating green jobs in the agrifood supply chain. Other research tracts further explore how to support food vendors and other informal food actors to organise themselves to improve efficiencies of scale and avoid food price spikes.
In conclusion, while urban agriculture in its current form does not significantly contribute to the production of ample, affordable, or safe food, the huge gap between supply and demand of affordable and safe food in informal settlements opens up opportunities for more strategic approaches to urban and peri-urban agriculture. One approach, for example, is to explore the role of affordable technologies to increase the shelf-life of perishable goods, hence minimising losses.

You can access the poster summarizing the findings from the scoping work in Nairobi here and from the scoping work in Cape Town here.

Urban commons

Urban commons

Social capital is the currency of informality

This workstream explores urban commons as spaces for social cohesion and nutrition justice. This potential was clearly revealed in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, when social networks such as community kitchens and savings and credit groups became a primary coping strategy for many.
The concept of commons traditionally refers to nature-based resources, such as forests or fisheries, collectively owned by (indigenous) communities. However, as the discourse has grown over the past decades, it has expanded to include non-material resources and different geographies.
In this context, the concept of urban commons does not refer to a static hub, but describes spaces that are undergoing dynamic processes of "commoning." Urban commons bring together communities of people experiencing intense pressures - such as changing demands on land and exclusion from their livelihoods - to debate, cope, adapt, and steer change towards a better future.
Urban commons include housing projects, social networks, public(or temporarily occupied) spaces, community gardens, Wifi connections, art, and food hubs such as school, saving schemes or community kitchens and gardens. Commons in urban areas emerge in reaction to, and in struggle with multiple factors. They are enacted in densely populated or contested spaces, and shaped by competing financial investments. At their heart, however, they are built around social relationships.
Urban nutrition hubs such as community kitchens and schools can significantly contribute to wellbeing. They not only provide access to healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate foods, but a place where communities seek and gain identity, connection, exchange, and solidarity. Federici (2019) characterises these hubs as places of transformation where the production and processing of food in urban spaces is commonised and organised by a community that equally decides and benefits. She describes the idea of commons as a feminist approach: resistance and reorganisation in times of social injustice and ecological crisis.
Conversely, food commons are predominantly built on the backs of women who carry out the bulk of (unpaid) work, as well as resourcing of community gardens, kitchens and feeding schemes.

Strengthening voice and agency

Commons are not a thing but social relationships (Federici, 2019)
Against this backdrop, our research explores the potential of urban food initiatives to create more inclusive communities, and ultimately contribute towards transforming local governance. We define the process of "commoning" as the intersection of diverse elements, including resources, people, and the governance process itself. We explore diverse processes of commoning, in which resources are not distributed on the basis of price (market) or regulation (state), but by self-organised communities who negotiate and renegotiate rules for collaboration and sharing. We further unpack the potential of joining up urban nutrition hubs to strengthen community agency, and amplify local voices in political processes. We align ourselves to a definition of agency as “the capacity of individuals and groups to exercise a degree of control over their own circumstances and to provide meaningful input into governance processes” (Clapp et al 2022, 3).
In linking food and nutrition security to agency, we challenge existing assumptions of food access as being predominantly market-orientated. The emergent discourse is therefore about the ways in which food system transformation can work towards increasing access in ways that increases and exercises agency. From a transformation perspective, this work will explore whether community kitchens can help open spaces to re-imagine unjust food systems and unpack power relations that shape urban planning in cities in Africa.

You can access the poster summarizing the findings from the scoping phase here.

References: Clapp, J., Moseley, W. G., Burlingame, B., & Termine, P. (2021). The case for a six-dimensional food security framework. Food Policy, 102164; Federici, S., 2019. Re-enchanting the world. Feminism and the Politics of the Commons, Oakland 

News & Blog Posts

Urban displacements: Facing up to rising food insecurity in Nairobi
Blog Post

Urban displacements: Facing up to rising food insecurity in Nairobi

Analysing media reporting of evictions in the Mukuru informal settlement of Nairobi
Urban Food Futures: a critical analysis of findings from the scoping phase
Publication

Urban Food Futures: a critical analysis of findings from the scoping phase

The Urban Food Futures team is wrapping up its scoping work and is sharing insights gained from selected case study areas
Empowered women: Re-imagining food and community in Cape Town
Blog Post

Empowered women: Re-imagining food and community in Cape Town

Project partners meet some women using community kitchens to drive social transformation in Cape Town's informal settlements.
Re-Imagining Food In Cities: Working On A Theory Of Change For Urban Food Futures In Cape Town 
Blog Post

Re-Imagining Food In Cities: Working On A Theory Of Change For Urban Food Futures In Cape Town 

In January 2022 the Urban Food Futures programme partners in Cape Town met to jointly formulate and discuss the programme's Theory of Change.
Transforming urban food systems starting from consumption: a reflection on the 2022 International Symposium on Nutrition
Blog Post

Transforming urban food systems starting from consumption: a reflection on the 2022 International Symposium on Nutrition

This year’s International Nutrition Symposium was all about the urban nutrition transition and the question: “How do we change consumer behaviour towards more sustainability?”
School feeding: Challenges, Trends and Opportunities
Blog Post

School feeding: Challenges, Trends and Opportunities

School feeding programmes are the most extensive social safety net worldwide and increasingly seen as a lever to not only achieve children’s human rights to food, education and health but also transform food systems more holistically.

Publications

Urban Food Systems Governance

Info Brief

Urban Food Systems Governance

Gareth Haysom, Jane Battersby, Nomonde Buthelezi, Kathrin Krause, Patrick Njoroge, Atula Owade, Jemima Spring, Jane Weru

Engaging urban food governance in inclusive and transparent ways, enhancing and valorizing agency and developing methods for food sensitive planning

Food Flows: Community kitchens and gardens in Gugulethu, Cape Town

Info Brief

Food Flows: Community kitchens and gardens in Gugulethu, Cape Town

Deon Lottering, Kathrin Krause, Nomonde Buthelezi, Busi Selena, Pamela Silwana, Nicole Paganini, Jane Battersby, Gareth Haysom

Mapping existing community kitchens and gardens in the informal settlement Gugulethu in Cape Town

Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA) and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)

Info Brief

Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture (UPA) and Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA)

Louisa Nelle, Catherine Nina, Jeff Njau, Francis Kabiru, Sammy Kiprono, Joseph Mathenge, Samuel Kinyanjui, Ednah Okello, Bernhard Hoeper, Razack Belemgnegre, Samuel Wairimu, Haidee Swanby, Edouard Sango

Exploring the role UPA and CEA can play in building local urban food system resilience

Urban Commons: Community kitchens, saving schemes, and school feeding programmes

Info Brief

Urban Commons: Community kitchens, saving schemes, and school feeding programmes

Jane Battersby, Keren Ben-Zeev, Nomonde Buthelezi, Matilda Fazaki, Serah Kiragu-Wissler, Patrick Njoroge, Sanelisiwe Nayaba, Atula Owade, Nicole Paganini, Caroline Peters, Wendy Peuker, Pamela Silwana, Edouard Sango, Mary Wambui, Samuel Wairimu,Jane Weru

Exploring the potential urban commons hold as spaces for social cohesion and nutrition justice

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