Food is an effective entry point to improve a city’s resilience.
- RUAF Global Partnership
The Covid-19 pandemic has made the links between health and socio-economic wellbeing ever more visible. Across Africa, it has taken a major toll on livelihoods and food security. Coupled with restrictions on movement, the ongoing crisis gravely impacted on poor urban residents making food not only more difficult to access, but also increasingly unaffordable.
Increased uncertainty in urban food systems led to the growing popularity of kitchen and community gardens in urban areas as well as the rise in the use of innovative digital marketing and food distribution systems. As urban farms are finding their way into people’s homes, community gardens and unused city spaces, they bring a huge potential in improving access to healthy and diverse food, generating income, promoting sustainable livelihoods, strengthening communities, and building resilience to climate change.
However, the integration of agriculture in urban- and peri-urban development planning requires enacting coherent policies that span, among other areas, zoning laws, agricultural extension, land tenure arrangements, and inclusive democratic processes. Spatial planning needs to consider adjacent communities in the urban-peri-urban-rural continuum.
With a focus on the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilisation and stability, this programme explores strategies for leveraging the potential of urban and peri-urban agriculture in Africa. Through the co-designing and co-developing process with our local partners, we identify entry points across all dimensions of sustainability (social, economic, and environmental). Furthermore, as digitalisation is playing an ever-greater role in urban and peri-urban food systems, we strive to identify and foster an enabling environment for vulnerable groups to benefit from digital transformation.




Exploring the role of digitalisation and social innovation for inclusive and sustainable development

While there are many successful development initiatives in the African region, entrenched structural inequalities and power asymmetries continue to lock out millions of people from taking charge of their own development aspirations. The Covid-19 pandemic, with its impact on economies, and disruption of movement and established social support networks, has mostly sharpened inequalities and increased the vulnerability of large segments of the population. Nevertheless, we have also observed some positive trends linked to restrictions on movement and other pandemic containment measures. These include a growing focus on kitchen and community gardens, as well as more localised food distribution systems, all of which have potential to enhance food security and build stronger communities in urban and peri-urban settings.
The aim of this thematic research strand is to explore the role of digital solutions in further strengthening food security and livelihood opportunities for marginalised groups. We explore how digitalisation can enhance the empowerment of vulnerable groups through strengthening access to information and public services, lowering transaction costs in the agri-food sector, and improving the design and enforcement of relevant public policies. We recognise, however, that technology alone is not a panacea for all development challenges, and take a critical look at the threats, as well as opportunities, of increased digitalisation in the agri-food sector. We also explore how to link digital solutions to social capital in both formal and informal sectors, as well as successful digital business models that support disadvantaged groups.

Urban Food Security

Urban Food Security

Tapping the potential of urban agriculture

Agricultural production is traditionally associated with rural areas. Consequently, urban, and peri-urban agriculture plays only a subordinate role in urban development plans, if at all. To achieve food security for all, especially with the continuing growth of urban metropolises around the world, there is need to focus on the four dimensions of food security (availability, access, utilisation, and stability) in both rural and urban food systems. In our projects, we examine the role of city planning, technological development, and civic engagement in unlocking the potential of urban and peri-urban agriculture to contribute to food security in Africa. Together with our partners in Nairobi (Kenya) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), and with more locations to come, we provide evidence-based analysis on how to strengthen social and technological innovations across the food production, processing, and marketing chain.
An added advantage of linking food access to urban planning processes is the opportunity to expand employment and livelihood options for poor urban residents, as well as agribusinesses. Our work highlights, among other structural issues: rights-based approaches to land access in urban settings; the need to redesign agricultural extension systems for urban settings; and innovative use of green spaces and other communal assets to enhance sustainable food production in urban and peri-urban areas.
Through our focus on food system transformations, we seek to create an enabling environment for urban and peri-urban agriculture that is critical in strengthening resilience to threats such as climate change, or Covid-19. Ultimately, we aim to contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and especially SDG1 (no poverty), SDG2 (zero hunger), SDG11 (sustainable cities and communities), and SDG17 (partnerships for the goals).

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