This piece was written by the ICLEI CityFood team.
2023 marked another big step to further consolidate food as a game changer, its interdependence with biodiversity, climate and health, and the need to address these systemically to achieve progress. With ten years on the ground, ICLEI’s CityFood is one of the oldest urban food programmes globally, and has seen increasing interest for partnerships across the globe. And with only seven harvests left until 2030, 2024 promises to be another busy year.
Recent times showed how different types of crises rapidly impact food supply and production, making it increasingly difficult for people, including vulnerable groups, to access and afford nutritious food. The COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, signed by 160 national governments, states it clearly: “any path to fully achieving the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement must include agriculture and food systems”. For the first time, countries committed to show how they include food in their national climate action pledges.
Local governments are particularly well placed to facilitate food initiatives that matter for their residents and communities. In fact, urban food systems are the entry door for action to address urban sustainability and carry considerable potential to address the triple challenge of climate change, biodiversity and health. CityFood cities are demonstrating that food systems transformation is a catalyst for effective climate action – while generating a wide range of social, health, economic, and environmental benefits for their communities. As part of its global CityFood programme, ICLEI continues to support municipalities around the world, particularly in three defined priority areas:
- Doubling down on school meals and food education
With SchoolFood4Change, ICLEI is running the largest EU project on school meals and food education with high ambition and big impact: better school food, better food education and better menus. By providing nutritious school meals, cities make sure that all children have access to good food and address at the same time food poverty and fast growing child obesity. In Europe, with the momentum of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, ICLEI initiated a large petition calling for “School meals and food education for every child in every school” reaching over 55,000 signatures and still counting.
These initiatives have been presented at the recent EU Food 2030 conference “Green and resilient food systems”, part of the European Commission’s research and innovation policy framework. The presence of a wide range of food system actors, and over 1000 participants showed that there is momentum that can be harnessed to accelerate the transition to sustainable food systems; in particular as the European Commission, together with EU Member States, plans to launch a European ‘Partnership for Safe and Sustainable Food Systems’ in 2024.
- Strengthening fresh food markets for healthier diets for all
Recent disruptions in food supply chains have underscored the vulnerability and interconnectedness of our food systems, posing challenges for farmers, governments and consumers. Over the past decade, CityFood has actively addressed these issues and advocated for the transformative potential of fresh food markets.
Building on this, in 2024, CityFood will embark on a new journey with the German Agency for International Cooperation GIZ, aiming to empower citizens to shift to healthier and more diversified nutrition while improving urban food environments. This transformative initiative will have two main components: at the local level, it will undertake a situation analysis of food markets in two pilot cities – Lusaka (Zambia) and Lilongwe (Malawi); at the global level, it will foster knowledge sharing, develop actionable guidance and advocate for the importance of leveraging food markets for healthier diets.
- Improving urban food environments and engaging youth, women and businesses across Africa
Recognising the importance of urban food environments for improving nutrition while protecting the environment, CityFood launched AfriFOODlinks in 2023 with more than 20 project cities involved.
2024 kicked-off with a city-city exchange visit in Dakar, which was the first of 10 city exchanges to take place in the upcoming months. 2024 will also see the publication of 20 State of City Food System reports and close collaboration with 5 African cities as the pilot project implementation begins. To catalyse the power of the private sector, 2024 also marks the inception of the food systems business innovation incubation in 5 cities – supporting women and youth food businesses working to solve circular economy challenges in their local food systems.
The CityFood journey in 2024
Building on the UN Food Systems Summit and the ever growing momentum on food systems transformation, CityFood has witnessed and is actively taking part in the creation of a booming and collaborative urban food systems community. In 2024, CityFood will further advocate for the key role of municipalities in transforming food systems and give visibility and resonance to transformative actions on the ground. An example is the recent letter sent to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, by ICLEI Europe and other 15+ organisations, urging Europe’s governmental institutions to leave a lasting and concrete legacy of the EU Farm to Fork strategy.
The Belgian EU Presidency Open Food Conference in Leuven, Belgium (March), the ICLEI World Congress in São Paulo, Brazil (June), and the European Sustainable Cities and Towns Conference in Aalborg, Denmark (October) will all address food and bring together engaged cities, partners and projects CityFood is working with. Such gatherings should lay the groundwork for a new phase made of concrete policies, projects and partnerships.