Supporting food security through local, circular food systems

Cities are at the epicenter of food value chain vulnerabilities 

Despite the zero hunger goal set in 2015 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the number of people affected by hunger globally has been slowly on the rise since 2014. An estimated 2 billion people in the world did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food in 2019. Recent estimates by the UN Environment Programme indicate that 17 percent of total global food production is lost or wasted. Most of this share resulted from activities taking place in urban areas (61 per cent came from households, 26 per cent from food service and 13 per cent from retail). Compounding matters is that the route from farmers to urban consumers has become increasingly long and complex, making food value chains particularly vulnerable to external shocks such as climate change and health crisis.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and ICLEI have supported 26 cities in leading local multi-stakeholder Food Dialogues ahead of the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit. Most participating cities have emphasized their jurisdiction’s dependence on food imports and a lack of equitable access to safe and healthy food. Yet simultaneously,  cities of the ICLEI network are repetitively emphasizing that their local waste management capacity is being stretched thin by increasing levels of organic waste. Finally, with less than 2% of nutrients in the food byproducts and human waste generated in cities being safely recovered, cities are far from closing the loop on food loss and waste.

These challenges are difficult to address because they are triggered across sectors and actors in globalized food value chains. With 80% of all food to be consumed in cities by 2050, local governments have a key role to play in the food systems transition.


How circular development can provide practical solutions

Circular development is a resource management framework which can be used to map opportunities to conserve resources and reduce waste and pollution along value chains. 

As a local government, orchestrating change across value chains can appear to be quite intimidating and perplexing. ICLEI, in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Circle Economy and Metabolic, set out to illustrate what circular development looks like at the local level.  Together, they developed the Circular City Actions Framework, a set of five interconnected strategies that can be applied to different sectors, including food.

The Circular City Actions Framework encourages local governments to play their different roles (planner, regulator, convener, enabler, procurers, public service providers) to impact the entirety of food value chains. ICLEI’s City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems explores what this looks like in practice through concrete examples from 50+ local governments worldwide. The Handbook identifies supporting local and circular food supply chains as a pivotal intervention to address food systems challenges.


Supporting local food supply chains from farm to fork

Short food supply chains are characterized by a reduction of the geographic distance and number of intermediaries between food producers (including farmers) and consumers. 

Shorter food supply chains are linked to food loss reduction and sustainable innovations in farming and production methods. Notably for GHG reductions, they contribute to climate goals by reducing food miles (the distance which a food item is transported during the journey from producer to consumer) and protecting carbon sinks such as soil and lands.

Shorter food supply chains also increase local food sovereignty and resilience while reducing local farmers’ economic uncertainties by guaranteeing farmers’ supply will be met by local demand. 

Here’s how local governments can support local food chains from farm to fork: 

  • As planners and regulators, they can plan for peri-urban agriculture on city-owned land and vacant urban spaces. Medellín (Colombia) started Huertas para el Abastecimiento, a municipal program of urban and peri-urban gardens, to support the development of proximity markets. 
  • As enablers, governments can facilitate local food producers access to business and marketing training like in Ede and Barneveld (the Netherlands). Farmers now have the opportunity to participate in “Short Food Chain Masterclasses” organized by the municipalities.
  • As conveners, they can promote communal or group ownership of machinery and storage facilities through cooperatives or other collaboration mechanisms. Throughout Covid-19 in Beijing (China), the Municipal Agricultural and Rural Bureau has assisted local farmers in connecting with input enterprises through the “Agricultural Products Supply and Demand Platform” to facilitate joint bulk purchases to lower costs.
  • As procurers, they can include local food quotas in food service contracts. Ontario (Canada) set up the  “buy Ontario” food procurement policy which binds all City divisions engaged in the purchase of food to include in their procurement documents appropriate specifications to increase local content in food purchases.
  • As public service providers, they can close the loop on organic waste by ensuring it is recovered and reintroduced in local food production systems. Bogor City (Indonesia) initiated an organic waste management protocol using the black soldier fly (BSF), a beneficial insect that reproduces in organic waste. The fly’s larvae consume a quantity of the waste, and can also be used as an alternative for animal feed. Remaining residual waste can later be used as organic fertilizer, thereby supporting local and regional agriculture. 

To learn more about how ICLEI supports circular food systems, please reach out to:

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