Urbanization and hunger: food policies and programs, responding to urbanization, and benefiting the urban poor in three cities.

Author:Wurwarg, Jessica
Position:Transformative Solutions

With more than half of the world's population urbanized and two-thirds of urbanites in developing countries, populations are moving away from agriculture-based livelihoods. However, people still must eat. This paper provides case study analyses of food security policies and programs in three cities at varying levels of development--Addis Ababa, Bogota, and New York City--and examines the food security issues faced by these changing urban populations, and how policies in these cities have addressed these concerns. It will explore the efficacy of policies and food security interventions by analyzing government and international community capacities as food production, distribution, and consumption change along with the processes of urbanization in both the developing and developed context. This includes an overview of Mayor Carson's food security policies, such as "Bogota sin Hambre," in Bogota; the international community's and NGOs' food security interventions, including an urban agriculture program in Ethiopia; and some of the Bloomberg administration's policies in New York City that encouraged urban and economic development through access to healthy food. The paper highlights the importance of the following issues in creating appropriate food security policies: the effects of rising food prices; transportation of food; differences between rural and urban hunger; urban food production; and increasingly significantly, the challenges posed by rising obesity rates.


As of 2008, more than half the world's population had migrated to urban areas, leading to fewer people living and working agricultural lifestyles. (2) As more people leave rural or agricultural lifestyles and move into urban and industrial lifestyles, the methods by which food is produced and people feed themselves will change--but this does not change the fact that we all still must eat.

As lifestyles change, the interactions people have with food--what they eat, how they eat it, how they get their food, how often they eat, and where the food comes from--also change. Even as our food system becomes increasingly globalized, the way lower-income people eat in urban centers is often very different from the way higher-income people eat, which leads to variance across income level of both nutrition and diet-related diseases. (3) Due to a variety of factors, including greater capacities and resources of governments in higher-income countries, and the fact that many urban poor in lower-income countries have the experience and space to produce some of their own food, the food security risks for the poor in a low-income country are often very different from those of the poor in a high-income country. In many cities, the food-secure live alongside the food-insecure. For instance, obesity as a hunger- or nutrition-related issue has been a growing public health concern in developed countries for the last few decades, and is increasingly becoming an issue in middle- and lower-income countries, particularly due to the changes in lifestyle by urbanization. (4) Obesity and related chronic health issues increasingly strain health care systems in both developed and developing countries. (5) Food security in general, but particularly urban food security, is affected by international policies, trade practices, national government policies, and programs relating to agriculture, economics, social safety nets, urban planning, and migration patterns. (6)

Acknowledging that our food systems are part of a complex interdisciplinary web is important to understanding the current state of food security. This paper will examine the interaction between urbanization, nutrition, food pricing, and food security in three cities in both developing and developed countries: Bogota, Colombia; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and New York City in the United States. To illustrate this interaction, the paper will examine some policies and programs put into place to improve food security, and will consider both the impacts of these food security initiatives and how food security issues and possible solutions differ across the cases, with results often varying according to the municipal government's capacity and the country's level of development. In addition to understanding the multi-disciplinary aspects of food security, the role of the government, international agency, or NGO implementing each food security program is also quite significant to understaning program effectiveness.


Food Insecurity

When examining the topics of food security and urbanization, it is important to understand what comprises food insecurity, and where it is most prevalent. When people are food secure, they have access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food necessary to maintain a healthy and active life. (7) Hunger, a major element of food insecurity, traditionally falls into two categories: famine, an extreme and usually short-term scarcity of food, and chronic hunger or malnutrition, the more pervasive lack of the right kind of food over an extended period of time. A report from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that the number of people in developing countries who are overweight or obese has increased 260 percent since 1980; this information only compounds the challenges faced by governments and policymakers. (8) In fact, experts have recently explained a link between the increasingly global public health issues of obesity and chronic hunger: people who are obese often lack the same micronutrients as those who are undernourished, and obesity is often prevalent where people lack consistent access to nutritious food. (9)

Food insecurity and poverty are correlated globally, and accordingly, the growing obesity epidemic flits across income levels over time. For many years, obesity affected people specifically in richer countries--often lower-income people in more developed countries, and then higher-income people in less-developed countries--and now it seems to be impacting lower-income people in middle- and low-income countries, as well. (10)

The Nature of Urban Food Insecurity

Understanding the concept of the nutrition transition is helpful when assessing urban food security. The nutrition transition describes a global trend of diet modification in terms of type of food consumed, physical activity, health, and nutrition. Diet changes usually are attributed to industrialization, globalization, urbanization, and the rural-to-urban lifestyle migration, which often involves diminished activity and changes in diet due to the prevalence of processed food choices offered in cities, generally at lower prices. A shift from rural environments where migrants once grew and prepared food for meals to urban environments where the availability of inexpensive, processed food of lower nutritional value obviates that activity, combined with the traditionally more sedentary lifestyle of the urban population, will lead to continued increases in obesity rates. (11)

The nutrition transition concept illustrates that certain aspects of food insecurity are more specifically urban than rural, and thus concern municipal governments and policymakers in cities across all lines of income and levels of development. Since the 2007 to 2008 global food price crisis, rising food prices have impacted the urban poor more negatively than the rural poor because the urban poor tend not to produce their own food, and depend on markets and market prices. (12) For these lowest-income urban residents, regular access to a healthy meal is a very real concern, as is physical access. Many cities lack sufficient grocery stores or markets with affordable and healthy food in lower-income areas, or adequate public transportation in these areas that would allow people to reach food markets. Ensuring safe and regulated methods of urban food production is a concern facing cities in both high- and low-income countries alike, but in very different ways. The ways municipalities address these concerns vary from city to city, depending both on the level of development of the country and the capacity of the municipal government. The case studies below illustrate responses to urban food insecurity.


Latin America' surban population is increasing in lockstep with a rise in urban poverty. (13) The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that, as of 2012, between 4.9 to 5.5 million people had been displaced by the decades-long civil war and other social conflicts, making Colombia the country with the most internally displaced persons in the world. (14) Thousands of these displaced persons migrate each year to Bogota, which has increased the strain on the new and old urban poor who seek work, housing, and food.

Bogota's current population is approximately 7.4 million, with an urban growth rate of 2.3 percent. (15) Of the 7.4 million, about 40 percent are migrants, and more than 20 percent of the population lives in poverty--over 1.4 million people. (16) Twenty-five percent of Bogota's children are malnourished. (17) Obesity rates in the city in 2008 were approximately 18 percent; nationally, the rate is approximately 40 percent. (18) Bogota's current obesity rate lags behind that of other Latin American cities; Mexico City's rate is approximately 31 percent, and Santiago, Chile's is 26.6 percent. (19) Troublingly, a 2010 case study showed that the rate...

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