Author: Boglarka Ivanegova
Local has become a hybrid place that’s full of questions. Is it where I come from or where I am? Is it what surrounds me or what sustains it? It is both near and far, with permeable boundaries spreading across landscapes and mindsets. The local of everywhere is challenged and shaped by humankind, and urbanisation is one of the most dominant man- made forces at play. Occupying only about 3% of the earth’s terrestrial surface, cities consume 75% of its natural resources, 75% of primary energy, and emit up to 80% of global greenhouse gases posing vast obstacles to a sustainable future. Yet in spite (and because) of these challenges, they offer unique opportunities to transition to sustainable development pathways. The way they are planned and managed will determine whether they become a force for environmental destruction or way more preferably, for sustainable development. As an expert in food security I frame my research on food planning within cities, a tool that can substantially contribute to the achievement of goals set out in SDGs 1,2 and 3.
Urban hunger and food insecurity are becoming central challenges of the rapidly urbanising world, yet food security is almost intuitively considered to be an issue that affects only rural populations.  Approximately 780 million of the world’s hungry live in developing countries where 90% of the future urban growth is projected to occur. Being born in, or moving into a city does not alleviate hunger and poverty, it just adds an urban dimension to it.
The benefits and prosperity of cities are allocated disproportionately. We find at the same time and within the same cities the best and worst for health and well-being. The quarter of the world’s urban population (approximately 881 million people) live in slum settings - in vague, undefined, illegal spaces. Their inhabitants are often neglected – as public authorities do not collect information in informal or illegal settlements and miss homeless people altogether.  According to the UN Refugee Agency, over 60% of refugees (11.7 million people out of 19.5 million) and 80% of internally displaced people (27.2 million people out of an estimated 34 million) now live in towns and cities with additional challenges of absent legal frameworks.  And what is undefined and unmeasured may as well be deemed invisible.
In these ambiguous, post-factual times where even climate change is denied, I believe that the only way to predict the future is to design it. Only aware and integrated city-region strategies can effectively tackle the challenges of localities everywhere. There has been conspicuously little mention of food, agriculture and nutrition related challenges in the urban planning declarations, commitments and action plans of the past 20 years. Yet bringing food back to the urban planning agenda has the potential to enhance human and ecosystem health, city-region landscapes and value chains, political structures and social relationships within and around cities.
My ideal strategy would be adopt a rights-based approach to development, making clear commitments towards the progressive realisation of the right to food. The strategy should not be limited to the administrative boundaries of the city but should pay equal attention to peri-urban and rural areas that provide vital ecosystem services, including valuable agricultural land. The city after all is a complex socio-ecological system, continually exchanging resources, products and services, waste, people, ideas and finances with the broader world. City-dwellers should be enabled to participate in the making of those policies that affect their day-to-day lives. These have to include the most vulnerable communities as well as the informal sector. Any municipality should reaffirm its commitment to provide universal basic services to all, protect green and public spaces, create livelihood opportunities, ensure inclusive infrastructure and value chains that are structurally open to low-income citizens and informal traders.
Many great words have been festively declared, an uncountable number commitments have been outlined and there are carefully crafted voluntary guidelines for the achievement of many virtuous goals. What is needed now, I believe, is to focus less on what makes each SDG unique and more on how they feed back into each other. Poverty will not be eliminated without food and nutrition security, and vice versa. Food and nutrition security will not be ensured without the adequate infrastructure and innovation, and vice versa. The spotlight needs to shift from fancy words to directly enforceable, carefully planned local interventions co-created by those whom they are to serve.
1. Agenda.” Development Southern Africa, 28(4): 527-544.
2. UN Habitat. Slum Almanac 2015-2016.
3. WHO and UN Habitat. 2010. Hidden Cities: Unmasking and overcoming health inequalities in urban settings.
4. UNHCR. Urban Refugees. URL: http://www.unhcr.org/urban-refugees.html