Spotlight on Urbanisation in the 2017 Global Food Policy Report

Rapid urbanisation, particularly in developing countries, is reshaping food security and nutrition in both rural and urban areas, says a report newly published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The “2017 Global Food Policy Report” highlights that as rapid urbanisation continues around the world, poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition are increasingly becoming urban problems. The report turns the spotlight on urbanisation, saying that this rapid shift is changing diets and reshaping food chains – from small farms to modern supermarkets. “Going forward, policies and investments to end hunger and malnutrition must take account of the needs of poor urban populations and develop strong links between rural food producers and urban markets to support both rural and urban populations,” the report states.

According to the report, urbanisation and population growth are expected to put mounting pressure on the global food system, as agricultural production comes under stress from environmental degradation, climate change and extreme weather conditions. It states that the triple burden of malnutrition: the coexistence of hunger, undernutrition and over-nutrition, in the form of overweight and obesity, have increased as urbanisation has accelerated in some developing countries.

The findings in the 2017 Global Food Policy Report, are aligned with a soon-to-be launched report by the Asia Roundtable on Food Innovation for Improved Nutrition (ARoFIIN), which highlights that driven by rising incomes, urbanisation and the forces of globalisation, incidence of obesity and overweight are increasing rapidly in South East Asia, with between 20 to 35 per cent of adults classified as overweight.

Highlighting the link between urbanisation and food security and nutrition, the report states that the burdens of malnutrition – including persistent child undernutrition and stubborn micronutrient deficiencies – are moving to the city. The report highlights how child stunting now affects one in three urban children, and states that the global rise in overweight and obesity among adults has been largely concentrated in urban areas.

According to the report, “urban environments are also associated with the ‘nutrition transition’ – a shift toward increased consumption of animal-source foods, sugar, fats and oils, salt and processed foods – that is occurring most rapidly in cities. This change in diets is causing increases in overweight, obesity and diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. The most easily available and affordable diets, particularly for the urban poor, are often unhealthy.”

The report suggests that food policies must be designed to transform urban – often “obesogenic” – food environments to increase accessibility of nutritious diets and create healthier, supportive environments for the urban poor. It recommends that there is a need to work in partnership with all stakeholders, including those at the retail end of the food value chain, such as supermarkets, but also building linkages with rural producers. “Linking rural agricultural producers to urban markets – including through physical, economic, social, and political connections – is crucial for ending malnutrition sustainably and for meeting other SDGs. Strong linkages between agricultural producers, particularly smallholders, and urban consumers can propel economic development and improve food security and nutrition for both rural and urban areas,” says the report.

Overall, the 2017 Global Food Policy Report states that there have been important signs of progress in food security and nutrition, as well as a commitment to sustainable development over the past year (2016). It highlighted how, for the first time in modern history, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell below 10 per cent of the global population, and that the global rate of undernutrition was expected to fall below 11 per cent. According to the report, comprehensive strategies and programmes to reduce hunger and malnutrition, along with efforts to improve and diversify crop production, likely contributed to these improvements.