On 20th April 2021, SLU Urban Futures together with SLU Global hosted international guests in an interactive webinar. The event highlighted the interconnection of urbanization with the ambition to achieve healthier, equitable and more sustainable food systems.
Governance for fair food systems was the central theme of the first presentations, looking more specifically at the role of urban actors and city authorities in ensuring equitable access to healthy and sufficient food. The webinar kicked-off with a key-note presentation from Sharelle Polack, Lead for the Urban Governance for Nutrition Team at the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Sharelle discussed the connection between nutrition and the urban food environment, highlighting the role of city governments in shaping food provision. Paulina Bizzotto Molina, Policy Advisor at the European Centre for Development Policy Management (ECDPM), emphasized the need for systems thinking in dealing with the complex interactions within food systems, and the power dynamics at play in setting the narrative for fair food systems in policy development.
The webinar zoomed in on national and local perspectives relating to the challenges associated with rapid urbanization and food systems. Assem Abu Hatab, Associate Professor at the Department of Economics, SLU, demonstrated the links between social unrest and food prices in Egypt, illustrating howt access to food is closely connected to the political stability of countries. Judy Matu, National Chairlady for the Association for Women in Agriculture Kenya (AWAK), presented the work of her non-profit organization that supports women and young farmers become informed decision-makers and key industry players in the food system. Judy highlighted the critical role of women in urban food systems and that any equitable and sustainable approach to food systems must start with women’s empowerment.
After the keynote presentations, our international guests dived into lively discussions starting with a closer look at the links between food security and economic security. The disruption to food systems and people’s livelihoods caused by the global pandemic was highlighted as a major concern in relation to access and affordability of food. When it comes to “fairness” in food systems, vulnerable and marginalized groups often feel disproportionate effects of shocks and disturbances to food systems. Assem evidenced that Egypt as a low middle income country is more vulnerable to disturbances where climate change, urbanization and poor governance meet, and Judy highlighted that women carry the burden of providing nutrition for their families and therefore are disproportionately affected by changes in food systems.
The UN Food Systems Summit provides an opportunity for change, and according to Sharelle provides a great opportunity for city authorities to be involved in shaping sustainable and equitable food systems, but there remains a lot of work to be done to fairly represent the voices of cities from low and middle income countries. Despite the good intentions of the summit and inclusion of a diversity of voices, Paulina says that the measure of success will be in what happens after the summit and how game-changing solutions will be taken into action.