Global food production has been cited as the single largest human pressure, threatening the stability of local and world ecosystems, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
This was revealed on the sidelines of ninth Africities Summit in Kisumu in a session on promoting sustainable urban food systems in intermediary cities.
Gareth Haysom of African Centre for Cities said food production was causing major global environmental risks.
Carla Mucavi, FAO Rep in Kenya, said as cities grow, urban food demand will shape national food systems in Africa – the fastest urbanising region in the world.
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Mucavi said food consumption is higher in urban than rural areas, with the former having a shortage of basic staples like cereals and tubers. Urban areas, on the other hand, have a higher supply of animal-sourced foods like dairy, meat and fish.
These dietary shifts have nutrition implications, including the increase of over-weight and obesity and the spread of non-communicable food-related diseases.
“Urban administrations and national governments are dealing with undernutrition, including among the very poor and slum dwellers who lack access to basic diets,” Mucavi said.
He said many intermediary cities play a key role in national food systems as they link production points to consumers, especially of large metropolises, besides serving as logistics, transport, inputs, processing, collection and distribution centres.
She said FAO director has signed an MoU with Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o to improve the rural-urban linkage within the food system.
The Summit heard that population in cities and towns was globally expected to rise from 54 per cent in 2015 to 66 per cent by 2050, mostly in Asia and Africa, according to a paper titled, Intermediary Cities as Essential Actors in Africa’s Urban, and Food System Transformations.
Haysom warned that treating the situation in a ‘business as usual’ manner could be catastrophic, as it could increase the annual resource requirements of urban areas from 40 billion tonnes in 2010 to nearly 90 billion tonnes by 2050, “exceeding what the planet can sustainably provide.”
In addition, the long-term historic sprawl of cities by two per cent annually also threatens to increase global urban land use to over 2.5 million square kilometres by 2050, putting agricultural land and food supplies at risk.
To make matters worse, a report on the State of Food Insecurity in African Intermediary Cities like Kisumu showed many were facing high food insecurity: Kitwe in Zambia is severely food insecure at 76 per cent, Epworth in Zimbabwe is at 67 per cent, Cape Town in South Africa at 36 per cent, while Kisumu is at 45 per cent.
Yet, small and intermediary cities have an enormous potential in creating urban food systems and sustainable resource management as they “can act as regional market centres or hubs, offering innovative employment opportunities for residents of smaller cities, said Haysom.
He said cities also connect traders and producers with customers and markets in larger metropolitan areas.
Haysom, however, warned that as urbanisation in intermediary cities accelerates, there is an increased need for a focus on food and nutrition security as part of the wider urban food system that could promote sustainable rural-urban immigration.
Kiambu Governor James Nyoro urged agricultural players to get involved in providing practical solutions to challenges related to urban food systems.