We are witnessing how strong demographic growth and evolving lifestyles fuel massive urbanisation. Concomitantly, our food systems are rapidly transforming and becoming more uniform and globalized, threatening smallholder agriculture and traditional diets, ostracizing part of the urban population, and suffocating our global ecosystem. This phenomenon creates new challenges for cities as they struggle to maintain food supplies ensuring a stable quality of life while diminishing their environmental footprint. Cities are being pushed to redefine their relationships with suburban and rural areas and adapt their food supply chains so that the needs of both are met : continued food security for urban-dwellers, sufficient revenues for small players in the food chain (including farmers), and protection of natural ressources.
The global food system is stretched thin.
urban by 2050
million people undernourished
of food lost or wasted
of greenhouse gases due to the global food system
Local governements are key actors for the transition to sustainable food systems.
Local governments are instrumental to the establishment of sustainable food systems. Through their mandates in land and urban planning, school and collective catering, market regulation, and education, they wield the tools to transform food systems and make them fairer economically, environmentally, and socially. To this end, it is critical to use a systemic approach enabling them to see past the sectorial or geographic boundaries which confine policy decisions, and thus tackle challenges in a transversal, tailored manner.
The national and international context at a turning point
Current international conjecture is favorable to the implication of local governments in building sustainable food systems. In September 2015, the United Nations defined 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) to be reached by 2030; the 11th of these is to “create sustainable cities and urban communities”. In October 2015, over 130 cities initially signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (that number is up to 159 by November 2017). It is the first international agreement through which cities have committed to developing more sustainable food systems.
In France, the “Programme National pour l’Alimentation” (National Program for Food), explicitly encourages local authorities to work on their food systems. A number of cities are in the midst of elaborating “Systèmes Alimentaires Territoriaux” (Territorial Food Sytems). Among the most advanced are Bordeaux, Grenoble, Montpellier and Lyon, which are in the process of developing their “Projet Alimentaire Territorial”, or Territorial Food Strategy. This strategy helps them identify the central issues surrounding agriculture and nutrition in their territory and find levers to address these.
Decentralized cooperation in France
The French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs estimates at 10 700 the number of projects involving a decentralized partnership between French and foreign local governments, which represents cooperation with 133 different countries.
Despite incentives from the Ministry, few of these cooperation projects broach the subject of food, although it is anchored in economic and environmental priorities. Recently, French cities have started to latch onto the concept of territorial food projects and integrate it in their international cooperation strategies. Diets and nutition are not within the specific mandate of local goverments, and human or financial ressources are often inadequate to tackle such a complex issue.
However, owing to the commitment of certain civil servant and the implication of regional players, or simply as a response to consumer expectations, novel and participatory projects are cropping up in a number of regions. French cities have a large number of innovative initiatives that could be usefully transposed abroad, and conversely might draw inspiration from projects in their partner cities. Considering the empirical nature [yet-experimental state] of alternative food system models, international, regional-scale cooperation seems like a relevant tool in guiding cities towards greater sustainability.