Habitat III, coming as it is during the long exhale following the sustainable development and climate agreements of 2015, has been largely overlooked by the media and the public.
This is a mistake. Already more than half of humanity lives in cities, with the number of urbanites set to double by 2050. The UN Habitat process is the major mechanism by which international strategy for urbanization is set. Yet UN Habitat is the Eurasian black vulture of international conferences: rare. The last one was seen in Istanbul in 1996. Habitat III is the best chance in a generation to determine the direction our cities take. (For a wonderful explainer of the importance of Habitat III, see here on Citiscope.)
EcoAgriculture Partners’ Senior Fellow Thomas Forster is engaged in the preparatory negotiations for Habitat III. He is working to ensure that the important relationship between agricultural and food systems, food security and nutrition and sustainable human settlements is enshrined in what will be called the New Urban Agenda, the declaration to be agreed at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador in October.
On May 17, Forster delivered the following statement to the Habitat III Informal Hearings with Local Authorities Associations, at UN Headquarters in New York.
“Thank you co-chairs, members of the Bureau for Habitat III, member states and delegates from local and regional governments here for the initial review of the zero draft of the New Urban Agenda.
I bring you a summary of a cross-cutting expert group meeting on Integrating Food into Urban Planning that met here in New York last Thursday on 12 May convened by FAO with support from the Habitat III Secretariat.
The EGM was attended by representatives from UN member states, academic institutions, civil society, local governments and of the UN system and discussed the important relationship between agricultural and food systems, food security and nutrition on the one hand and sustainable human settlements on the other.
This multi-stakeholder expert forum reviewed the zero draft of the Habitat III outcome document “New Urban Agenda” with the objective of identifying key gaps and to develop proposals in this regard.
We bring attention to food in the New Urban Agenda here in this session on spatial planning and land management as this is where the urban food systems deserve to be addressed in the zero draft, alongside other issues such as land, water, energy and mobility systems.
Though food is referenced in several areas of the zero draft it is not reflected in the holistic approach necessary to address urban food insecurity and malnutrition and to enable food systems to contribute to healthy, sustainable and resilient cities.
From production to consumption food affects all, but city dwellers face an increasing double burden of under and over nutrition leading to epidemics of both communicable and non-communicable disease including a rise of obesity, child hunger and other health issues with greatest impact on the urban poor, especially women and children.
Other challenges include cities’ vulnerability to shocks to the food system from climate and environmental threats, especially resulting from unplanned urbanization. Planning for the cities we want and need must therefore involve planning for healthy food environments that stimulates sustainable food consumption, providing access to affordable and nutritious food for all, especially where people pay as much as 80% of their income for food.
Despite the challenges, food is an engine of the urban economy, providing critical sources of income in both informal and formal markets and through a web of food related services that link urban and rural people, as well as small and intermediate towns and cities with larger cities. Urban food security is also a integral part of wider urban and territorial resilience and planning efforts as directed in SDG 11.a.
To mitigate the challenges and optimize the opportunities, food systems must become an essential element of urban and territorial planning and development. Doing so will help reduce inequality of access and increase inclusive connectivity between rural and urban areas. This will in turn lead to improved use of urban and peri-urban agriculture, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve urban and territorial ecology through better land and water management.
Indeed there can be no sustainable urban development without stronger rural-urban partnerships and more and better investment in the sustainable development of rural areas. In 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda terms, there will be no 2 without 11, as there will be no 11 without 2.
Integrated spatial planning and development linking urban and territorial areas is in fact a critical strategy to integrate SDGs in manageable, inclusive and contextually adaptive approaches.
Local action in cities and regions around the world today are in fact already examples of strategies that sustainably connect urban markets with agricultural and other rural economic activities to generate broad based economic growth, reduce regional disparities and promote income equality.
A summary of the expert group meeting that occurred last week will be made available as part of this statement and followed in a few weeks by a full report on the issues and actions covered including examples of food and agriculture in integrated urban and territorial planning and development.
Watch: Thomas Forster speaks starting at 2:00:30.