Urbanization a Main Theme in IFPRI's 2017 Global Food Policy Report
Updated at 1491323962

In 2016, for the first time in modern history, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell below 10 percent and the global rate of undernutrition was expected to fall below 11 percent, according to IFPRI’s newly released 2017 Global Food Policy Report (GFPR).

The flagship publication, released on March 23, assesses the major food and nutrition security developments that occurred around the globe over the past year, as well as providing key data on a range of food policy indicators and discussing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the coming year. This year’s report focuses the impact of urbanization on global food security, diets, agricultural production, and agricultural value chains.

According to the GFPR, 2016 saw several significant global developments in food and agricultural sectors. Comprehensive strategies and programs were enacted in numerous countries to reduce hunger and malnutrition and promote agricultural diversity. These policies, combined with a further reduction in global food prices (which fell for the fifth year in a row), have contributed to overall reductions in global poverty and undernutrition. It is hoped that this trend will be further supported in the coming years by the numerous national and international commitments and pledges that were made in 2016. For instance, the international community pledged a record US$75 billion to the International Development Association to help the world’s poorest populations; at the African Green Revolution Forum, more than US$30 billion was pledged for African agriculture to increase production, income, and employment for smallholder farmers and local agricultural businesses.

At the country level, significant developments in 2016 included: the passing of the Global Food Security Act by the US congress, which will support action toward achieving the SDGs; China’s planned investment of $450 billion aimed at increasing agricultural productivity and farm incomes; and India’s continued implementation of the National Food Security Act, which aims to provide subsidized food grains to 800 million Indian citizens.

Conversely, there remain a number of significant challenges to global food systems and agricultural development in 2017 and beyond. These include global economic uncertainty and rising inequalities, continuing conflict in various countries (including in Yemen, Syria, and Libya), and the increased incidence of climate change and natural shocks (such as the current drought in the Horn of Africa, which is expected to leave millions in need of significant amounts of food assistance).

In the first chapter of the 2017 GFPR, IFPRI’s Director General, Shenggen Fan, places urbanization in the spotlight, highlighting that rapid urbanization is reshaping food systems, especially in developing countries. Currently, over 50 percent of the global population live in urban areas, the proportion of which is expected to increase to 66 percent by 2050. Most of this increase is expected to occur in Asia and Africa.

The challenges and opportunities presented by urbanization remain a common theme. On the one hand, urbanization 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. On the other hand, rising urban demand for more and better food can provide opportunities to increase and diversify food production in rural areas, provide farmers with bigger markets for their products, and provide alternative labor opportunities.

Chapter Two discusses the impact of rural-urban linkages on food security and nutrition. Developing and strengthening rural-urban linkages, including physical, economic, social, and political linkages, are crucial for ending hunger and malnutrition in both rural and urban areas. Investments in infrastructure, including quality rural and feeder roads, electricity, storage facilities, and communications and information technologies, in both rural areas and smaller towns (peri-urban areas) should be a focus in order to help both rural smallholders and poor urban populations. For instance, in Ghana, recent expansion of cocoa production, processing, and trade from traditional growing areas in the eastern coastal region to more urban western areas has increased agricultural incomes; this development has been crucially facilitated by improved rural infrastructure.

The relationship between urbanization and poverty, food insecurity, malnutrition, and diets is discussed in Chapters Three and Four. The discussion highlights that malnutrition, in all its forms, is increasingly becoming an urban problem, with the urban poor facing particularly high levels of food insecurity. Food access in cities depends largely on incomes and access to money, both of which are particularly lacking for the urban poor.
Additionally, the GFPR highlights recent studies showing that many poor urban households spend over 50 percent of their budget on food and that urban food environments tend to facilitate access to unhealthy diets (with more nutritious foods accessible to only richer income groups), leading to increased rates of both undernourishment and obesity. It is also argued that the limited access to healthcare, safe water, and sanitation in cities leads to severe health and nutrition challenges for the urban poor. These factors are especially pronounced in slums, which were home to 881 million people in 2014; the global slum population is expected to reach 2 billion by 2030. This discussion highlights one of the main messages of the report, namely that future policies and investments to end hunger and malnutrition must pay greater attention of the needs of poor urban populations.

Urbanization generally leads to longer, more integrated, and more commercial food value chains. The report argues that there is a ‘quiet revolution’ occurring in traditional staple value chains in developing countries. These changes are characterized by increased investment in technology and modern inputs, including fertilizers and improved seeds; farmers living closer to cities; the use of mobile phones by farmers to improve access to markets; and greater vertical integration (such as cold storage facilities, rice mills, and supermarkets). For instance, in China’s rice sector, a large share of farmers (97 percent of those interviewed near large cities) own mobile phones; at the same time, rice mills in China are becoming increasingly vertically integrated with large retailers and large wholesalers, which has led to the rapid emergence of packaged and branded rice.

The report provides five recommendations for strengthening agricultural value chains:

  1. Increased policy support for post-farmgate activities;
  2. Increased policy recognition of the importance of urban markets;
  3. Increased regulatory support for private sector actors along value chains;
  4. Continued government investment in agricultural support and extension services;
  5. Development of reliable food safety standards.

Access the full report and associated links.

Access an interactive map presenting the latest datasets.