Urbanization is often a positive development, as urban areas tend to be more productive than rural areas and therefore a driver of economic growth and development. Yet, rapid urbanization – as it is currently occurring in many developing countries – can outstretch the capacities of cities to absorb and cater for an ever growing number of inhabitants. If unabsorbed, urbanization may lead to the development of slums and pose a considerable threat to all dimensions of food security, because the majority of urban dwellers are net food buyers and spent a large part of their disposable income on food. In particular the 2007/2008 food crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of the urban poor and the strong link between food and national security. When prices for staple food crops – like wheat, maize, and rice – started to rise at the end of 2007 and reached decade highs in early 2008, the urban poor were hit the hardest. This led to food-related riots and conflicts. If cities do not adapt to their new realities, the expected boost in urbanization and population growth could further increase the vulnerability of urban dwellers to sudden shocks in agricultural markets. To avoid such kind of scenario, policy-makers will have to react to these risks by developing strategies that address urban food security. Given limited resources, such strategies have to be efficiently directed at future food security hotspots.

The challenges of rapid urbanization in developing countries
Urbanization in developing countries The share of urban to total world population increased from 29 percent in 1950 to 50 percent in 2008, and the lion share of this raise is attributed to developing countries. This rapid – and often uncontrolled – urbanization is unprecedented by historical standards. Yet, urbanization rates in developing regions differ widely: While in Latin America and the Caribbean urbanization rates stand at 78 percent, only 38 percent of the African population lives in urban areas. Urbanization rates are expected to increase to 70 percent in 2050; with Africa and Asia being projected as the regions that will experiences the largest growth in their urban populations. What is also without any historical parallel is the growth of so-called “megacities”: From 1975 to 2007, the number of megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants increased more than six times from 3 to 19 cities worldwide.
Despite that record growth, the majority of urban dwellers (about 61%) live in small to medium-sized cities of up to one million inhabitants. This holds for developed and developing countries, and is not expected to change in the long-term. Yet, small to medium-sized cities, particularly in developing countries, often lack infrastructure and basic services – like water, sanitation, electricity, health care, and waste disposal – to absorb an ever increasing number of people.
Urbanization and food security
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food security as a situation that “exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. This definition comprises four dimensions of food security: availability, stability, safety, and access. The first dimension relates to the general availability of sufficient amounts of food. Food stability requires that food can be accessed at all times. Food safety is linked to the quality of food: It is not enough that sufficient amounts of food are available, if they it can not be consumed without risking major health problems. The final dimension, access to food, is associated with the resources that an individual or household possesses to obtain food required for a healthy diet. Urbanization affects all four dimensions of food security as discussed shortly below.

Food availability

In the future, agriculture will be challenged to meet the demand of a population that is projected to grow and to urbanize. This implies that more food will be demanded by a population of net food buyers; and food demand will have to be met by rural and peri-urban areas and/or by food imports. Yet, sprawling cities may put constraints on the ability to meet new demand patterns due to, among other factors, land-use changes associated with urbanization and increased competition for irrigation water.
Food stability.

Expansion also means that more and more food will have to be transported to and distributed within the cities. This will put additional pressure on rural infrastructures, transport technologies, and food distribution outlets. Since these tend to be already insufficient in urban areas of many developing countries, the stability of food supplies may be jeopardized. Bayo vividly illustrated these challenges for Nigeria: “Without the urban and peri-urban contributions to a city's nutrient intake, the challenge of feeding the cities will be enormous. For a city of about four million inhabitants, food requirements average about 3000 tons a day. This implies about two three-ton trucks entering the city every three minutes.
Food safety.

Numerous studies found that urbanization generally decreases child malnutrition and increases dietary diversity. However, in urban areas food is increasingly consumed outside the house. For example, in Tanzania it is estimated that 70% of the caloric requirements of low and middle income groups are met by street foods. Maxwell et al. (2000), in a survey of 559 urban households in Accra (Ghana), found that more than 32 percent of the households’ food budget was spent on street foods. This share was higher for poorer population segments.

Food access:

Having sufficient resources to afford a healthy diet, is the most important dimension of food security in urban areas, because urban dwellers are net food buyers. In many cities of developing countries, inhabitants buy more than90 percent of their food. In addition, the poor spent the largest share of their disposable income on food purchases. This implies that, compared to rural areas, urban dwellers are more dependent on cash incomes; and thus employment opportunities.

SOURCE: Addressing the Challenges of a Changing World Food Situation

The author of this article is Asst. Professor, Pioneer Institute of Professional Studies, Indore

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