Urbanisation, rural-urban transformations and food systems

Project

Urbanisation drives profound transformations in rural areas and in food systems, presenting both challenges and opportunities for poverty reduction, rural development and food security. Policies at the local, national, regional and global scales are of critical importance in shaping rural-urban linkages and the political economy of food systems.   

Informal food vendors in Mathare, Nairobi. Understanding food consumption and how food systems work is essential to support food security (Photo: Cecilia Tacoli/IIED)

Much of the current debate on global food security and rural development is framed in terms of inadequate agricultural production, with little attention to how the diversity of processes of urbanisation – reflected in food consumption and food systems that include processing, transport, markets and all related activities – generate different pathways of transformation in rural, peri-urban and urban areas. 

Understanding and documenting these transformations, and how they affect low-income groups in all locations, is central to formulating and implementing appropriate policies that support the food security and livelihoods of low-income groups while fostering sustainable rural-urban transitions. 

This project aims to address a number of interrelated questions:

  • How does urbanisation affect food consumption patterns and, as a result, agricultural production, processing and handling systems at the local, national and regional levels?
  • Who are the emerging key players in these evolving food systems, and what are the impacts of these transformations for lower-income groups (small-scale producers and family farmers, landless and land-poor rural net food buyers, informal sector traders, low-income urban consumers…)?
  • How do evolutions in rural economies interact with increases in non-farm employment, mobility and migration? 
  • What is the role of small and intermediate urban centres in linking producers to wider (urban national, regional and global) markets, and in providing local opportunities for income diversification?
  • What is the impact of agricultural and trade policies on both urban and rural food consumption and local agricultural production? And what are their often unintended consequences (for example, an increase in net food buyers, especially among lower-income rural groups)?
  • What policy approaches, and at what scale, are needed to ensure that in the process of urbanisation, and in the context of climate change, equity be ensured for both rural and urban people and areas?  

What IIED is doing

We are convening and supporting a global network of researchers and practitioners, including urban civil society organisations and farmers' organisations, through a number of exchange/learning workshops and case studies in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and China. These will reflect on the nature and diversity in both urban systems/urbanisation processes, and the nature of rural-urban linkages.

Network members are engaging in debates on food security at the global level through collaboration with international agencies such as the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), UN Habitat, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

At regional level we are doing this through workshops in London (briefing/report), Dakar, Hanoi (briefing/report), and Nairobi (briefing/report) with local government officials, civil society organisations and regional research institutions.

Publications

Food consumption, urbanisation and rural transformation: the trade dimensions, Bill Vorley and Frederic Lancon (2016), IIED Working paper

Trade winds: is free trade in food bad news for rural areas during rapid urbanisation? Bill Vorley and Frederic Lancon (2016), IIED Briefing paper

Informal food systems and food security in rural and urban East Africa, Cecilia Tacoli (2016), IIED Briefing paper

Urbanisation, changing tastes and rural transformation in West AfricaFrédéric LançonIdrissa Wade (2016), IIED Briefing paper 

Food consumption, urbanisation and rural transformations in Southeast Asia, Bill Vorley (2016), IIED Briefing paper

Urbanisation, rural transformations and food security: the view from ChinaJennifer Holdaway (2015), IIED Working paper

A recipe for trade-offs: the evolving landscape of food security in ChinaJennifer Holdaway (2015), IIED Briefing paper

Urbanisation and rural development in Vietnam's Mekong Delta: revisiting livelihood transformations in three fruit-growing settlements, 2006-2015Hoang Xuan ThanhDinh Thi Thu PhuongDang Thi Thanh HoaLe Dinh Lap (2015), IIED Working paper

Fruitful change: rural-urban transformation in Vietnam's Mekong DeltaHoang Xuan Thanh, Dinh Thi Thu Phuong, Dang Thi Thanh Hoa, Le Dinh Lap (2015), IIED Briefing paper

Creating a new menu for food security policyCecilia Tacoli (2015), IIED Briefing paper 

Reframing the debate on urbanisation, rural transformation and food security, Cecilia Tacoli and Bill Vorley (2015), IIED Briefing paper

Donors

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD)

Partners

International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Centre for Agrarian Systems Research and Development (CASRAD)

Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR)

CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development)

Contact

Cecilia Tacoli (cecilia.tacoli@iied.org), principal researcher and leader of the rural-urban linkages team, Human Settlements research group