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Friday Fun: How Cities Around the Globe Are Innovating to Solve Food Insecurity

From indoor farming to subsidizing grocery stores, communities across the world are working to ease food insecurity in high risk areas. (Photo: McKay Savage/ Flickr)

Today (October 16) marks World Food Day, when communities across the world take a stand against hunger and food insecurity.

Hunger is a particularly important issue in cities, since poor households in urban areas spend anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of their income on food. This makes food access a global challenge: Mozambique has a steadily rising urban poor population, for example, and cities in the southern region of the country (where agriculture is less common) are more at risk of food insecurity. Up to 67 percent of urban Mozambican citizens face issues with food access, with malnutrition posing a major threat to school-aged children: 225,000 students show signs of growth stunting related to malnutrition.

To ensure healthy access to food for citizens, some cities have creatively sought out new solutions like urban and indoor agriculture, market-based incentives to introduce sources of healthy foods and social financing programs. Check them out below:

Urban and Indoor Farming

Finally, some cities are trying to get urban populations involved in home farming to increase access to food and encourage diverse diets, while simultaneously protecting them from food supply variability. Some nations in Africa, for example, are yielding the highest shares of incomes from urban agriculture, a promising foundation for other cities to build upon. Areas like Accra, Ghana, for example, are overcoming infrastructural limitations to food distribution with small-scale urban agriculture schemes. Ghana’s government-backed Operation Feed Yourself program, though now defunct, managed to get residents involved in agriculture, and has left behind habits of urban food production that have improved food security.

Indoor farming, also called “vertical” farming, has also met some success, which is often housed in repurposed infrastructure to produce crops with fewer water resources. Though capital costs are high for the necessary light installations, some cities in land-stressed areas like Japan have seen small-scale progress, especially in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The Japanese human resources company Pasona has implemented indoor farming, down to a functioning rice paddy, and uses the produce in its corporate cafeteria. New York has also developed a green thumb, where in-building installations, as well as a floating hydroponic barge called the Science Barge, have been growing crops for local consumption.

Market-Based Incentives

Market-based incentivizes have proved to be a useful way to help move supermarket chains to food-poor areas. For example, cities can subsidize the construction cost of new grocery stores aiming to move into food deserts and under-served areas. At the national level, governments can provide financial programs for urban areas that support and increase access to healthy and affordable food in food insecure communities. For example, in the U.S., the Healthy Food Financing Initiative was passed to address food deserts through financial mechanisms, providing competitive federal grants to finance the establishment of new grocery stores and farmers markets in under-served areas. In Venezuela, the Mision Mercal program subsidizes food in local, public grocery stores to keep healthy foods relatively cheap while supporting the stores.

Investing in Vulnerable Populations

Some communities are meeting food insecurity on the user end, providing citizens with the resources necessary to purchase goods. For example, investments in the education of girls and women to increase their job skills and literacy rates have been shown to improve household incomes and child nutrition, contributing to better food security in developing countries, a pattern apparent in developing areas like Mozambique. New social financing schemes, like the urban cash transfer program, have shown to benefit the economic security of those unable to participate in the labor market. In Brazil, the Fome Zero program provides conditional cash transfers for low-income households. Working to alleviate the vulnerability posed by income inequality can help improve access for those in food-insecure areas.

As the above examples show, communities are getting creative in the ways that they provide affordable, healthy food for citizens in urban areas.

How is your community working to fight food insecurity? Share in the comments below!

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