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This introductory narrative elaborates urban food security and agriculture, food deprivation, the foundations of food and nutrition security, the dimensions of food security and determinant of utrition, SDG 2 and state of hunger, a model of food system and food system levels and types.

Dimensions of food security and determinants of nutrition

There is wide recognition of the four dimensions of food security: availability, access, utilization and stability (includes notion of vulnerability), and the three main determinants of nutrition security: access to food, care and feeding, and health and sanitation. “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. (World Food Summit,1996).

Urban food security and agriculture

Urban agriculture contributes to the food supply and creates income and work opportunity for those who practice it. Urban agriculture makes productive use of idle housing, common, open and organizational spaces. The aggregate of urban agriculture contributes to the food security of cities and towns. However, urban food security is much more than an issue of urban agriculture.

In 2008, the African Food Security Network released a study on poor urban households, revealing a surprising amount of food insecurity within the continent’s urban areas. The study revealed that 70 percent of households suffered from “significant” or “severe” food insecurity. So far, urban food security hasn’t featured in national or international food security agendas, which mainly deal with rural food security. This neglect must be addressed urgently.

The urban population of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double in the next two decades. It will increase pressure on food supply and production at the national level. At the local level, it will increase pressure on food supply and production within the urban environment or the city region.

Food deprivation

Food deprivation, which is referred to as undernourishment, occurs wherever food is unaffordable or unavailable. It amounts to a failure of food security. Social and economic conditions are among the causal factors. A consequence of such a failure was the food riots in African cities and elsewhere in 2007 and 2008, due to dramatic increase in food prices. The poor, in general, spend a good part of their incomes on food. They are vulnerable to price hikes. Food deprivation also affects individuals and households, whose food supply is adequate but cultural practices dictate uneven distribution, among men and women and children.

Foundations of food and nutrition security

Food systems interventions advance human dignity when they support the eradication of food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition, consistent with the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger.

In 1966, the United Nations adopted the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which enshrined the right to adequate food and the right to be free from hunger and underlined the obligation of States to take measures, which are needed “to improve methods of production, conservation and distribution of food by making full use of technical and scientific knowledge, by disseminating knowledge of principles of nutrition…” and “…to ensure equitable distribution of world food supplies in relation to need” (Article 11). This laid the foundations for the broad concept of food security while also recognizing the importance of nutrition.

SDG 2 and the state of hunger

The concern of SDG 2 is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”. According to FAO, the vast majority of the world’s hungry people live in developing countries, where 12.9 percent of the population is undernourished. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger. One person in four there is undernourished. Lack of affordable adequate and nutritious food at the household level is considered to be one of the main causes of hunger and malnutrition This is a failure of access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriateffoods for a nutritious diet. Hunger afflicts both urban and rural populations.

A model of food system

A model of food system we use is composed of its components, environment, relations and processes.

Food system components include: production, processing, distribution, consumption and waste. All components include the actors with direct roles in the food system (producers, processors, distributors, consumers, waste handlers), corresponding activities and inputs and output. Food system acts on and is acted upon by the environment, within which it operates. Environment is a complex of features, such as: natural, built, territorial, technical, physiological, social, political, economic, cultural, population and so on. Environment includes all actors, official and non-official, with indirect role in the food system. Food system relations include internal relations –among its components, and external relations–between these and the features of the system environment. Food system modus operandi is a complex of processes that transform inputs—required resources and desired outcome into outputs—actual outcomes and unprocessed food (production component), processed food (processing component), food supply (distribution component), food  intake (consumption component) and waste disposal (waste component)—reuse, recycle, recover and residue disposal modes, as determined by the actors and regulatory requirements.

Food system levels and types

Food systems operate at multiple levels: individual, household, local, subnational, national, regional and global. The complexity food system increases with the ascending levels. Food system can be divided into two road types: the conventional food system and the alternative food system. The geographic outreach is wide of the conventional type and narrow of the alternative type. Urban food system and agriculture belongs to the alternative type.