- Out of 170 Asian cities in 21 countries, only 8% of cities are ‘food-smart’- survey
- Stresses COVID-19 highlighted vulnerability of urban populations to food insecurity
- Emphasises need to move from a reactive to proactive management of food systems
As cities across Asia continue to grapple with food-related issues on a daily basis, the World Bank (WB) has called on them to “get smart to get rich!”.
While a lack of dedicated and coherent set of food policies are observed in the region, the international agency has urged nations to pursue policies that foster reliable, inclusive, competitive and healthy (rich) food systems that are better aligned with the contemporary challenges and aspirations of the cities.
The WB launched its latest publication ‘RICH Food, Smart City’ recently, an effort towards pushing urban decision makers in Asia to generate positive feedback loops between healthy people, a healthy planet and healthy economies.
The book highlights that based on the first systematic survey of urban food policies in 170 Asian cities in 21 countries, the study finds that only 8 percent of surveyed cities are ‘food-smart’, that is intervening in the food system in ways that are forward-looking, holistic and inclusive.
“Nearly three-fourths are either at an early stage of effective engagement or fully in reactive mode, responding to problems as they emerge.
A reactive approach could prove very costly, both in terms of realised risks and missed opportunities,” stated the book that was based on a survey undertaken in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The WB stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic has served to highlight the essential functions of urban food supply chains and businesses and the vulnerability of urban populations to food insecurity.
It pointed out that while chronic malnutrition continues to be a key issue, more than one-quarter of children under five are stunted in urban Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Lao PDR, Nepal and Pakistan.
This indicates that the shortcomings in urban food systems could curtail the economic prospects of many Asian cities and their youngest generation, the WB said.
To address this pressing issue, the WB stressed the need to move from a reactive approach to a more proactive management of food systems.
“Well-informed urban leadership is much needed to turn these urban, national and even broader food system challenges around.
Many cities in emerging Asia are national if not international ‘hotspots’ for biosecurity and food safety risks, food waste and the accumulation of plastic packaging waste.
The rapid encroachment of cities into natural ecosystems and peri-urban cropland also raises risks to cities’ fresh food supply,” the WB suggested.
The agency cautioned that the risks associated with urban food systems and changing demand patterns will need to be managed carefully as the risks are related to disease, biosafety and environmental degradation.
The WB suggested that the relevant authorities should take measures to protect peri-urban cropland and develop short supply chain marketing channels that can sustain a critical source of fresh produce to cities, contributing to urban productivity, resilience and circular economies.
It asserted the need to increase investments in upgrading community markets that provide fresh food. Doing so can help ensure more equitable access to nutrition and reduce the incidence of foodborne and chronic illness, the WB stated. Furthermore, it called for neighbourhood food loss and waste partnership initiatives so that waste prevention, secondary food use, composting and the bio-economy can be supported.