21 June 2021, Rome: A big push in a rapidly urbanizing continent kicked off today as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched the Green Cities Regional Action Programme for Africa. The Programme aims to apply innovative solutions and turn urbanization into an opportunity for cities to become more sustainable, more resilient, provide access to healthy foods and ensure a better life for everyone.
The initiative aims to scale-up fast-action measures for large, medium and small cities to be more resilient, food and nutrition secure, with pleasant natural environments, more integrated nutritious food production-and-distribution systems benefiting residents and farmers alike.
Letters of intent were signed with six African cities: Praia in Cabo Verde, Kisumu and Nairobi in Kenya, Antananarivo in Madagascar, Quelimane in Mozambique and Kigali in Rwanda. The six cities will be embarking on the pilot phase of a programme designed to involve 1 000 cities worldwide by 2030.
“We can redesign our cities,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu in keynote remarks at the launch. He explained: “With affordable healthy and sustainable food, with accessible green spaces, with green lifestyles, and with new jobs which our citizens need.”
He noted that the vast majority of Africa’s cities have fewer than 300 000 inhabitants. “With the right policies and planning, combined with innovative solutions, local administrations and communities can build resilience and improve the wellbeing of urban and peri-urban dwellers,” he said.
Salifou Ouederaogo, Minister of Agriculture, Hydro-Agricultural Development and Mechanization for Burkina Faso, hailed the initiative as timely for his country, where the share of the population living in cities is expected to double by 2050. FAO’s programme is “a real opportunity to consolidate and scale up pilot actions that are already underway at the national level and above all to include the Green Cities Initiative action plans to develop toolkits for developing the rural sector in our country,” he said.
Opening remarks at the high-level launch were also given by Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, and Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary-General of United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG Africa), an umbrella organization for local governments across the continent.
The mayors of the six pilot cities also spoke at the event, as did senior officers from Senegal’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the Global Fund for Cities Development and the Green Climate Fund and FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo.
FAO’s Director-General called upon committed cities and mayors to engage local innovators, entrepreneurs and young people, to propose new solutions, digital technologies, climate-smart practices and strategies to create green jobs and enrich the connections between urban settlements and their rural surroundings. He invited authorities to engage youth, especially in places where urbanization is in an early phase and growing fast. “We need to enable young people so they can define their own future city,” he said.
Some 55 percent of the world’s population lives in cities today, and that is expected to rise to 68 percent by 2050, with the vast majority living in low-income countries, especially in Africa and Asia. Cities provide powerful economic opportunities but can also be home to high levels of poverty and account for a large share of natural resource use, greenhouse gas emissions and food consumption.
FAO launched the Green Cities Initiative (GCI) in September 2020 at a high-level event during the 75th session of the UN General Assembly, underscoring the major role that urban demographic trends – as well as urban forestry, urban agriculture and urban food systems – are destined to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the transition to a low-carbon economy. Greener, cleaner and more resilient and regenerative towns can catalyze more self-sustaining opportunities as well as better lives.
The GCI is geared to promote sustainable and resilient local food production and short supply chains, establish green agro-processing hubs, efficient food distribution systems and food environments, and efficient circular-economy driven management of water resources and food waste. Landscape initiatives, parks and cleaner air are also an integral part of the Initiative. Increasing local food production and promoting short food supply chains has taken on new importance in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
FAO is funding the initial phase and eyeing to attract more resources and interest for the full programme. The aim is to push for key innovative “quick win” actions to develop the capacity of local stakeholders in the first cities joining the project to integrate food systems urban and peri-urban agriculture and forestry in local planning, requiring a holistic approach to governance that in the case of metropolitan areas often span several municipal jurisdictions.
That means fostering enabling environments with risk and vulnerability assessments, as well as targeted actions depending on a city’s characteristics. One key issue is to identify “functional territories” that underpin food systems and define urban-rural linkages.
FAO will help participating countries use geo-referenced data and other indicators to provide rapid and systematic understanding of potential vulnerabilities to shocks, identify potential biodiversity hotspots and strategic mapping of food retail environments to boost access to nutritious food where lacking. Local administrations will also be helped to promote rooftop and backyard gardens, vertical farms in abandoned structures and high-tech aquaculture, as well as training locals to maximize the value of such opportunities. The Organization will also support Members set up platforms to engage in city-to-city dialogues and partnerships.