The relationship between low income housing and food security needs to be targeted by the UN SDGs in order to achieve Goal 2: ‘to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture’.
Food security for the urban poor
Urbanization has brought with it the urbanization of poverty and now, many low-income urban populations are equally at risk of poverty and food insecurity. There are many reasons for this urban food stress. While it is difficult for urban policymakers to intervene to address all of them, here are two points around housing and settlement policy which can help drive urban food strategies.
1. Increase secure livelihoods
Urban dwellers pay up to 30% more for their food than rural households. However, livelihoods are unstable, being more dependent on waged income from precarious informal employment. Much of the informal-sector activity takes place outdoors (construction, street vending, or rickshaw drawing), making the rainy season an especially difficult period. Seasonal variations need to be taken into consideration when designing urban interventions. Urban households may need to remit funds back to the rural family, putting further stress on income and budgets.
The UN SDGs can help to address the problem of urban food insecurity through focused work on urban poverty. However, poverty is not the only issue affecting urban food security. We need to recognize the synergy between food security and several of the goals, especially Goal 11 on cities and human settlements, and Goals 6 and 7 on water, sanitation and energy.
2. Promote sustainable urban agriculture and improve access to land
As the homes of the poor are usually small they have less storage to set food aside for harder times. Urban agriculture could play a significant role in managing fluctuations in food availability and support women who are unable to work outside the home. Indeed, target 5a urges ‘reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land ….’ Urban land is as vital for women’s livelihoods as is rural land. Many urban migrants, men and women, tend to have good agricultural skills but there is less land available.
City authorities can do much to support food security by enabling the urban poor to have access to land for livelihood and agricultural purposes, and reconsidering their attitudes towards urban agriculture. This cannot be achieved easily. Nevertheless, urban planning policy can, and in some countries, does, manage to regulate in such a way that undeveloped urban land can be temporarily put to more productive use. This requires municipal planning authorities to have strong vision and commitment to addressing urban hunger. It also requires strong governance and improved capacity within municipalities to develop and enforce regulation, such as land banking, which pushes up the cost of land and removes it from productive use.
Summary of action points for reaching SDGs on hunger:
- The UN SDGs can help address urban food insecurity by targeting urban poverty, but it is not the only issue affecting food security which includes human settlements, water, sanitation and energy.
- Rather than be seen as inappropriate in urban planning by city managers, low-income households should be encouraged to take up urban agriculture to alleviate hunger in cities.
- Create food markets, sharing networks and urban agriculture projects to decrease reliance on street food which is often more expensive, less nutritious and more likely to be contaminated than home-prepared meals.
These are only some examples of actions that could be taken to address food security for the urban poor. However, the importance of markets and income-earning opportunities cannot be over-emphasized as it is sustainable livelihoods that will enable people to ensure their food security for present and future generations. Urban planners and similar practitioners could play a key role in achieving food security, improving food nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture together by focusing on the plights of low-income urban areas.