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Tibaijuka calls for urgent solutions to poverty
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Mr. Chairman, Honourable Dr. Bonaya Godana, Minister of Agriculture of the Republic of Kenya, His Worship Mr. Dick Waweru Mbugua, Mayor of the City of Nairobi, Distinguished Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you to the Headquarters of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme here at Gigiri. I am delighted by your response to our call to come and discuss the very important subject of Urban Food Security. I am particularly happy that, in spite of your very demanding schedules, you have found time, Honourable Dr. Godana and Your Worship Mayor Mbugua, to come and share your thoughts with us on this important topic.

Mr. Chairman, as we begin this new millennium, two of the most significant development challenges facing Africa are rapid urbanization and growing poverty. The combination of these two trends within Africa's cities and towns has resulted in a special problem now recognised by a new name. That name is "urbanisation of poverty". As we all now know, more than fifty per cent of the world's population will be living within urban areas in a few years from now. Within Africa south of the Sahara, the current rate of urbanisation is about 6% per year. It is estimated that in 1980, only one third of the world's poor were living in urban areas. This was equivalent to 40 million out of the then world's total of 120 million poor households. By the year 2000, it was estimated that 55% of the world's poor were already living in urban areas. This translated to a massive 72 million out of 128 million poor households. More telling is the fact that during the period 1970 to 1985, the rural poor increased by 11%, while the urban poor increased by a staggering 73%. Although we do not have more recent estimates, these figures reveal the magnitude of the rapidly mounting problem of urban poverty facing us, especially in Africa. One of the most significant manifestations of this growing poverty is, of course, food insecurity. The urban poor are largely unable to produce their own food requirements, as compared to their rural counterparts.

Mr. Chairman, the question facing us is: How should urban local authorities and central governments address the problem of urban food insecurity, alongside other dimensions of urban poverty, such as poor shelter. How is this rapidly increasing urban population to be adequately fed? I would like to highlight a few avenues that I think this Workshop should explore.

The first relates to the phenomenon of urban agriculture. It is clear that rapid urbanization and poor economic trends are leading to deterioration of living conditions, especially for low-income urban dwellers. In Africa south of the Sahara, we know that the slum population is growing at the rate of between 25 and 30 per cent per year and that there is increasing difficulty in accessing food, housing and employment. Slums are, of course, the most visible symbol of the failure of our urban development policies and planning systems. In order to survive, low-income households, most of them slum dwellers, have to create their own survival strategies. This involves establishing livelihoods mostly within the informal sector. Some of these livelihoods are legal and others are not. They include urban agriculture, hawking, beer and liquor brewing, as well as prostitution. Urban agriculture should therefore be seen as a spontaneous and innovative response by the urban poor to one significant dimension of deepening poverty, that is food insecurity. Of course, urban agriculture has created new problems that cities, by design, were never equipped to deal with. To start with, agriculture is not a recognised urban land use in most countries. By their very definition, cities and towns represent the opposite of agriculture. They are centres of industry and commerce. However, the reality, especially in Africa, is different. The boundary between urban and rural occupations is getting increasingly blurred, as the urban poor engage in agriculture and as industry expands into rural areas. The challenge for urban policy makers and planners is to come up with clear policies on urban agriculture. These must address urban land-use, security of land tenure and the health dimension of urban agriculture, especially contamination of food crops grown in urban areas.

The second issue, Mr. Chairman, is to do with the problems of peri-urban agriculture. Peri-urban agriculture is, of course, not contentious at all. Peri-urban agriculture is an accepted land use, either within city boundaries or just outside them within adjacent rural local authorities. Peri-urban land is, from an economic perspective, the most valuable agricultural land in most countries, because of its close proximity to large urban markets. This is clearly the reason for its very high intensity of use. Because of its potential for conversion to non-agricultural uses, such as urban residential and industrial, peri-urban land is often subject to intense speculation. Conversion to non-agricultural uses frequently takes place without planning permission. This sometimes results in urban sprawl and the juxtaposition of conflicting land uses. Where peri-urban land is under customary tenure, such problems are often worse. I trust your deliberations will point the directions that should be pursued by Governments and local authorities in order to ensure the best use of peri-urban land and an orderly urban-rural transition, with due consideration of the land tenure aspects. It is also clear to me that we need policies that address the issue of food production nearer to where the urban poor live. This makes peri-urban agriculture extremely important in feeding cities and towns.

The third concern that I would like to highlight, Mr. Chairman, is what Governments and local authorities should do to facilitate easy rural to urban food flows. City residents largely depend on food surpluses from rural areas, and in some cases from foreign countries. Obviously, distant food sources pose significant problems to cities depending on them. Transportation, distribution and marketing costs can make food increasingly unaffordable. In fact, urban food prices are estimated to be 10 to 30 per cent higher than rural prices. I think it is important for this Workshop to examine the constraints facing the movement of food from rural to urban areas, and food distribution within urban areas. This means that you also have to look at the adequacy of wholesale and retail food markets within our cities. One implication of this is that urban planners need to be concerned with more than the land-use and physical dimension of markets. They need to include among their concerns the range and adequacy of the food sold in these markets. They also need to look at the efficiency of intra-urban food distribution. Bottlenecks in food transportation, marketing and distribution can significantly increase the food insecurity of urban poor households.

This leads me, Distinguished Participants, to a fourth issue that I would like to emphasise, that is the importance of infrastructure and regulatory institutions. The physical and institutional infrastructure in place within an economy, including within urban areas, contributes a lot towards urban food security. In many African cities and their hinterlands, roads, markets, slaughterhouses, licensing, as well as regulations and credit facilities, have not kept pace with the growing requirements of cities. Unhygienic conditions and practices at each point in the food chain are a common feature in many African towns and uninspected meat products are often consumed. Food is also contaminated through water, air and soil pollution. In this respect, vehicle and industrial emissions constitute a serious hazard within urban areas. In addition, arbitrary rules and government interventions lead to food production and distribution costs that discourage private investment. Urban policy and planning, by improving relevant physical and institutional infrastructure, can contribute towards the alleviation of urban food insecurity. I trust that your deliberations will result in the identification of the improvements that need to be made in this respect.

The fifth issue that I would like to stress is the gender dimension of urban food security. As you all know, many of the poor households in urban areas are increasingly headed by women. Alongside the term "urbanisation of poverty" another new term has been coined in recognition of emerging realities, that is "feminisation of poverty". This means there is an increasing concentration of poverty among women and the children for whom they are responsible. Even within households headed by men, women bear the brunt of food insecurity because of their primary responsibility of feeding their families. In both situations, urban women are in the forefront of the struggle for food security at the household level. This is confirmed by recent studies carried out in Nairobi, Harare and Kampala. These studies have revealed that women constitute the majority of participants in urban agriculture, which is one of the most prevalent responses to urban food insecurity within African cities. I need not remind you that in many African cities, women also dominate the marketing of fresh food, whether within well-established city markets or through roadside hawking. So, Mr. Chairman, I urge you to consider, in your deliberations, the role of urban women and the difficulties that they face in their many daily struggles for food security. We need to ensure that women have the same access as men to the household assets that are necessary for realising urban food security, including land with secure tenure. Women need equal access to extension services and credit facilities. We need to influence authorities to stop the harassment of women, and men, trying to make a living for their families through urban agriculture and vending of food, among other means.

Finally Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Participants, let me emphasise the importance that UN-HABITAT attaches to this Workshop. Urban food security is a subject that has generally been ignored within human settlements development policy, until recently. But I am glad to say that UN-HABITAT, in cooperation with FAO, IDRC and SIUPA, among others, has started exploring how this subject can be fully located within the urban planning and management arena. I am also glad to note that all of UN-HABITAT's partners that I have just mentioned are represented here today. I thank you for your cooperation and support. Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Participants, I wish you success in your very important deliberations and I very much look forward to the resulting policy guidelines.

I thank you for your attention.

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