Nutrition in the context of urban-rural linkages

Recent estimates indicate that the world is not heading in the right direction in order to eradicate all forms of malnutrition by 2030. One out of three people in the world suffers from one or several forms of malnutrition, and current trends suggest this may increase in the coming years. The world faces enormous challenges in nourishing its growing population while assuring the health and sustainability of the planet. Highly processed foods and livestock-based diets are becoming more available everywhere, displacing healthier plant based traditional diets, with higher environmental pressures.

This alarming situation takes place in a context of nutrition transition, a rapid change in diets and lifestyles, partly due to urbanization processes. Underlying factors that address nutrition change according to context, including across the rural-urban continuum. Urban-rural links are therefore an interesting opportunity to look at nutrition.

From 8 to 13 February, Abu Dhabi hosted the Tenth Session of the World Urban Forum (WUF10) organized by UN-Habitat. The WUF is the foremost international gathering for exchanging views and experiences on sustainable urbanization in all its ramifications. UNSCN was invited to participate in the WUF10 and launch and present the main findings of the UNSCN Discussion Paper Urban-Rural Linkages for Nutrition: Territorial approaches for sustainable development. This paper provides an overview of nutrition and the urban–rural context and how, in general terms, this relates to integrated territorial governance and development. Using the UN Habitat Guiding Principles for Urban–Rural Linkages (URL-GP) and Framework for Action (FfA) (UN-Habitat, 2019) as a starting point, the authors further discuss the opportunities that exist to improve nutrition in the context of urban rural linkages, but also to provide input to planners of how nutrition could be of help to smoothen local development along the urban- rural continuum, to the benefit of both nutrition and territorial planning.

On 12th of February, UN-Habitat, FAO, UNSCN and other partners hosted the networking event Reducing the urban-rural linkages through culture, revitalization and innovations. The main objective of the session was to present how stakeholders across different sectors work in the urban-rural continuum and how the UN-Habitat URL-GP and FfA are relevant to their particular work and projects. The UNSCN Coordinator Stineke Oenema, opened the session presenting the UNSCN Discussion Paper and emphasizing the importance of using territorial lens in nutrition policy and programs, improving inclusive urban-rural finance to address poverty, hunger and malnutrition and including nutrition in the context of urban-rural linkages. “Planners and nutritionists need to jointly improve their understanding and start planning and working together for more positive impact of policies and programmes.”

At WUF10, UNSCN also organized a discussion on Shaping the urban food environment for healthy and sustainable diets hosted by the FAO booth. The event, moderated by FAO, started with a keynote presentation by UNSCN about the main findings of the UNSCN flagship publication UNSCN Nutrition 44 - Food environment: Where people meet the food system, with a special focus on urban food environments. Speakers from WHO and FAO contributed to the discussion with detailed examples of food environment and retail environments, stressing the importance of green spaces in cities and of a healthy environment, including clean air.

SDG 11 calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. While nutrition, food, or agriculture are not specifically mentioned, SDG11 recognizes the importance of urban-rural linkages and calls for stakeholders to “support positive economic, social and environmental links between urban, peri-urban and rural areas by strengthening national and regional development planning.”

It is thus of mutual benefit for the nutrition and urban and territorial planners’ communities to explicitly take each other’s perspective into account.

Nutrition is too important to leave it to nutritionists alone”.


The authors of the UNSCN Discussion Paper Urban-Rural Linkages for Nutrition: Territorial approaches for sustainable development answered a few questions about the paper, connections between the rural-urban continuum and food system transformation, and what is needed to ensure nutrition actions reflect the importance of rural-urban linkages in order to enhance their positive impacts on nutrition outcomes in low- and middle-income countries. Read the interview on the Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) website.

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

©FAO/Giulio Napolitano

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