The impact of urbanisation on food systems in West and East Africa

Urbanization is a major driver of societal, environmental, and economic change in both West and East Africa, affecting all aspects of food systems. A new policy report by PBL provides insights into the dynamics of urbanization and food systems in West and East Africa and assesses the potential impacts on rural livelihoods.

‘Urbanising’ food systems

The most important food system changes driven by urbanization are the rising food demand and changing food preferences. Food demand in East and West Africa will on average rise 2.5-fold by 2050, and even more in urban areas. Meeting this demand in an environmentally sustainable way while increasing rural agricultural incomes and employment, are central challenges.

Although diets differ widely between areas, in general, urban consumers spend more than rural consumers on animal products, sugars, oils, fruit and vegetables, and processed foods. Continued urbanization and unequal income growth are expected to further alter diets. Ensuring access to nutritious diets for both rural and urban populations is an additional challenge in West and East African food systems.

Making urbanization work for rural livelihoods

These alterations in food demand and dietary preferences can provide opportunities for rural livelihoods. Such opportunities include improved social and knowledge networks as a result of migration and better infrastructure, improved access to inputs and growing markets, and increases in off-farm employment.

The PBL report discusses how dispersed spatial patterns of urbanization, the development of secondary cities, and the quality of rural-urban linkages can contribute to the realization of these opportunities. However, the focus needs to be kept on strengthening the efforts to reduce inequalities between and within urban and rural areas, since urbanization tends to benefit certain groups more than others, with low-income groups in urban and rural areas at risk of losing out under a scenario of continued economic inequality and rising food prices.

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