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IFAD: Rural-urban linkages and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa

This report provides a developing country perspective on rural-urban linkages in food systems. It examines the role of rural-urban linkages in fostering inclusive and sustainable food systems, focusing in particular on sub-Saharan Africa.

One of the main trends the report identifies is that of changing diets. Changing food consumption patterns are shaping the demand for food in both rural and urban areas and the report show that rural poor people and other households in urban areas in particular are (as incomes are rising) demanding more processed foods, meat products, and diverse fresh fruits and vegetables.

The report includes a particular section on “Policies and actions for inclusive and sustainable food systems in Africa” and the areas highlighted as priorities for action are:

  • Reducing rural-urban inequalities, strengthening linkages and improving connectivity
  • Strengthening and improving the inclusivity of agricultural value chains
  • Adopting territorial or city-region food system approaches that encompass cities and the regions they are situated in
  • Creating decent jobs in food systems, particularly for rural women, youth
    and migrants
  • Facilitating livelihoods, enhancing migration and remittance flows


Given the context of transitions related to rapid urbanization, the roles that rural economies
and societies will have to play (particularly smallholder farmers and other rural producers)
in creating sustainable and inclusive food systems, in generating employment and incomes
and in contributing to more balanced, equitable and mutually reinforcing patterns of rural-urban development in Africa require the attention of analysts, policymakers and
development programmes in the years ahead. Addressing challenges related to a bulging
population of young people will be particularly important in any work on the rural-urban
nexus, in which youth migration plays critical roles.

This is borne out by an analysis of evidence from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, which stresses the importance of increasing productivity and incomes among rural people, particularly smallholders, during processes of economic and social transformation. Emerging trends and opportunities – such as the increasing demand for food and the changing nature of that demand as consumer preferences evolve, urbanization, demographic patterns that mean young people are an increasingly important proportion of the overall population, and more integrated food value chains – all point to the importance of ensuring key rural dynamics are taken into account in developing rural-urban linkages. Taking account of these dynamics will mean addressing key rural-urban inequalities and connectivity gaps, developing more integrated and inclusive links within food systems and agricultural value chains, testing spatial and territorial approaches to development that provide valuable tools to integrate the rural dimension into debates surrounding urbanization, the promotion of a more sustainable urbanization, and building decent employment in food value chains. Nonetheless, the review of evidence in this paper suggests that, while urbanization potentially opens up opportunities for inclusive rural and structural transformation, this can only be achieved when suitable policies and investments are put in place to adequately address the particular needs of often-neglected rural people who play critical roles in food systems.

Read the full report here.

You can also read more about the concept of city-region food systems in our three part blog series by Professor Michael Hamm here. You can also see results from a website wide search on rural urban food systems. You might also be interested in the work of the the work of the International Sustainability Unit on Sustainable Urbanisation as well as work by International Urban Food Network (IUFN).

If you are working on rural/urban food systems we would be very happy to hear more about your work and the approaches in different regions of the world. If you are signed in as a member you can comment below this story, or you can also send us an email.

You can find other relevant research in the categories on food security and nutrition, development/poverty as well as the Keyword categories on urban agriculture, rural development, smallholder (farms), investment, consumption and production trends, nutrition transition.

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