Sustainable City Food Systems Pact

Urban agriculture is a major part of a growing sustainable city food systems movement, one that is spreading at an amazing speed. It’s not just because locally grown food is a trend embraced by more affluent urbanites, and discerning chefs. Urban farming has also proven to create economy, and healthy food options where neither was available. And this isn’t a citizen movement – it has moved into city hall.

In less than 2 years, one man’s idea has mayors of big cities around the world becoming the driving force in changing the issues with food. It started as an idea the mayor of Milan had in 2014. Guiliano Pisapia saw that adapting to climate change at the city level, and finding solutions to reducing waste, poverty, and malnutrition included the food system: production, distribution, and waste. It occurred to him that city policies had the power to influence positive change in all these areas with a food systems network.

Food production may only be responsible for 11% of greenhouse gases, but transporting it and the senseless waste involved at the retailer and consumer level ups that figure to almost 1/3 of the greenhouse gas problem globally. A fact that has been vocalized by many over the past few years, and driven home by the explosion in urban agriculture and the local food movement.

At the C40 Leadership Group Meeting in the fall of 2014, Pisapia asked the group if any were interested in developing an urban food policy pact to address both the climate and food safety net issues. Twenty six of the mayors present instantly wanted in. They brought in technical consultants to help in planning and outlining the policy, and by the time the focus points of the program were identified – the number of cities involved grew to 46. The policy became a draft in the spring of 2015. By fall, when the C40 met again the day before the Milan Expo in October, 108 cities were ready to join the sustainable city food systems pact. But when Pisapia asked the assembly who among them would be entering into this international treaty – 120 cities signed on.

The policy became a new urban agenda the day before World Food Day, and the opening of the first world expo with food as the theme. Great timing, but by no means a superficial measure. The signing of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) is a commitment to a collaborative effort to making a city’s food system sustainable, and capable of growth and change to meet both population growth and climate change. By the time the C40 met in 2016 earlier this month in Rome, the number of cities committed to the pact had risen to 130.

There are 6 categories in the MUFPP Framework of Action, and at the 2016 Mayors Summit in Rome, awards were presented to the cities with the greatest accomplishments in these areas of the policy pact. Top honors went to Baltimore and Mexico City with an award of 15,000 euros. Baltimore had the highest score for hiring a food policy director to create healthy eating options in food deserts, and implement an urban agriculture plan. Mexico City was rewarded for making affordable healthy meals available to their challenged residents by creating over 200 community dining rooms in 16 districts across the city. Special recognition for innovative food strategies was received by Toronto and Vancouver, Birmingham in the UK, Quito, Riga, and Lusaka.

Exciting? Yes, it’s a start in the right direction. But in reality, a lot more cities aren’t participating than those that are. However, it’s likely that involvement will increase as time goes on, and the agenda’s influence spreads across regions and continents.



C40 members are mayors whose cities have at least a population of 550,000. There are 38 cities that fit into this demographic in the United States, but only 6 have committed to working with this collaboration. As you can see by that map above, the effort is greatly concentrated on the other side of the world, with the most participation seen in Europe and its neighbors. And there are thousands of smaller cities where even greater portions of global population are collected that aren’t part of the C40. That’s not even toughing the other 45% of the global population who live in rural communities, where the food system is actually worse than in more densely populated places.

Obviously, there’s a a huge amount of further work to be done before making true change in the food system possible for all people, because food should be for people first, and profit second. But perhaps it’s possible for any city or town to implement some of these practices to shape a responsible food community. Milan has a local food system in place that goes way beyond this new sustainable city food systems pact. It’s based on 53 good practices. You can learn about over 40 of them in an ebook they’ve compiled, and made available HERE. (Hope you can read Italian!)

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Tammy Clayton

Contributing Writer at Garden Culture Magazine

Tammy has been immersed in the world of plants and growing since her first job as an assistant weeder at the tender age of 8. Heavily influenced by a former life as a landscape designer and nursery owner, she swears good looking plants follow her home.