Smart food cities: 50 mayors meet in Rome to phase metro food maze

By Lynda Searby

- Last updated on GMT

Big city food issues: Urban childhood obesity & health inequality were on the agenda in Milan. ©iStock/alextype
Big city food issues: Urban childhood obesity & health inequality were on the agenda in Milan. ©iStock/alextype

Related tags: Childhood obesity

A UK project to tackle childhood obesity and Riga’s green treatment of food waste are two of the first initiatives to come out of a pledge to collaborate on food challenges, signed by global mayors.

Mayors from about 130 cities have now signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) since it launched in October 2015 at the Milan Expo with an exchange of “good practices, solutions and expertise”​ to address urban food challenges. In committing to the pact, cities pledged to work collaboratively to find ways of making food systems more sustainable and resilient in the face of rapid urbanisation and climate change.

Initiatives are already underway and two of these were last week awarded monetary prizes under the Milan Pact Award scheme.

“The Milan Pact Awards are paving the way for establishing a mechanism for practical exchange of solutions. The winners of the two monetary prizes will use that money to transfer the winning project to another signatory city,”​ a spokesperson for the MUFPP Secretariat told FoodNavigator.

Feeding Baltimore’s food deserts

One of the recipients was the Baltimore Food Policy Initiative, which has increased access to healthy, affordable food in Baltimore’s food deserts. Its achievements included securing over two million dollars in grant funding for food access and local food systems, and passing an urban farm tax credit and a land-leasing initiative for urban farmers.

Baltimore was awarded €15,000 and is now hoping to persuade three more North American cities to sign the pact (only nine have signed so far).

Birmingham takes on huge challenge

Two European projects were also recognised in last week’s awards. In the UK, the Birmingham Childhood Obesity Partnership has been exploring innovative approaches to tackle childhood obesity and health inequality. The partnership has secured funding to support schools and community centres to grow food and run cooking classes and activity programmes. It has also commissioned Crowdfunder to match-fund community-based health projects, partnered with Smart City Alliance so that big and small businesses are engaged in the planning of a ‘food smart city’ and started work to encourage healthier, more sustainable public sector procurement.

In addition, Birmingham City Council has become the first local authority in the UK to display nutritional information on all street side adverts and will begin to explore the potential impact of a sugar tax. It will do this by hosting a National Institute for Health Research fellow who will undertake an economic evalulation of all school based childhood obesity services across Birmingham.

Latvia: food waste powers greenhouses

Food waste management efforts in the Latvian capital, Riga, were also acknowledged in the awards. Getlini EKO, a high technology waste management company owned by the municipality of Riga, is transforming landfill gas from food waste into energy. The operation has become one of the largest producers of green energy in Latvia, producing 33,718,200 kWh in 2015. The heat that is a by-product of the energy is used by greenhouses located in the vicinity of the landfill to grow tomatoes out of season - important as Latvia suffers shortages of quality vegetables during the winter and spring.

Eager to reinforce its guiding role on food policy, the pact’s birthplace, Milan, has launched several projects. For example, the city’s contract catering company, which serves 80,000 meals a day to schools, retirement homes and social centres, has signed an sourcing agreement with a consortium of 33 local rice farms. So far, 180 tonnes of locally grown rice have been supplied under the deal. The city has also facilitated agreements between a supermarket chain and local producers of rice, cheese and vegetables.

Why focus on cities?

Cities occupy just 3% of the world’s land area but are home to some 3.5 billion people - more than half of the global population - and this figure is rising.

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Half of the world's population live in cities. ©iStock

According to Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, which is supporting the initiative, rapid urbanisation puts pressure on food systems and natural resources, creating a need for solutions that make cities more inclusive, safe and resilient.

“Local authorities have an important role to play in our global quest for sustainable development…It is at the local level where people live, eat, use wayer and take out their garbage,”​ he said.

The FAO is supporting the pact by helping cities to set indicators and targets for progress and helping to monitor results.

At present, the MUFPP spokesperson said that plans for interfacing with the food industry and involving it in the pact had not yet been developed.

"This is an important project although it is a shame food manufacturers are conspicuously absent from urban food governance,"​ said Dr Jess Halliday, independent researcher and consultant on urban food policy. 

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