London — The poorest countries risk a greater dependence on food imports unless more is invested in their rural agriculture industries as people move toward cities, according to the UN.
As urban populations rise, diets are changing and consumption of foods like meat, fruit and vegetables are set to rise, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation. To meet that extra demand, rural areas will need more investment both on and off farms to improve output and sustainability.
Less-developed nations will add about 1 billion people by 2030, with the fastest increase taking place in urban areas, according to the FAO. In places like sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, small-scale and family farmers produce 80% of food supplies, while urban areas consume the bulk.
“If farming systems are able to satisfy the emerging demand, urbanization will become an opportunity for more-inclusive growth in rural areas,” the Rome-based FAO said in a report. “If not, urbanisation will open the doors to increasing dependence on food imports.”
Boosting small-scale growers’ productivity and incomes and creating job opportunities outside farms could help reduce rural poverty, the agency said. It may also give people less reason to move to cities and therefore also reduce poverty and malnutrition in urban areas.
The growing demand from urban food markets, which consume as much as 70% of food supplies, could benefit the rural agriculture industry, the FAO said. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, the value of urban food markets is projected to more than triple to $500bn in 20 years through 2030.
As well as focusing on boosting food output and productivity, more should be done to strengthen links between farming and nonfarming sectors, the agency said. Policies should also seek to encourage rural entrepreneurship and improve infrastructure.
“Urbanisation thus provides a golden opportunity for agriculture,” the FAO said in the report. “However, it also presents challenges for millions of small-scale family farmers.”
Agnieszka De Sousa