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World Food Day: Don’t forget the new urban poor

Maria Medina Cacseere tends her chard crop in her urban garden in Manchay, Peru.
© J. Ashley Nixon


Food and Sustainable Development Goals

October 16 is World Food Day, one of the 127 observances or international days marked by the United Nations. Amongst these many conscience-raising days, the most important, to my mind, are the ones that strongly relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were agreed and published in September 2015. World Food Day, celebrated today, October 16, is such a day.

As with other international days, there is a specific, focus each year. In 2017, the theme, as described by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is:

Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development.

As the FAO says: The world is on the move. More people have been forced to flee their homes than at any time since the Second World War due to increased conflict and political instability. But hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change are other important factors contributing to the migration challenge.

Leave no one behind

Like all of the SDGs, food (Zero Hunger) cannot be managed as a goal in isolation. A more holistic approach to understanding and taking political and financial decisions that serve the best interests of the planet and its people is the right way to maintain and create sustainable development. Even if that path is bumpy and bendy, the journey has to be taken and ensure that no one is left behind.

Migration across and within countries

While some big and challenging movements of people involve migration across national borders (according to the FAO, there were 244 million international migrants in 2015, which is 40 percent more than in 2000) the majority, an estimated 763 million moved within their own countries rather than abroad (2013 figures). These are not people simply moving from one town to another to improve their livelihood by picking up a new job. It’s a more desperate upheaval of families, driven by political strife, military conflict, and crop failures.

Movement to the cities: the case of Manchay, Peru

Much of that in-country migration is from poor rural districts to urban centres, a trend that has been seen across the world so much so that more than half of the world’s population now resides in cities. Peru is one such country where people left poor, isolated Andean communities in their masses in the 1980s as they escaped terrorism and sought refuge and a new place to live on the outskirts of Lima. New peri-urban settlements have appeared, grown and continue to grow around the capital city, which due to the arid, desert-like landscape, means they came to places bereft of infrastructure. At the start, there is no water supply and no waste collection. Public transport is either non-existent or means crowded small buses that get you to a job if you can survive the hours-long daily commutes.

Manchay is such a community that has built up from zero to more than 100,000 people in just a couple of decades. Infrastructure has been developed and some families now have running water connections. But most depend on water tankers though, which is an expensive part of the household budget for the new urban poor. The transport network has grown but the commute is still wearing and recent price hikes on the buses triggered civil unrest.

Food and the urban poor

The idea of growing your own food in these urban desert conditions seems daunting but there is an emerging interest, supported by training from a local agricultural engineer, a local church and pastors and development aid from Canada that is doing just that. Their program of urban gardens or biohuertos will be the subject of a future article.

For today on World Food Day, it’s important to reflect on communities such as Manchay that have received the rural poor. Think about what it will take (better investment, business opportunities, capacity building, inclusive political intervention and grassroots determination) to put food squarely on the development agenda table in poor urban, as well as rural areas.

More images from Manchay

For more photographs of Manchay, Peru please visit J. Ashley Nixon Photography.

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