Food Smart Cities

Food Smart Cities

Food Smart Cities

Building bridges for sustainable and fair food in cities

How do we provide quality food to an increasing urban population? And how do we do this in such a way that the effects of climate change are mitigated, the environment is not damaged further and smallholder farmers are valued as key protagonists in sustainable urban food systems? These are some of the critical questions that Rikolto’s Food Smart Cities Cluster is trying to address.

  • More than half of the world’s population currently lives in urban areas, a proportion that is projected to increase by 68% by 2050 (UN, Dep of Economic & Social Affairs, 2018), With current global trends in diets and population, 60% more food would be needed by 2050 (CCAFS/CGIAR)
  • 70% of fresh water is used for agriculture. Soil quality and water resources are depleting.
  • A third of all food produced for human consumption – about 1.3 billion tons of food a year – is wasted or lost globally. This is equivalent to 3.3 billion tons of carbon (FAO). If food waste were a country, it would be the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind the U.S. and China.
  • Low prices and poverty are forcing farmers from the land. Young people are turning their backs on agriculture.

To keep up with the ever-growing world population in a changing climate, the food sector needs more stable supply chains to provide affordable food for all, today and tomorrow.

Change on a global scale demands that food markets become more inclusive and offer value to all actors in the food system. By working with businesses on sustainable procurement policies, and with city governments on urban food policies, we can improve peri-urban and rural farmers’ linkage with markets. This can in turn improve their livelihoods and create strong incentives for them to produce food more sustainably

Charlotte Flechet International Food Smart Cities Cluster coordinator

Why cities?

According to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on Cities and Circular Economy for Food, 80% of all food is expected to be consumed in cities by 2050. While urban farming can only provide a limited amount of nutrition required for human health, cities can source a large share of food from their surrounding areas: 40% of the world’s cropland is located within 20 km of cities (Thebo, A. L., et al, 2017). Furthermore, the food sector has a tremendous impact on jobs: it is estimated that the global food industry employs over 1 billion people and accounts for around 10% of global GDP (Murray, 2017). The report also shows that for every dollar spent on food, the economic, societal and environmental costs amount to about 2 dollars. Half of the costs relate to food consumption: obesity, malnutrition and micronutrient deficiency, while the other half is related to food production. Cities manage vast public resources, infrastructure, investments and expertise. At the same time, they are at the heart of economic, political and cultural innovations (MUFPP, 2015).

At Rikolto, we believe that cities can play an important role in sparking a shift towards a fundamentally different food system in which healthy and sustainable food is affordable and available to all through mainstream channels such as supermarkets, farmers’ markets, school canteens, hospitals, etc. Thanks to their position in the food system, city governments and businesses are ideally placed to substantially influence the type of food that enters the city as well as how and where it is produced. While rapidly-growing urban areas are an important part of the food challenge, we also believe that cities have the right scope of governance to bring about change in an action-orientated way to contribute to global sustainability.

The Food Smart Cities Cluster

In 2015, 137 city mayors gathered in Milan to discuss two of the most severe emergencies of the third millennium: food security and sustainable development. It was during this conference that “Food Smart Cities” became the central concept for cities that are working towards new urban food systems. At the end of the conference, the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact was signed by 137 city mayors. They agreed to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse.

The Pact signatories include the cities of Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Quito (Ecuador), Arusha (Tanzania) and Ghent (Belgium). One year later, in October 2016, Rikolto’s Food Smart Cities cluster was formally initiated alongside the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito. Overtime, Rikolto expanded its collaboration with four more cities: Da Nang (Vietnam), Solo and Depok (Indonesia), and Leuven (Belgium). United by a shared interest in developing more sustainable urban and rural food systems, these cities are working in partnership with Rikolto’s regional offices and other stakeholders to implement policies and practices that contribute to fair, sustainable and healthy food systems.



What will we eat tomorrow?

Food smart cities leading the transition to sustainable food

Between March and August 2019, three journalists from the magazine Eos Tracé visited partner cities of Rikolto's Food Smart Cities programme. During these visits, they interviewed more than 130 people and discovered initiatives that make safer, healthier and sustainable food more accessible to citizens. This book tells their stories from 9 cities in Vietnam, Belgium, Tanzania, Indonesia, Ecuador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Get a soft copy of the book

Have a look at our projects!


Multi-stakeholder cooperation is at the heart of our strategy

Globally, our food systems are in crisis and need to become more sustainable, resilient and inclusive. The overall goal of the Food Smart Cities cluster is to support city-regions to implement policies and practices that contribute to sustainable, fair and healthy food systems.

To do so, Rikolto and its partners are working towards four objectives:

  1. To include smallholder farmers, women and the youth in sustainable urban food chains under fair trading conditions;
  2. To increase the affordability, availability and acceptability of safe, sustainable and healthy food to city-dwellers;
  3. To reduce the environmental impact and increase the resilience of urban food systems;
  4. To set up participatory governance mechanisms for urban food systems.

Rikolto endorses CIAT’s definition of sustainable food systems as: “Those food systems with low environmental impacts, that contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy diets for present and future generations and that generate employment and income opportunities for the poor. Sustainable food systems are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, as well as human well-being. They provide culturally acceptable, economically fair, affordable, nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy foods in a way that balances agro-ecosystem integrity and social welfare” (CIAT, 2017)

A three-tier approach

City-region food systems are very complex and encompass a set of complicated processes, activities, infrastructure and environment. They involve a wide number of stakeholders such as producers, processors, retailers, public authorities, waste disposal companies, consumers and civil society, and contribute to numerous outcomes related to nutrition, health, the local economy and environmental sustainability. Making change happen at city-regions levels requires joint action with, amongst others, local governments, private companies, food producers and citizens.

In order to support city-regions to adopt policies and practices that contribute to sustainable, fair and healthy food systems, Rikolto implements a three-tier approach.

  • Level 1: Piloting with cities. Together with our partners, we develop and disseminate innovative and scalable practices at city-region level that contribute to sustainable, fair and healthy food systems.
  • Level 2: Learning cycle. We facilitate the sharing of experience and peer-to-peer learning among cities in close collaboration with strategic allies such as the City Food Network, UNEP and RIMISP.
  • Level 3: Influencing the international agenda. We share the evidence we gather from the field to advance the political agenda in favour of sustainable food systems and inclusive rural-urban food chains. We particularly aim to contribute to discussions on the Milan Plan for Action, the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Level 1- Piloting with cities:

Together with the cities of Ghent, Leuven (Belgium), Quito (Ecuador), Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Solo, Depok (Indonesia), Arusha (Tanzania) and Da Nang (Vietnam), we are implementing pilot projects to:

  1. Assist cities in developing and implementing local strategies and policies and setting up innovative governance mechanisms towards sustainable urban food systems
  2. Facilitate inclusive business models between urban retailers and peri-urban farmers, and foster closer rural-urban links
  3. Enable schools to adopt sustainable catering practices and promote healthy and sustainable food in schools
  4. Support city-regions to improve food safety and develop effective and engaging local food safety mechanisms
  5. Empower consumers to make healthy and sustainable food choices

The 5 interventions above combine a mix of 3 strategies:

  1. Strengthening partner capacities for collective action, for example through building the capacity of farmer organisations to produce and market quality food, through the facilitation of inclusive business models and short chains for urban food supply, or by improving transparency and traceability in food chains.
  2. Fostering innovation by investing in innovative methodologies to promote sustainable food systems such as piloting School Food Labs involving school canteen chefs, students, teachers and school management, promoting local Participatory Guarantee Systems to make food certifications affordable for farmers, and co-creating Food for the Future among supermarkets, local authorities, civil society and research organisations.
  3. Supporting an enabling environment and sustainability alliances by supporting multi-stakeholder mechanisms to improve food policy management. This includes, for example, the piloting of Food Market Committees on food safety, the facilitation of local Food Policy Councils to discuss food policy development or leveraging partner cities’ experience to influence national policy discussions.

These activities and pathways do not necessarily apply to all the cities Rikolto is working with. Based on the local context and needs, Rikolto and partner cities jointly identify priority interventions to focus on. The aim is to develop and pilot innovative and scalable practices for healthy, sustainable and resilient city-region food systems.

Level 2- Learning Cycle:

In addition to piloting concrete activities on the ground with partner cities, we aim to scale up innovative and successful practices through peer-to-peer learning (level 2) and international advocacy (level 3). To facilitate city-to-city exchanges, we work in close collaboration with strategic allies such as the City Food Network, the University of Ghent, the Catholic University of Leuven (KU Leuven) UNEP’s Community of Practice on Sustainable Food Systems, RIMISP (the Latin American Center for Rural Development) and other partners.

In 2019, we launched a Communication and Learning Cycle with the following objectives:

  • To map the expertise and learning gaps of partner cities
  • To document promising practices and capitalise on local knowledge
  • To trigger new collaborations and synergies to upscale our impact
  • To share best practices, successful tools and approaches among and beyond partner cities
  • To connect with and actively contribute to international networks and platforms
  • To facilitate partner cities’ participation in learning events and courses
  • To inspire more cities to work on urban food issues

Rikolto has also started a partnership with the media agency EOS Tracé to tell inspiring stories of the practices and policies that cities and their partners implement on the ground. The stories and case studies will be compiled in a book which will be presented on 6 December 2019 at the event: “Inclusive and sustainable urban food systems: from policy to practice” in Leuven. Furthermore, Rikolto is facilitating a learning journey in Belgium on food safety management, local food distribution platforms, and healthy and sustainable food at school for partner cities.

Peer-to-peer learning allows the participants to gain knowledge on different areas of the food system. Though contexts may vary, looking closely at someone else’s experience can make new ideas emerge and trigger inspiration to take action.

Nataly Pinto Programme Director for Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems at Rikolto in Latin America

Level 3 - Influencing the international agenda:

We aim to leverage the evidence we gather in the field to advance the political agenda in favour of sustainable food systems and inclusive rural-urban food chains. We particularly aim to contribute to discussions on the Milan Plan for Action, the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.


Our track record

Refresh this webpage to browse through the timeline below

Ghent and Leuven (Belgium)

  • In 2013, the City of Ghent launched ‘Gent en Garde’, an urban food policy that includes five strategic goals to pave the way for a sustainable food system for Ghent. These goals were chosen based on various stakeholder discussions facilitated by Rikolto, input from the city administration and political agreement. In 2019 Gent en Garde won the UN climate action award.
  • Within the Ghent Food Policy Council (with representatives of stakeholders in the local food system, NGOs, researchers, etc.), a core team was put together to refine the Gent en Garde general goals and to translate them into concrete operational goals, a process led by Levuur and Rikolto. This core team met four times from September 2015 to January 2016.
  • Rikolto is supporting 2 schools in Ghent to become School Food Labs as part of its Good Food at School programme. The pilot schools are coached to make their nutrition policy more sustainable. Together with pupils, teachers, school management and parents, we develop a sustainable school food policy, a sort of commitment between Rikolto and the kitchen, comprising ten practices to follow to achieve sustainability. Beyond sustainable catering, we also focus on the incorporation of healthy and sustainable food in the schools’ teaching programme.
  • The lessons learnt within the School Food Labs are being discussed at Ghent’s School Food Council, a group composed of stakeholders from Ghent’s educational and sustainability scene who discuss the upscaling of best practices and the sharing of experiences among different schools.

Over the past eight years Rikolto has coached catering kitchens from various sectors. We achieved excellent results with the restaurants of IKEA Food Belgium, the Federal government, UC Leuven Limburg and the University of Antwerp...Leuven University Hospital was even awarded the Gault & Millau award for its Corporate Social Responsibility efforts!

Katharina Beelen Sustainable Catering Programme Advisor
  • In 2018, following the example of Gent en Garde, Leuven launched Voedsel Verbindt, a food policy developed with the contribution of a wide range of stakeholders. The Good Food at School programme is currently implemented in two schools in Leuven. In one of the schools, 18 students became youth ambassadors for the project and started organising activities around sustainable food for their fellow students. In 2019, Rikolto launched the first School Food Council in Leuven with delegates from a broad group of stakeholders in the Leuven school environment, to discuss the lessons learned from the school pilots.
  • In 2019, Rikolto together with several partners and institutions, initiated the process to set-up a local distribution platform (Kortom) in Leuven to connect producers in and around Leuven to businesses based in the city. The launch of the platform is planned for the end of the year.
  • Rikolto is exploring the concept of a food incubator: a network of virtual and physical spots where (young) start-up initiatives get inspiration and coaching for new initiatives in sustainable food and farming.

Da Nang (Vietnam)

  • Rikolto has supported the development of safe food supply chains, consumers’ access to certified products, and traceability in Vietnam since 2009. Working in 7 provinces, Rikolto has promoted the combined use of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) with a food safety standard (BasicGAP) to improve smallholder farmers’ access to urban markets and increase the availability of affordable, safe food for consumers.
  • In July 2017, Rikolto and Da Nang’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development organised a participatory planning workshop to agree on the main guidelines of their 5-year collaboration. Shortly after, they signed a Memorandum of Understanding to kick-start their partnership.
  • In 2018, together with Vietnam National University of Agriculture, Rikolto conducted a study of all PGSs in Vietnam to assess their strengths and weaknesses and made recommendations on how to improve PGSs in Vietnam. On the basis of study’s results an initial PGS toolbox for practitioners has been developed. In the same year, the PGS system was expanded to the Hanoi region in partnership with Hanoi’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
  • In March 2019, Da Nang adopted its own Food Smart City strategy, the outcome of a fruitful collaboration between Da Nang’s Food Safety Management Authority, Vietnam National University of Agriculture and Rikolto, with support from the Belgian-Vietnamese Study and Consultancy Fund.

Ensuring consumers’ access to quality safe food and making sure that small-scale farmers are involved in safe food chains are among the priorities of our collaboration with Da Nang.

Hoang Thanh Hai Vegetable Programme Officer and Food Smart Cities Focal Point for Rikolto in Vietnam

Quito (Ecuador)

  • Quito is a member of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact
  • In 2017 and 2018, with the support of Rikolto and RUAF, Quito municipality held 10 workshops with the participation of agricultural producers, civil society organisations, the agri-food industry, chambers of agriculture and commerce, nutritionists, university professors, researchers and international cooperation. As part of this participatory process, internal coordination was achieved between different municipality departments and with levels of provincial and national government in order to improve co-responsibility and food governance in Quito.
  • This process resulted in the creation of a multi-stakeholder platform "Quito Agrifood Pact" which aims to raise awareness on food as not merely a nutritional issue, but as an issue that addresses political, economic, social, cultural and environmental concerns. With this vision, the group developed and promoted the signature of the Quito Food Charter.
  • On 2 October 2018, the “Quito Food Charter” was signed as part of the commemoration of the Habitat +2 global event in Quito. The charter entails 17 agreements made between stakeholders in the city-region food system, building on 5 pillars: 1) Management of food resources for the future, 2) Food security, sovereignty and nutrition, 3) Urban-rural linkage and an inclusive food economy, 4) Reducing food losses and waste, and 5) Food governance
  • In Quito, Rikolto works with UCCOPEM (the Union of Rural and Indigenous Organisations Chochasquí Pedro Moncayo) and CONQUITO, the Quito municipality operating agency, to tackle the sustainable production of local fresh fruits and vegetables, to improve local agriculture’s climate resilience, and to open up opportunities for women and youth to make the agricultural sector more sustainable

Farmers should have a voice in the discussions on food policies. Their views and role should be valued and taken into account so they can benefit from more organised food links and chains between their villages and consumers in the cities.”

Nataly Pinto Programme Director of Sustainable Food Systems at Rikolto in Latin America

Tegucigalpa (Honduras)

  • In 2015, Rikolto started working with El Consorcio Agrocomercial de Honduras, an organisation grouping 8 organisations of smallholder farmers, to strengthen its business model with the supermarket La Colonia. Our efforts focus on strengthening the healthy food production of 3 of the 8 organisations, and facilitating training, field training and technological supplies.
  • In 2017, Rikolto facilitated the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform, “the Inter-Institutional Committee for an Urban Agri-Food System” which brings together FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (SAG), the Mayor’s Office, FUNDER, and farmers organised within the Consorcio Agrocomercial. The platform promotes interventions such as improving the nutrition and diet of children in municipal childcare centres and primary schools, creating a food policy for Tegucigalpa, as well as improving traditional markets.
  • Together with FAO, ACRA and the Secretariat for Development and Social Inclusion (SEDIS), Rikolto is promoting an alliance between El Consorcio Agrocomercial and the municipality to develop an inclusive business model for the city’s public procurement of quality vegetables.
  • In 2019, Rikolto is leading a technical team with FAO, UTSAN (National Technical Unit for Food Safety) and the Municipality to develop a diagnostic of Tegucigalpa’s food system using the RUFSAT methodology.
  • Tegucigalpa is one of the early signatories of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

Food Smart Cities is a new approach towards food sustainability in the city of Tegucigalpa, where various public and private actors focus their actions on the construction of a sustainable urban food system that enables social inclusion and guarantees healthy food for citizens.

Annabell Guzman Representative of Rikolto for Honduras

Solo and Depok (Indonesia)

  • In 2013, Rikolto expanded its programme to target urban consumers, especially young people in Denpasar and Solo. We launched a campaign to raise awareness of healthy living and healthy food and investigated alternative marketing strategies to bring healthy food to school canteens, catering businesses, restaurants and hospitals.
  • Since 2014, Rikolto has been working with three associations of small-scale rice farmers (APOB, APPOLI and SIMPATIK) around Solo, central Java and West Java’s Tasikmalaya district. Together, they represent nearly 10,000 male and female rice farmers. In 2016, they obtained their first domestic organic rice certificate and are selling their rice to markets in nearby Solo and Yogyakarta.
  • Since 2018, we have been working with the NGO Gita Pertiwi, YLKI (Indonesian Consumer Foundation), PIK and research partners in the cities of Solo and Depok to: 1) conduct research on procurement policies, food waste, and healthy food consumption, 2) advocate inclusive procurement policies, 3) promote healthy food consumption, 4) strengthen networks of food producers and improve their connection to markets both in rural and urban areas, 5) build awareness about food waste, 6) develop distribution channels for edible food leftovers to low income urban communities

There is a big paradox in Indonesia: we are the second largest food waster in the world and at the same time there are still people starving. My job is to connect the dots and make sure that the food that would be wasted is donated to the people who need it. By doing this simple work, Rikolto can achieve two goals at once: reduce food waste and reduce the burden on disadvantaged people.

Purnama Adil Marata Food Smart Cities coordinator at Rikolto in Indonesia

Arusha (Tanzania)

  • Rikolto has been developing inclusive business within food chains around Arusha for decades. One of our partners is MUVIKHO, an umbrella organisation of vegetable farmer groups. In 2016, MUVIKHO obtained its own independent Global GAP certificate enabling it to work with multiple traders and exporters and to choose the client that offers the best prices and conditions. Rikolto organised training on Good Agricultural Practices for MUVIKHO farmers and set up Quality Management Systems that reduce the risk of contaminants through the adoption of specific procedures and protocols. Ultimately, the aim is to supply safe vegetables to Arusha under a safety label.
  • In 2018, Rikolto signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Arusha to form a partnership surrounding the Food Smart City transition up to 2021, with a specific focus on food safety, the lack of which threatens both ecosystems and public health.
  • We collaborate with UNEP, FAO, CIAT and others to strengthen the emerging multi-stakeholder platform on Arusha’s urban food system. As part of this collaboration, we have conducted policy baseline assessments for food safety, access to food, and the local economy. Based on the hotspots identified in the assessments, we will implement innovations within Arusha’s food system. These will include work on food safety, building on Rikolto’s work in East Africa over the past 4 years in the grains and horticulture sectors with sector business associations.
  • Arusha recently became a signatory of the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact.

In Arusha, the population is very vulnerable to food-related health problems. This is why we work with Arusha City Council and other partners to improve food safety and build a safer food system.

Shukuru Tweve Senior Agribusiness Advisor and FSC focal point for East Africa

Municipal councils

Rikolto works directly with the municipalities of Ghent, Leuven, Da Nang, Solo, Depok, Arusha, Quito, and Tegucigalpa.

International organisations and NGO's

We collaborate with a variety of international partners, particularly on food systems assessments, urban food governance, and city-to-city learning. Our partners include FAO – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the City Food Network coordinated by ICLEI and the RUAF Foundation, and UNEP’s Community of Practice on Sustainable Food Systems (One Planet Network)

Farmer organisations

Our interventions target several farmer organisations in and around the cities where we work. From small farmer groups such as Tuy Loan cooperative in Da Nang (35 farmers) to very large organisations such as UCCOPEM in Quito (4,000 members), our interventions want to give everyone a voice!

Consumer representatives

No food system transformation can happen without consumers changing their behaviour. That is why we work closely with organisations such as public schools in Belgium, kindergartens in Honduras, or YLKI, the Indonesian Consumers’ Foundation.

Private stakeholders

We partner up with a wide range of private sector stakeholders throughout the regions such as La Colonia and Walmart in Honduras, Colruyt in Belgium, and the Tanzanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Research organisations

We join forces with universities and research institutions to collect and analyse data on the local food systems where we operate and to document innovative practices. Our partners include KU Leuven and the University of Ghent in Belgium, Vietnam National University of Agriculture, the Tropical Pesticides Research Institute in Tanzania, the Catholic University of Soegijapranata (Semarang), the State University of Indonesia (Depok) and the State University of Solo in Indonesia, and CIAT – the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, globally.

International Food Smart Cities Cluster

Interested in partnering up? Contact us!

Charlotte Flechet
Charlotte Flechet
Food Smart Cities coordinator

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Latin America

Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Directora de Programa Sistemas Alimentarios Sustentables y Resilientes | Ecuador

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Indonesia

Catur Utami Dewi
Catur Utami Dewi
Regional Director Rikolto in Indonesia
+62811 3854 461

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in East Africa

Shukuru Tweve
Shukuru Tweve
Senior Agribusiness Advisor

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Belgium

Gert Engelen
Gert Engelen
Program coordinator

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Vietnam

Hoang Thanh Hai
Hoang Thanh Hai
Vegetable Programme Coordinator and Food Smart Cities Focal Point
+84-24 6258 3640/41 - ext. 32