Global Resources

Rural and urban linkages and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa

Author: K. Hussein, David Suttie
Publisher: Gender and Household Food Security, IFAD
Publication Date: Jul 2016

In a rapidly urbanising world, the role of smallholders and other agricultural producers in rural areas will require significant attention from policymakers, researchers, and the development field. The increasing demand for food, and the need for a booming youth demographic, points to rural agricultural production as being of vital importance, both in terms of ensuring food security, and as a source of income and economic empowerment. 

This paper, published by the International Fund for Agriculture Development, argues for using a systems approach to analyse the relationships and linkages between rural and urban settings. Viewing food systems as regional-based, centred around an urban area, allows for an integrated approach that acknowledges the interdependence between the rural and urban, and focuses on strengthening the system as a whole.

The paper begins with a look at emerging rural-urban dynamics, including urbanisation patterns, the key role of smallholder farmers, and the potential of small- and medium-sized towns to promote sustainable development models. The authors then focus on the trends and opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa, before proposing policies and actions for inclusive and sustainable food systems in Africa focused upon five key areas:

  • Reducing rural-urban inequalities through increased investment in rural education, infrastructure, education, and energy, strengthening rural-urban linkages, and improving connectivity.
  • Strengthening and improving the inclusivity of agricultural value chains, including equal and equitable access for smallholders and women farmers, and efforts to stimulate local markets.
  • Adopting territorial or city-region food system approaches that encompass cities and the region they are situated in. Such a systems approach will necessarily value both urban and rural areas as intrinsic and important parts of food security and social equity.
  • Creating decent jobs in food systems, particularly for rural women, youth, and migrants; the labour intensive nature of agriculture holds substantial promise in terms of employment generation. As an important source of income for women, agriculture is therefore a key focal point for women’s empowerment.
  • Facilitating livelihoods, and enhancing migration and remittance flows. It is the view of the authors that fears over excessive rural-to-urban migration increasing urban poverty rates is often overstated, and that mobility between the two is important for increasing opportunity, and facilitating migrants investing in, and potentially moving back to, rural areas.

The authors conclude that urbanisation has radically altered food systems, with the majority of food produced in rural areas for consumption predominantly in urban areas. If we are to ensure equitable, sustainable development, it is vital that we recognise the interdependent and complex relationships and linkages between rural and urban areas, and embark on actions that are mutually beneficially, and that strengthens the system as a whole. This will require specific attention on the role of women and young people, to ensure inclusive models of development.