An Open Letter on the Urgent Need for Building Resilient Urban Food Systems

Just Cities has joined Urban Doughnut Asia, Feeding Cities and Sandvlei United Community in an open letter on the urgent need for building resilient urban cities. Read the content below and add your name as signatory by going to:

To whom it may concern,

The COVID-19 pandemic has made obvious that public health includes all, emphasising the dire need to improve living conditions and secure basic necessities for the most vulnerable within our cities. For those living in informal settlements, standard disease prevention measures, like social distancing and hand-washing, can be impossible. Leading health experts have repeatedly highlighted the importance of good diet and exercise to build physical health and robust immune systems.

Modern food systems have been failing on many levels for decades; environmentally, socially, and economically. Now, fresh produce prices are doubling or tripling in a matter of weeks, with reports of empty stores juxtaposed with scenes of fresh food being dumped as supply chains falter.

Heavy reliance on emergency food parcels is unsustainable, and we are gravely concerned for food security in the coming months. While many of the urban rich have the space and resources to be able to plant ‘victory’ gardens, the urban poor risk being left behind. In an effort to avoid the imminent global humanitarian crisis, we seek to urgently address the issue of urban food security in vulnerable areas across the Global South.

Our proposal

We propose the widespread construction of indoor, outdoor and rooftop garden plots, vegetable patches, greenhouses, and poultry runs in shared community spaces, alongside upcycling and food processing facilities to provide opportunities for packaging, storage and to reduce unnecessary food waste.

To tackle this, we propose widespread “jugaad” – a Hindi term referring to a creative, non-conventional, frugal “hack”: to innovate with meagre resources.

To accomplish this, we request help and donations from land owners, municipalities, plant centres, nurseries, local farms, and water supply firms, amongst others – by reaching out to vulnerable communities to help foster food security. Assistance may be in the form of regulations, finance, land availability, manpower, etc.

This is the moment to act

Pre-pandemic Copenhagen already had plans in place to turn street trees into communal fruit trees. Denmark’s progressive model of community food-growing brings neighbourhoods together to care for common property, thereby building shared identities while literally reaping fruits together.

The psychological benefits of community-building through gardening and food-growing can keep anxiety and depression at bay in these trying times, while fostering societal trust and resilience that will outlast the pandemic.
The added potential benefit for urban farming innovations can finally be brought to informal settlements as one step on the ladder to better long-term living standards, bringing thrivability and livability to the fore of urban development in these communities.

In the broader context of urban circular economy models, micro-business models can close loops innovatively. This is a powerful tool through which many major urban challenges can be successfully tackled by empowering citizens, thus relieving some burdens from local administrations in genuine and productive public-private partnerships.

Here is what we need to make Food Security Jugaad a reality for vulnerable communities in our cities around the world.

Space: We seek communal spaces within easy reach of informal settlements. Private spaces in suitable locations are also encouraged to be opened up for use. These spaces do not have to be big, but they do need good access to water. We seek assistance from authorities with regards to permits, and to allow essential food-related activities to take place.

Nutrients: We seek donations of food waste, in order to produce compost, and to feed nutrients into soil. Where good food risks going to waste, we seek systems to route this avoidable food waste to those who need it, and/or to facilities for processing, storage and distribution, e.g. the Ugly Food movement. We seek clean recycled plastic (e.g. bottles) and timber (e.g. pallets), for use in growing seedlings, to make mini-greenhouses, and to create water-retaining beds.

Seeds and seedlings: We seek seeds and seedlings of various local fruit and vegetable varieties, especially those that can be grown closely together symbiotically. In cities where water conservation is a major priority, we seek plants that do not require too much water to grow.

Chicks and ducklings: We seek chickens and ducks for poultry runs, to consume food scraps and to produce eggs for communities.

Training: We seek education and training for locals to manage their own food gardens. People need to be able to take care of their plots for the sake of their long-term community health. On top of technical aspects of food-growing, composting, cooking, processing, etc., training could also be provided to encourage micro-business models to emerge in helping communities develop more robust and optimistic future perspectives.

Spreading the word: We need you to share this open letter, to get resources, donations, and training to the right places.

An Open Letter on the urgent need for urban agriculture in the global south #guerillagardening #growourown #gardengansta #urbandoughnut #feedingcities #pandemicgardens #foodresilience

Join the movement

Embedding food production into urban- and peri-urban areas is increasingly viewed as an essential part of building more robust cities. Whilst typologies and solutions may differ from city to city and country to country, the message is clear:

Healthy food system = Healthy economy, Healthy planet, Healthy population

Perhaps most importantly, urban farming regenerates urban communities. It generates its own economy, providing people with greater holistic value than unethical employment practices rife in the Global South. Urban agriculture spreads knowledge and awareness of urban food systems, new economic models, waste reduction, education linked to opportunity, etc. It is a regenerative opportunity – one that begets more opportunities.

Urban agriculture has often been an overlooked area for business development, yet it is a powerful tool with the potential to deliver inclusive, responsible, robust and resilient regeneration right where it is needed most.

Let us use this critical opportunity to bring about Food Security Jugaad everywhere – and build healthy, thriving, local food systems that bring holistic benefits to all.


Samantha Suppiah
Founder and Director
Urban Doughnut

Chris Jones
Founder and Director
Feeding Cities
Rooftop gardens in Cairo, Egypt

Diana Diaz Castro
Just Cities

Maryam Manuel Salie
Sandvlei United Community
Organization (Suco),
Cape Town, South Africa

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