Food Smart Cities

Food Smart Cities

Food Smart Cities

Building bridges for sustainable, inclusive, and resilient food in cities

How can cities make sure that every citizen – rich or poor, young or old, regardless of their gender – is able to access and afford sufficient, safe, and nutritious food? And how can this be leveraged to ensure that smallholder farmers and all other food chain actors make a decent living out of producing and supplying food to cities, while remaining resilient to shocks and stresses? Lastly, how can this be achieved in such a way that urban food systems remain within the planet’s ecological boundaries and constitute a solution to – not a driver of – climate change and biodiversity loss?

Sometimes, these objectives are pursued at the expense of each other: a narrow focus on environmentally friendly and healthy foods, for example, might lead some companies to target niche, high-income markets, passing on the additional costs of producing sustainably to wealthy consumers, thus making it inaccessible to the majority. It doesn’t have to be that way.

We certainly don’t have all the answers, but with the Food Smart Cities programme, we are working hard to bring people together to design and test new models that can help navigate trade-offs such as the one mentioned above.


The ambition of the programme is to catalyse collective action among local food system actors (local authorities, food retailers and distributors, producers, citizens, experts, financial institutions, citizens, and civil society organisations) to make urban food environments and food supply chains more conducive to healthy, sustainable and nutritious diets for all citizens as part of resilient and inclusive city region food systems. We hope to affect change in three domains:

  1. Healthy and nutritious food for cities is produced in an efficient and sustainable way (sustainable food production)
  2. Urban food markets are inclusive of smallholder producers, vulnerable citizens, the youth and women (inclusive markets).
  3. An enabling policy, financial and normative environment at local, national and international level incentivises healthy, sustainable and nutritious diets (enabling environment).

Building on our experience, we focus on urban food environments and food supply chains. Food environments comprise the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which consumers engage with the food system to make decisions on acquiring, preparing and consuming food (HLPE, 2017). Favourable food environments are those that make it easier for citizens to choose healthy and sustainable diets. This is also an area where cities and local actors can have an impact by influencing how food is presented and accessed in their city ([GAIN, RUAF, MUFPP], 2019).

Cities are like laboratories where new ideas, models and collaborations can be tested, and their potential demonstrated. With the Food Smart Cities programme, we want to help lay the ground for them to flourish and help contribute to more resilient, sustainable and inclusive food systems for all citizens.

Charlotte Flechet International Food Smart Cities Cluster programme 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).

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, traditional markets, school canteens, hospitals, etc. Thanks to their position in the food system, city governments and urban food companies are ideally placed to influence the type of food that enters the city as well as how and where it is produced.

Cities command vast public resources, infrastructure, investments and expertise. At the same time, they are at the heart of economic, political and cultural innovations (MUFPP, 2015). While rapidly growing urban areas are an important part of the food challenge, cities offer critical opportunities to trial food system innovations in an action-orientated way.


Depending on the challenges and opportunities that exist in our partner cities, the Food Smart Cities programme aims to catalyse collective action around the following 3 pillars:

  1. Sustainable production of healthy, nutritious food, such as fruits, vegetables and pulses, for local markets. In working toward this end, we focus on preserving landscapes, promoting regenerative agriculture and enhancing resilience to climate change and other shocks.

  2. Inclusive food markets that cater to smallholder producers and vulnerable urban consumers. To help develop such markets, we focus on professionalising farmer organisations, facilitating their access to finance and business development services, promoting inclusive business relations in food chains and facilitating sustainable food entrepreneurship. We also strive for more efficient and inclusive distribution of locally produced, safe and healthy food, using innovative business models and digital tools. In addition, we facilitate the design of circular business models that foster sustainable food waste management by transforming food surpluses into new products.

  3. Enabling environments that incentivise sustainable and healthy diets through policies and new partnerships. Our actions target urban food governance, engaging citizens in collective action, incentivising investments in sustainable food innovations and promoting peer-to-peer learning. We aim to generate evidence that informs the search for solutions to chronic food system problems and that helps mainstream these solutions for impact.


The Food Smart Cities programme is built around 5 flagships initiatives that cut across the 3 pillars presented above. Having these flagships allows us to facilitate peer-to-peer learning among colleagues and partners and to build evidence from a larger pool of experiences. Not all flagships are implemented in all partner cities.

  1. Food Markets 4 All: professionalising farmer organisations and facilitating inclusive business models such as local food distribution platforms to bring healthy food to urban markets.
  2. GoodFood@School: providing tailored support to schools to make healthy and sustainable food the new normal for their pupils and promoting the upscaling of good practices through city-wide multi-stakeholder initiatives.
  3. Generation Food: accompanying ambitious young entrepreneurs through a business creation and incubation programme to create sustainable and inclusive food businesses.
  4. Circular Food Economy: facilitating the development of circular business models that transform food surpluses into new affordable and healthy products while reducing food waste.
  5. Food Citizenship: supporting a citizens’ movement to encourage companies and authorities to make healthy and sustainable food the easy choice and facilitating the co-creation of new solutions between citizens, researchers, retailers, and authorities.

Where we work

The Food Smart Cities programme is currently implemented in partnership with local actors from 19 cities and production areas:

  • In Latin America: Quito and Portoviejo (Ecuador), Lima (Peru), Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Lake Apanas and Managua (Nicaragua)
  • In Africa: Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Mbeya and Arusha (Tanzania), Kampala and Mbale (Uganda)In Southeast Asia: Hanoi and Da Nang (Vietnam), Depok, Bandung, Solo and Denpasar (Indonesia)
  • In Belgium: Antwerp, Leuven, and Ghent.

In 2022, we plan to start working with more partners:

  • Latin America: Guatemala City and Solola (Guatemala), Comayagua (Honduras), Matagualpa (Nicaragua), and a city still to be determined in Junin province (Peru).
  • In Africa: Bobo-Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), Dakar and Thiès (Sénégal), Goma and Bukavu (DRC), and Rubavu (Rwanda)
  • In Southeast Asia: Ho Chi Minh City

Inclusive business

Inclusive business translates into a fair and transparent collaboration between actors in the food chain (e.g., fair prices, risk-sharing), driven by a common goal, and leading to a stable market and a constant supply of quality food to cities. It is built on an equitable access to services such as credit, extension, inputs, and market information; is supported by inclusive innovation that helps make the chain more efficient; and strives for a fairer distribution of rewards. By ensuring a better deal for producers, inclusive business relations create incentives for them to produce food that meets safety and sustainability standards, thus increasing the availability of such foods on local markets. As such, it is a core strategy of the Food Smart Cities programme.

Smallholder farmers produce 80% of Africa’s food supplies, but they have limited access to services such as finance, market information, and extension which hampers their ability to produce and provide healthy, sustainable and nutritious (HSN) food to our growing African Cities, particularly vulnerable groups. Inclusive business models are key to ensure that smallholder farmers have the right capacities and incentives to produce HSN food and get a fair deal for it

Kain Mvanda Food Smart Cities coordinator in East Africa

A sustainable Food Systems approach

Anchored in the Sustainable Food Systems framework developed by CIAT, the Food Smart Cities programme approaches urban food systems from a systems thinking lens. Working across sectors and levels, the programme focuses on building interconnections between actors to foster collective action mechanisms and tackle some of the most ambitious challenges faced by cities such as how to provide culturally acceptable healthy food to all school children at an affordable price, or how to ensure that food sold in local markets is safe. Co-creation, multi-stakeholder collaborations and learning are at the heart of this approach.

Evidence for Impact

Our Evidence for Impact approach is the cornerstone of all of Rikolto’s Food Smart Cities strategies. It refers on the one hand to the process of co-creating, testing, and documenting models that have the potential to be adopted at scale, and on the other hand to the continuous engagement of target “upscalers” (authorities, businesses, investors, local CSOs) that have the capacity, desire and means to invest in the replication of these models at city or national level. Evidence is produced in a participatory way, in a variety of formats depending on the needs of the target “upscalers” (business cases, case studies, toolkits, etc.). It is then leveraged to inform discussions and decision-making in the framework of urban food governance and to feed peer-to-peer learning.

For Rikolto, the right to food must be promoted to enable all citizens from all walks of life to lead a healthy and fruitful life. This guides us in our collaborations with policymakers and agrifood actors so that no one is left behind and progress can be made towards SDGs 2, 8, 11, and 12, among others.

Nataly Pinto Food Smart Cities Programme Director in Latin America

A commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals

Rikolto’s Food Smart Cities programme contributes primarily to SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. A special focus goes to target 2.1: “By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round.” The programme also contributes to SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 5 (Gender Equality), SDG 8 (Decent Work), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production), SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 15 (Life on Land) and SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals).

Core SDG principles have been integrated in the design of our programmes worldwide:

  • Leaving no one behind: We are committed to curbing inequalities and avoiding disadvantaging further vulnerable groups. As part of our inclusive business approach, we strive to empower smallholder farmers and vulnerable consumers to contribute to and benefit from more sustainable urban food systems. A distinct focus is put on creating opportunities for youth and women’s business initiatives to prosper.
  • Interlinkages: In line with our sustainable food systems approach, we constantly seek to identify and mitigate trade-offs (e.g. between the affordability of healthy food for consumers, and the need for a decent income for producers), and to capitalise on co-benefits (e.g. through circular approaches that reduce food waste while providing affordable ingredients to be transformed into healthy foods).
  • Multistakeholder partnerships: They are a cornerstone of our strategies worldwide, ranging from promoting participatory food governance in cities, to collectively setting up a vision and action plan to sustainably manage key food production landscapes.

Sustainable Food Production

  • Since 2017, Rikolto has facilitated the development of a multi-stakeholder process to preserve and sustainably manage the landscape surrounding Lake Apanas in Nicaragua. Threatened by sedimentation, its shores supply approximately 60% of the vegetables consumed in Nicaragua’s large cities. In 2019, 28% of the families inhabiting the micro-basin of Sisle implemented at least 1 practice related to erosion control. By supporting farmers establish contracts with large retailers and SMEs, the average farmer's income from vegetables increased by almost 50% between 2017 and 2019. More information can be found in this case study produced for the One Planet Network.

  • In Vietnam, Rikolto has supported the establishment of Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) for safe vegetables in 5 provinces to build urban consumers’ trust and to incentivise the transition to safe production practices through better prices for farmers. As of September 2021, the authorities of Ha Nam, Vinh Phuc and Hanoi have published official guidelines to scale up PGS in their province, built on Rikolto’s guidance.

  • In Honduras, we partnered up with 8 farmer organisations from the Honduran Agro-commercial Consortium to support their professionalisation and strengthen their technical, business and organisational capacities. Between 2014-2017, about 800 farmers improved their income by an average of 59% thanks to a better bargaining position, higher productivity and quality, and the diversification of their products. The farmer organisations achieved a 97% compliance rate with consumer standards and contributed to a reduction of almost 86.5% of vegetable imports by the supermarkets they supplied (La Colonia).

Inclusive markets

  • During the covid-19 pandemic, Rikolto accompanied 17,887 farmers globally to sell their produce through local food distribution channels and/or e-commerce platforms. In Nicaragua, Rikolto supported UCHON, a union of 6 vegetable cooperatives from the north of Nicaragua to start up a collaboration with virtual sales platform eHarvestHub and Naju to directly supply both consumers and businesses. In a period of 4 months between November 2020 and March 2021, 269 tons of vegetables were sold to over 10,000 consumers.

  • In Leuven, Belgium, we contributed together with partners to the setup of local food distribution Kort’om. Based on a business-to-business model, it currently serves 13 supermarkets and 19 buyers from the hospitality sector. While achieving a fair price is still a struggle in the face of fierce competition from mainstream channels, the logistics have proven to work, and the cooperative is close to breaking even after less than 2 years of operations. A recent study demonstrated a conservative return-on-investment ratio of 1.86 euro for every euro invested in the platform. The ratio goes up to 3.11 when considering health benefits.

  • In Arusha, we have launched Generation Food, a sustainable food business incubator aimed at young people who want to contribute to better food in the city. After the initial hackathon which was joined by 158 entrepreneurs to generate new ideas, 65 entrepreneurs took part in a 2-week bootcamp to refine their business ideas. Finally, 20 businesses participated in the incubation phase with business models ranging from reusable packaging for chili sauces to insect-based animal feeds processed from food waste and electrical bikes to distribute safe food around the city. After a learning-packed first experience in Africa, Generation Food is now taking place in Ouagadougou and the Southern Highlands of Tanzania before taking root in other cities in our network.

  • Since 2018, as part of our GoodFood@School programme, 12 Belgian secondary schools in 4 cities (+- 9,000 pupils) have been intensively coached to commit to 6 concrete objectives: reduce meat consumption, opt for sustainable fish, consume local seasonal fruit and vegetables, support sustainable production methods, buy fair trade and avoid food waste. Based on these concrete experiences, a toolkit has been developed and experiences are fed to 4 multi-stakeholder School Food Councils (in Ghent, Antwerp, Louvain and the province of West Flanders) that facilitate peer learning, advise decision makers and raise awareness of pupils and school stakeholders. Ultimately, the goal is for all Flemish schools to adopt a healthy and sustainable food policy.

  • In Indonesia, Rikolto invested in Badami, a digital platform launched in 2020 to share and donate excess food to stimulate a more circular food economy. It also functions as a marketplace to directly connect SMEs and consumers. As part of our covid response, almost 15,000 citizens of Depok, Solo and Bandung benefited from food sharing. In Belgium, we contributed to development of Robin Food to process food surpluses into healthy products that are affordable for vulnerable groups. Over 65,000 litres of soup have been distributed to households affected by the covid crisis through social grocers.

An enabling environment

  • Rikolto has supported various cities in developing their local food strategies, either by playing a facilitating role such as in Ghent during the inception of the Gent en Garde policy, by being directly involved in their writing such as in Da Nang, or by being a thematic lead such as in Leuven where we continue to offer our expertise on local food distribution and working with schools as part of the food strategy process. In Quito, we contributed to the development of the city’s Agri-food strategy and Food Charter. In Leuven, we have also been involved in the development of the EcoFoodMap: a digital compass to guide the city’s food strategy.

  • We are also involved in several city-level multi-stakeholder platforms to guide the sustainable food agenda locally: in Arusha, we are coordinating the Sustainable Food Systems Platform which counts 19 members and is structured around 6 working groups: consumer sensitisation, safe production, youth-led business incubation, logistics & city planning, food safety standards, and a participatory guarantee scheme. In Quito, we are a member of the secretariat of the Agri Food Pact (PAQ) which is made up of 25 organisations and has become an international reference in the urban food systems world. In Tegucigalpa, Rikolto facilitated the establishment of the Inter-Institutional Committee for an Urban Agri-Food System.

  • In Solo (also going by the name Surakarta), our partner Gita Pertiwi helped develop a healthy canteen standard with the city’s Health Department, the Education Department and the Empowerment Office. The local standard goes beyond the national one and incorporates nutrition, food safety and environmental considerations.

  • Finally, to try to overcome the attitude-behaviour gap and make it easier for citizens to make sustainable choices, we started a coalition with 5 organisations representing more than one million consumers in Belgium. Our key strategies include giving a voice to a large group of ‘imperfect’ consumers who want to eat sustainably but struggle to do so, engaging in a dialogue with supermarkets and sustainability experts, and exerting positive pressure through an annual award ceremony for supermarkets’ best sustainability and food accessibility initiatives.

Hire us!

Did you know that Rikolto is now offering its expertise through consultancy services? Through Rikolto Limited, Rikolto’s social enterprise, all proceeds are reinvested in the social purpose of Rikolto International. Discover how Rikolto and partners can help you on the way to more sustainable and resilient food systems.

Discover more

Rikolto works with a variety of partners across many sectors, including:

  • Local authorities such as municipal departments of agriculture, education and health, city councils, market management authorities, schools, and district and provincial authorities.

  • Farmer organisations : farmer groups, cooperatives, farmer unions.

  • Private sector partners such as local chambers of commerce, supermarkets, catering companies, sectoral associations, business incubators, SMEs active throughout the food chain and business development service providers.

  • Local and international civil society organisations and consumer associations.

  • Academic and research institutions such as universities and international research networks.

We invite you to visit the regional Food Smart Cities webpages to find out about our specific partners in each country.


Rikolto’s Food Smart Cities programme is proud to contribute to the following networks:

Funders and Investors

  • The Belgian Directorate General for Development
  • EIT-Food
  • The European Union
  • Canada’s International Development Research Center
  • The Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
  • The United Nations Environment Programme
  • The Business Partnership Facility
  • OVO Acceleration Fund
  • GIZ
  • 11.11.11
  • Vlaanderen Circulair
  • Enabel
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • DOEN Foundation
  • Gilles Foundation
  • Vandersypen Foundation
  • Federatie SCW
  • Over 20 Belgian cities and 2 provinces (West-Flanders and East-Flanders)
  • The Belgian public


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

International Food Smart Cities Cluster

Interested in partnering up? Contact us!

Charlotte Flechet
Charlotte Flechet
Good Food For Cities programme director

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Latin America

Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Nataly Pinto Alvaro
Consultora externa | Ecuador

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Indonesia

Nonie Kaban
Nonie Kaban
Good Food for Cities Southeast Asia Regional Director

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in East Africa

Kain Mvanda
Kain Mvanda
Food Smart City cluster Director in East Africa & Tanzania Country Representative

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Belgium

Gert Engelen
Gert Engelen
Program coordinator

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in Vietnam

Hoang Thi Lua
Hoang Thi Lua
Programme Coordinator
+84-24 6258 3640/41 - ext. 31

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in West Africa

Bernadette Ouattara
Bernadette Ouattara
Food Smart Cities programme coordinator
+226 70 26 86 96

Food Smart Cities Rikolto in DR Congo

Germaine Furaha
Germaine Furaha
Regional Director in East Africa