“Food cannot be treated as every other commodity”

15 October 2021

This speech by Dario Nardella, President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence, was delivered at the high level Farm to Fork Conference, which takes place one day ahead of World Food Day.

Food policy has for a long time been the remit of national and international levels of policy-making. It is sometimes suggested that cities have neither capacity nor powers to shape the food system. I disagree. Cities are actors of change. They are a creative space where innovative solutions for food systems are both designed and implemented.

Food cannot be treated as every other commodity: good quality food is a right for all EU citizens and food is then fundamental to achieve a just transition in the economic recovery. However our cities need to reconnect people with what they eat, suffering from high levels of obesity, food insecurity, overconsumption and a high percentage of food waste.

Food is also a tradition and it is necessary to enhance the traditional agri-food products that exist in Italy and in similar forms also in Europe. Tuscany boasts almost 500 typical traditional products of the more than 6,000 surveyed nationally. These products, in several cases, risk disappearing due to lack of adequate visibility; and today we are equipping ourselves with a systemic approach to food, including by shortening supply chains so as to guarantee that consumers recognise local products.

In cities, food policy is a strategic tool to address different urban challenges. It is about ensuring quality nutrition for all children regardless of their income, supporting agroecology solutions and guaranteeing farmers’ access to land, while we reduce our impact on the planet and support job creation. It requires us to get better at working across different city departments and with our rural surroundings, thus reinforcing sustainable urban-rural development.

As cities we can use, among others, three special powers to change our food systems. The first is the power of purchase. When we decide to buy more local, seasonal and biological food, it is a very effective tool to achieve our goals for public health and sustainability and a fair income for our producers.

Another power we cities use is urban planning. We can promote access to land in and around the city for food production and community growing projects. We support local food markets by making them more accessible by foot or public transport. It allows us to address food environments in cities to make sure there is access to healthy and sustainable food.

Finally, there is the power of partnerships. As cities, we cannot achieve our goals without collaborating closely with local partners, businesses, social enterprises and civil society groups. We have a role and a responsibility to convene and engage all stakeholders to co-create our food strategies We want to offer a fertile ground where new ideas on food systems can take seed and grow. Our partnerships are essential to achieve our food policy goals. This is our greatest power being the level closest to citizen and territory.

As cities, we do not work only locally. As the network of European cities, Eurocities collaborates with the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, the international agreement on urban food policies. The pact has been signed by over 200 cities from all over the world, including my own city. We have committed to actions to make our food systems fairer and more sustainable, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

In Eurocities we then gather cities’ experiences from Europe but also all over the world. We have built a common platform of food policy knowledge. It is a library of living experiences, that inspire and promote the spreading of innovative solutions and examples that can be put into practice. The challenges are extensive and complex, and we need to work together and to share our experiences to achieve change to the global food system.

The Farm to Fork strategy sets Europe on a new ambitious path. We look forward to the Commission proposals for a Sustainable EU food system law.

I want to highlight three central aspects of sustainable food systems from an urban perspective. I believe that cities have experiences that can be useful for the EU and our national governments on how to create a future EU food policy together.

Firstly – involve citizens as key actors of the food system

For a successful EU food policy, we need to put citizens at the centre of food system transformation and empower them to help us turn around unsustainable consumption patterns.

A strong involvement of citizens in local, national and international food policy development is essential to balance out some of the power and influence imbalances that currently characterise our agri-food system, where only few actors take decisions affecting millions.

In our cities, we involve all actors of the food system, particularly the most vulnerable and often excluded sector of society. There is a lot to learn from the experiences of cities on how we empower communities.

Secondly – support short supply chains for resilience

The covid-19 crisis has made us more aware of the connections between our health, consumption, supply chains and the planetary boundaries.

Cities have been at the forefront of the pandemic. One of the implications has been a peak in food insecurity. For example, in Paris there was a 25% increase in people seeking food aid, with migrants, homeless people and students being at high risk. Florence registered 9,000 new people receiving food aid, and Madrid is now investing €51 million in food aid solutions as a result of the increase in need.

We need to make our food system more resilient in times of crisis, as a crucial component. We can do so by recognising the role of local food production and by promoting short food supply chains. This includes encouraging agroecology solutions and urban and peri-urban food production, bringing consumers closer to producers and promoting a fair income for primary producers. It also includes supporting seasonal, more plant based and healthy diets.

Thirdly – work across silos and support innovation

One of the biggest challenges for public administrations at all levels is governance. In our local administrations, we need the different departments to align around sustainability to deliver results for our citizens. The same is true at national and EU level.

We believe in the need to develop an integrated EU food policy strategy to ensure a joined-up approach across policy areas and levels of government, from the EU to the local level for a real multi-level governance system.

In these weeks, under the Slovenian EU presidency, we are proposing to launch a new urban agenda partnership focusing on food. This would bring all levels of government to the table to work together towards better knowledge, better funding and better legislation for sustainable food systems. It would be a real added value for policy alignment and multi-level collaboration as shown by the partnership on Culture and Cultural Heritage of which Florence is part, as well as by all the 14 existing EU Urban partnerships.

EU funded projects provide important new knowledge and innovation, as we saw at the event organised by five Food2030 projects on city-led citizen engagement. We must continue to support projects that helps us improve our food governance in the future.

Cities are actors of change and today Eurocities is launching our policy statement Cities – cooking up a fair, healthy and environmentally friendly EU food system, which I invite you to read. It is clear that strong urban food policies can deliver many benefits. It can help provide a good quality food principles, and a fair income to the producers in our rural surroundings. It can also increase the number of green areas in our cities and to reconnect citizens with what they eat. It can increase access to healthy diets for more people and reduce our carbon emissions. It can boost our local economy, and give our children a healthy environment to grow up in.

We are committed to improving our urban food system with the powers we have. We are also committed to working together with partners at European and national level to accelerate the change we need in the wider food system.


Dario Nardella President of Eurocities and Mayor of Florence