The Transformative Impact of Quito’s Resilient Food Security Program

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Local urban farmers, voluntaries at the food bank and the City of Quito have made impressive strides on the road to a sustainable and secure food system by 2050. The City has begun to transform their food system and increased local food production and distribution, and by strengthening their food systems, the city found itself in a better position to support the needs of the most vulnerable when Coronavirus hit.

Most importantly, local food production has become a cornerstone of Quito’s Agrifood resilience work approach, and have already transformed people’s lives. Quito has assisted an average of 4,500 people per year, a combination of those receiving urban farming support and the families that benefit directly from these farms, supported the creation of new farms, bringing the total to 1,529 orchards in Quito’s urban, peri-urban, and rural areas—70 of those just between November 2019 and March 2020 (when they conducted the last census). These result in about 640 tons of fresh and healthy food reaching Quito, with more than 11 tons destined specifically for the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. 

This increase in access to healthy food and diversification of the local food supply chain, coupled with the elevated importance placed on fresh produce, has empowered the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as well. For example, the Food Bank of Quito, part of the Agri-food Pact of Quito (PAQ), has distributed over 440,500 Kg of food to over 193,000 people with low incomes.

“The City of Quito is building a resilient food system to transform their food environment to ensure access to healthy and nutritious food.” 

Eugene Zapata, Managing Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Resilient Cities Network 

Food insecurity and food access challenges are common in many urban settings, where little-to-no food is produced within the city, as well as across the globe. Our planet’s food system produces enough food and calories to feed all of the people on the planet, yet 800 million people suffer from hunger, including over 150 million people living in cities and towns struggling to maintain a diet sufficient for good health. Furthermore, a healthy diet in Quito is 60% more expensive than a regular diet, which results in most people struggling to afford even an energy-rich diet, let alone a nutrient-rich one.

Cross-Sectoral Collaboration Was Essential to Increasing Food System Resilience 

The emphasis on a new, cross-sectoral collaboration to address urban food issues in Quito has transformed the landscape and potential for future outcomes, including shifting the perspectives and priorities of key organizations in Quito’s food system. It strengthens the longstanding AGRUPAR (Participatory Urban Agriculture) project, by embedding Quito’s food system in the city’s priorities, which helps ensuring it has the resources necessary to address their food challenges, despite municipal budget constraints and the importance of funding COVID-19 response.

These challenges include: Quito’s inhabitants only get 1% of the food they consume from producers within the city, making food quite expensive relative to average income. Much of the food that reaches the city is unhealthy difficult to access in the food deserts and food swamps that dot the City. Quito also faces a relatively unique challenge to food security, involving threats such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, floods or wildfires. The majority of imported food reaches the city via one of two entrances that pass through the hills around the city. Any seismic or other event that blocks these roads would interrupt the delivery of food produced in the rest of the country.

Through their food resilience work, Quito is making food more accessible, more just, and of more nutritional value, and helping families transform their financial opportunities. Families who began small-scale farming before the health emergency are faring much better than the average family during COVID-19, which compelling proof of this impact. For example, Fanny Maisincho is a Quito woman who began working with AGRUPAR to develop her family’s growing urban farm. She says, “I’ve learned so much about urban agriculture. It has helped us to feed ourselves and our clients more healthily.” In addition to improving her family’s diet, providing her community with healthier food, and generating income for the family, she explained that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the farm has kept them safely occupied, working together on the farm, and meant they haven’t needed to leave their home to go shopping.

La señora Fanny Maisincho, propietaria del Huerto Abejitas, ubicado en el barrio San Pedro de La Tola de la parroquia de Checa en el Valle de Tumbaco, nos indica su huerto con sus cultivos y sus animalitos. Además nos explica como las capacitaciones sobre Agricultura Orgánica le han ayudado en su huerto. #QuédateEnCasa #AgriculturaUrbana CONQUITO

Posted by Agricultura Urbana Quito on Thursday, May 7, 2020

This is just one of hundreds of similar stories from across Quito. In fact, between April of 2019 and March of 2020, they fostered the creation of 224 new urban farms. Before the pandemic, many of these farms sold their surplus foodstuffs at one of 15 organic markets (Bioferias) across the city. Today they sell directly in their neighborhoods, contributing to a system that is thus both less susceptible to disruption, and that promotes a healthier population. The steps that have facilitated these early successes created information, relationships, and knowledge that will enable Quito to continue growing more resilience and to reduce food insecurity further. 

The Multiple Benefits of Quito’s Focus on Food Security

Quito’s decision to institutionalize food security as one of the city’s primary mechanisms for achieving resilience has been very significant in its success. In the Resilience Strategy process, they identified the food economy as an essential strategic objective, making strengthening food security and the Food Economy a focus in the Resourceful and Solid Economy pillar of their Resilience Strategy.

One of the first steps in pursuing this strategic objective was a thorough process of mapping the food system to identify overlaps, needs, and opportunities for multiple benefits. Working from this mapping information and other data, Quito’s resilience team saw that they could achieve a number of benefits and support other resilience goals by focusing on stimulating urban food production and establishing a stable, functioning system of provision, supply, and stock of food. In addition to fostering economic opportunities due to the role that reliable access to healthy food plays for human development, health, and wellbeing, they could contribute to creating healthier food environments by fostering gender equity and social justice, promoting economic diversity, changing people’s relationship with food systems, and improving their understanding of their own health needs. 

For example, promoting local, organic food production has helped diversify distribution channels and created a supply of local produce that, prior to the pandemic, contributed to the value of Bioferias, and thus improved the resilience of the City’s food system. But it also has forged more direct relationships between producers and consumers, has helped producers establish dynamic income sources, and has reminded people that they need to consume a significant quantity of fruits and vegetables every day.

Recognizing that centering food security in the city’s agenda required a different approach, several different agencies in the Municipality of Quito, along with other partners, came together to assemble a Multi-Actor Platform, the PAQ. This group consisted of members from the private and public sectors, academia, civic society organizations, and cooperation agencies. This diverse group has assisted in creating and designing plans to address Quito’s food insecurity and governance, along with other priorities.

“It was interesting to see the representative of ANFAB (the National Association of Food and Beverage Manufacturers), a group of industry representatives that works for the benefit of the food and beverage industry, talking about ending malnutrition in the country.”

David Jácome-Pólit, Chief Resilience Officer, Quito 

By bringing together an unprecedented combination of major public and private organizations in Quito’s food system, they established a broad-based common ground and understanding for collaboration. Combined with the growth in urban and peri-urban farming and new urban food distribution mechanisms they nurtured, this prepared Quito for COVID-19. When the pandemic arrived, they were ready to distribute food to the city’s most vulnerable, and neighborhoods where people had started their own farms were in a position to support themselves to a degree.

The increases in flexibility, robustness, and sustainability that Quito derives from continued improvements to its food system derive not just from the immediate benefits of these ongoing works, but also from the way they have been designed through a participatory process, and supported by the PAQ. They have positioned agroecology as a model for how to transform production systems and contribute to sustainable development in the city. Their approach has helped to embed food and health issues more deeply into the way the City views itself, its needs, and its future. And this strengthens the resilient team’s ability to ensure the City continues to prioritize the food economy, urban agriculture, and food security and sovereignty.

Growing Quito’s Resilience Impact for Inhabitants and Other Cities

At this point in Quito’s resilience journey and plan to transform their food system, their early successes offer valuable, replicable urban resilience lessons that can help other cities improve food security. In fact, smaller cities in the region have already approached them for guidance, and Quito’s team believes their successes in changing people’s understanding and attitude about food are an important step in shifting planetary diets to make them more sustainable.

Quito did have the advantage of 18 years of promoting food security to build on, which demonstrates the importance of leveraging existing expertise and using it as a cornerstone for urban resilience. But the first lesson from their journey is about how they utilized collaboration at every step along the way. They sought insight from other cities in the network interested in food, including New Orleans, New York City, and Paris. One of the early conversations these cities shared dealt with how to build broad, cross-sectoral support for food security.

They also worked with providers that are part of the Resilient Cites Network such as AECOM, and a few that are not, including the RUAF Foundation, Rikolto, and the Food and Agriculture Organization, to refine their actions at every step. In fact, these organizations are particularly keen to share lessons from Quito’s success with other cities in the region and elsewhere.

In addition to supporting partners and cities that want to follow Quito’s lead, the city has an ambitious set of goals for once the city moves beyond COVID-19. Beyond continuing to support new farms at the same rate and ensuring the food security program maintains government support, they plan to expand the ways their work integrates other resilience goals, such as fostering urban farming and food system innovation and promoting a circular economy.

Looking for overlapping needs and opportunities to unite goals so that one, admittedly large, program produces multiple, sustainable benefits to make Quito a better, more enjoyable, and more equitable City, more prepared for future disruptions. Their approach has diversified and broadened the positive impact of their efforts to create food security and food sovereignty for Quito’s most vulnerable inhabitants, and the surrounding areas.

4,500

people per year are helped by this program.

400

persons per week are attended by AGRUPAR through digital channels (during the Coronavirus emergency).

640

tons of fresh and healthy food reaching Quito.

The Transformative Impact of Quito’s Resilient Food Security Program