Case Studies, Systems Thinking

Milan Urban Food Policy Pact: Sustainable food systems spring from cities

In 2015, hundreds of world leaders gathered in Milan, Italy, for the annual World Expo event centred around the “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” theme. As part of the Expo convening, mayors from 150 cities signed the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP), the world’s first international agreement on sustainable urban food systems.

The need for an agreement structured around cities has never been more important. Over 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and that proportion is projected to increase to 70% by 2050.

“More than a declaration, [MUFPP] is a concrete working tool for cities,” says the pact’s website. The agreement coordinates international food policies, shares best practices, and inspires city-led change through 37 voluntary recommended actions in six categories. Those categories include governance, sustainable diets and nutrition, social and economic equity, food production, food supply and distribution, and food waste.

At the 2018 convening of the MUFPP in Tel Aviv, Israel, the pact’s steering committee released a monitoring framework that cities can use to measure progress towards the 37 recommendations. Those indicators have proven useful, especially for smaller cities that may not have the capacity to develop detailed measurement tools of their own.

“The framework provides the city of New Haven with a robust and thorough evaluation tool to measure our progress towards an equitable and sustainable food system,” says Justin Elicker, mayor of the American municipality. Elicker cites the sustainable diets and nutrition indicators, as well as the food waste indicators, as offering useful guidance for a number of community-based projects.

With member cities around the world, the MUFPP also hosts regional meetings (or webinars in 2020-21) to localize the agenda around sustainable food systems. “The regionalization process plays a crucial role in identifying common challenges and solutions applicable to similar territorial and socio-economic contexts,” explains this MUFPP video. Today, the pact has expanded to include 211 cities worldwide, including a number of small and mid-sized cities from the Global South.

One of MUFPP’s recommended actions—to develop an urban food policy and plan—inspired the creation of the Municipality of Quito’s 2018 Pacto Agroalimentario Quito (PAQ). Today, the Ecuadorian capital city is recognized as another Beacon of Hope, and is considered a global leader in sustainable food systems.

Celebrating the success of cities

Members of the MUFPP meet each year to network and exchange best practices and policies. A highlight of these convenings is the presentation of the Milan Pact Awards, a ceremony that recognizes concrete and creative examples of urban food policies that illustrate the MUFPP’s six focus categories.

The award winning cities offer inspiring success stories. Toronto, Canada, for instance, received the highest Milan Pact Award in 2017 for its Community Food Works program, a project within the Toronto Food Strategy. Led by Toronto Public Health and various community agencies, the program offers free training so newcomers and lower-income community members can pursue food handler training and certification to work in the sector. By eliminating the financial and cultural barriers faced by people, more individuals have been able to find employment within food-based businesses.

“I can tell you that this award helped to spearhead our city’s international knowledge exchange and our skills transfer,” says Joe Cressy, a Toronto City Councillor and Chair of the Toronto Board of Health.

More recently, the Milan Pact Award asked signatory cities to submit videos about their COVID-19 food systems responses. More than 100 best practices were shared by 58 cities worldwide.

Submissions were diverse. One submission in the social and economic equity category was Food Cards, an initiative led by the Municipality of São Paulo’s education department. The program ensures children studying at home during the pandemic have access to the meals they would typically have received in school. To date, the initiative has delivered more than 440,000 food baskets to students and their families.

Another submission in the food supply and distribution category was a Valencia, Spain-based project called Renaixem. Renaixem is a short documentary film that recognizes the contributions of local farmers and food producers whose work was even more essential during the city’s COVID-19 lockdown.

Urban centres are at the forefront of the COVID-19 crisis and are increasingly the place where people are living. MUFPP is cognizant of that, and leading the way to ensure sustainable food systems are a central consideration, no matter the community size, no matter the country.