Hungry Cities Initiative: Informality, Inclusive Growth, and Food Security in Cities of the Global South

As urban populations grow in developing countries, promoting inclusive growth that ensures food security for all is critical. This project will offer new insights into the informal food sector, and identify entrepreneurship and job opportunities for women and youth.

Growth in urban populations
The urban population in developing countries is expected to exceed 50% for the first time by 2020. Over the next 30 years, these cities will absorb 95% of urban growth. By 2030, they will be home to almost 4 billion people, or 80% of the world's urban population.

As people move to the cities, there is a growing crisis of food insecurity. Food prices are high and incomes are low. Even in countries experiencing rapid economic growth, food insecurity is a major challenge. Within this context, the urban food economy is an important laboratory for examining whether and how inclusive growth strategies can have a positive impact by encouraging entrepreneurship, raising incomes, alleviating poverty, and mitigating the crisis of food insecurity.

The Hungry Cities Initiative
The goal of the Hungry Cities Initiative is to promote inclusive growth in the informal food sector through research on policy approaches that enable it, combined with measures that support entrepreneurship and decent employment. The Hungry Cities Initiative seeks to provide a global perspective on the links between three major transformation processes: rapid urbanization, the crisis of food insecurity, and the informal economy's emergence as the major source of livelihood for urban poor, including women and youth.

The African Centre for Cities at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada) run the Hungry Cities Initiative. They work with five other Canadian universities, together with researchers and municipal governments in seven cities in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

How this research will make a difference
The research team will analyze formal and informal urban food systems in the partner cities, how they interact, how they are governed, and their respective contribution to food security and inclusive growth.

This project will:
-provide evidence of entrepreneurial challenges and opportunities in the urban informal food system;
-identify potential opportunities for women and youth to be incorporated as entrepreneurs and employees with decent jobs;
-deliver knowledge through workshops, training, and consultations to inform policy and practice at the municipal level on enterprise development, entrepreneurship, and innovation in the informal food economy;
-support 24 students (one post-doctoral, three PhD and 20 master's students) to develop research and collaborate with their Canadian peers; and
-offer six policy workshops on urban food security and inclusive growth.

The International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies program is funding this project. Team members from Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean are largely supported by IDRC. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provides support to the Canadian team.

Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


60 months

IDRC Officer

David O'Brien

Total funding

CA$ 2,500,000


China, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa, Canada


International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies

Project Leader

Edgar Pieterse

Project Leader

Ithra Najaar


University of Cape Town

Institution Country

South Africa

Institution Website