The 2019 Harare Innovation Days (HID) brought together UNDP country office staff, ‘strategic urban risk holders’ and edge experimenters from 23 countries across Africa under the banner of #NextGenCities to build shared understanding of the interdependencies and complexities facing Africa’s diverse urban realities, with clear clusters of common challenges — such as urban economies and informality, water management, the jobs deficit and waste services — you can read more about the context of HID in a blog we published before the event.
As a follow up to the event we launched the NextGenCities2020 program that seeks to build capabilities for designing mission-based strategic portfolios of interventions to tackle wicked issues and dynamics that COVID merely surfaced and accelerated. The focus on portfolios is meant to recognize and build on assets that already exist, amplify existing efforts, transcend individual sectors and layer interventions that act across multiple phases and entry points. As Edgar Pieterse of the African Center for Cities in Cape Town, African cities desperately need “a more coordinated, sequenced and integrated approach to infrastructure planning, investment, delivery, maintenance and repair.” Two countries qualified for the program, Zimbabwe and Angola — this post seeks that seeks to capture some of the early learnings, from Zimbabwe team (you can read about the Angola team’s work here).
In Zimbabwe, urban hunger is one of the major drivers of urban poverty for three reasons- affordable, nutritious food is not accessible across different regions in cities, the price differentials are massive for arbitrary reasons, and the food supply chains (production, distribution and consumption) are unsustainable and vulnerable to external shocks. Statistics show that about 66% of the country’s urban population is food insecure. In fact, 37% of urban households survive on less than 50% of their caloric necessities. The severity of this urban food insecurity has been compounded by successive droughts and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
In this context,the intent of UNDP Zimbabwe is to achieve following changes in the existing systems:
- Strengthen protection mechanisms of vulnerable groups in the society- this includes more functional mechanisms on a community and institutional level to identify the most vulnerable and cater both to their needs and create conditions that can lead to their self-sufficiency, and co-design more efficient tools and knowledge for communities to support each other/its most vulnerable members. This can be done by tapping into already existing networks and structures of self-help that are embedded in the society.
- Locally determined, people-centered local/regional food governance- this implies new types of incentives, conditions, and ‘rules of the game’ that underpin food supply chains, drive community involvement and self-sufficiency, leverage food production as a driver of social cohesion and ultimately redefine paradigms and dispositions (norm) around food production in cities
- City region’s food system resilience — this implies a system that is capable of withstanding various external shocks, and markets/food supply chain distortions.
We represented the food security in cities visually in a form of a system landscape with the intention of identifying key elements that keep the current system locked where it is, and that generate dynamics that we want to engage with in order to affect change and pursue the three objectives we laid out.
- Information feeds decisions made by communities, traders or city authority and sustains activity in urban food systems. Its quality, accessibility and frequency can either hinder or drive more resilience, better access and efficiency in production and trade. For the majority of the urban poor access to information remains a major challenge. Many of them can hardly afford to buy a television set, radio, newspapers or smartphones which are the main sources of information, let alone access to the internet. Consequently, lack of information makes many of them vulnerable to everyday livelihood shocks and weakens their capacity to adapt and be resilient.
- Governance implies rules, procedures and in some way coping mechanisms both formal and in case of Zimbabwe the more predominantly emerge from informal interactions around food systems. In response to COVID, we’ve seen the emergence of self-help and informal makeshift infrastructure. For instance, urban neighborhood gardens have sprouted in many cities and we’ve seen acceleration of the food supply chain going digital. That said, these emerging dynamics are not necessarily evenly or equitably distributed because they are a response to a shock — the urban poor who can hardly afford a smartphone and internet data digital commerce is not an option and thus, their interaction with digitized supply chains is minimal. ‘Governance’ in this sense implies balancing formal and informal ways of being that simultaneously incentivize agility, initiative and agency and provide protection and better conditions for decent life in cities.
- Infrastructure as a critical condition that drives the food system in the cities, and can range from digital, physical and/or social. In Zimbabwe the food system ecology, both the physical, digital and/or social is weakened by a long and protracted socio-economic and political crisis. Without proper infrastructure, delivery and distribution of food becomes complicated with debilitating effects on the urban poor. In many of Zimbabwe’s cities food markets act as important infrastructure and are largely controlled by the city council.
Much like in Angola’s case, our lateral elements open up a range of opportunities and risks that impact our portfolio design as they affect urban food systems. For example, our dependency on South Africa which strengthens our food security, but also makes us more vulnerable to shocks within their economy. Given this meta-model of the urban food system, we already have some indication of positions we want to explore in order to start designing the portfolio of interventions.
For example, we want to experiment with applying the sharing economy model to food production for household consumption in Harare. Our claim is that not everyone with backyard land and home gardens is practicing urban agriculture. In contrast, we have food insecure households that would love to grow food for consumption but lack the garden space. Our solution is a system that just like Uber or Airbnb, leverages the power of the sharing economy to link households eager to practice urban farming with owners of under-utilized garden space. By designing the system such that it balances the production and sharing of a variety of crops required for a balanced diet, we aim to increase accessibility to affordable nutritious food among vulnerable populations.
In relation to informal social protection experimentation, we would like to investigate the growth capabilities of women’s savings clubs when they register themselves as a public business corporation (PBC). We need to investigate how being constituted as a PBC can increase their wealth by transitioning their savings to investment portfolios.
The way forward to creating better conditions is recognizing that the value of self-organizing urban markets and addressing urban hunger by fostering resilience in the city-region food system isn’t a function of one or two interventions, but of a dynamic portfolio of responses that learn from each other and evolves over time. This is what the two teams are working on at the moment. What we have learnt is that there is a need to explore new ways in which innovative governance of city-making (beyond traditional models of urban planning) can lead to the attainment of SDGs and that those ways to a large extent emerge from citizens themselves adapting and responding to changes that in many cases they have no control over (eg. covid).
New forms of entrepreneurship, infrastructure provision, use of data and decision-making methods can all create shared value and contribute to sustainable urban development in ways that call into question established paradigms of planning and urban design, that still require effective governance but maybe not of the type that we have seen evolve over the last hundred years. Therefore, these two sets of urban mission portfolios (you can read about the work our colleagues in Angola are doing here) are part of a larger process that would see the translation of the #NextGenCities agenda to the reality of Africa’s urbanisation challenges, as well as enabling acceleration of positive change in city governance institutions, financing, planning and market mechanisms across the continent.
Stay tuned and get in touch if you’re interested in collaborating!
*Angola and Zimbabwe teams are supported by: Dark Matter Labs (Joost Beunderman, Zehra Zaidi, Meggan Collins, Dan Wainwright ), the African Center for Cities at University of Cape Town (Dr Edgar Pieterse and Liza Cirolia), and from UNDP Zoe Pelter, Amy Gill and Minerva Novero (Governance team) and Milica Begovic, Aylin Schulz van Endert, Prateeksha Singh, and Soren Haldrup (Strategic Innovation Unit)
Blog initially posted on medium click here to view