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Nurturing Agrifood Systems: The Crucial Contribution of Small and Intermediate Cities and Towns

By Adele Calello

Small cities and towns are home to 34 percent of the global population and are crucial for inclusive economic transformation, particularly in developing countries, due to their close relations with rural areas and food systems. Among the urgent challenges to be addressed are job creation and supply of higher-quality, safe, and convenient food to meet growing consumer demand in non-producing areas.

The ties between rural and urban areas are strengthened through agribusiness development and the economic integration of food systems. Alliances of small cities and towns, along with their stakeholders, play a key role in orchestrating investments that contribute to integrated regional development. This program fosters agri-food system corridors and agro-based urban-cluster development, promoting innovative food businesses through community-supported agribusiness initiatives, solidarity economy schemes, geographical indication, and participatory guarantee systems. The program identifies clusters of small towns with high potential for local economic development and job creation, working to strengthen governance mechanisms in order to:

  1. Develop profitable and sustainable off-farm value-added activities, rural services, and efficient market linkages;

  2. Attract investment to improve agrifood business activities;

  3. Incentivize public-private partnerships to support small and medium-sized agri-food enterprises (SMEs);

  4. Identify and support quality products of specific geographical origin that present an opportunity for territorial development and rural tourism;

  5. Promote job-creation strategies, with a focus on women and youth, and multiplier effects within and beyond jurisdictional boundaries; and

  6. Consider the nutrition condition to identify and promote local products to fill the diet gap of the population.

Within the complex network of agrifood systems, the limelight often centers on major cities, overshadowing the crucial role played by small and intermediate cities and towns. These urban centers quietly shape change, establishing vital connections in the agrifood supply chain that impact the accessibility and affordability of nutritious foods. This exploration delves into the nuanced role of these urban nodes and emphasizes the importance of supporting midstream small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to drive agrifood system transformation. In the fabric of agrifood systems, small and intermediate cities and towns emerge as essential connectors. These urban hubs function as dynamic marketplaces where the intricate process between rural producers and urban consumers unfolds, streamlining the flow of agricultural products, reducing transportation costs, and ensuring the prompt delivery of fresh produce to consumers.

Beyond their logistical function, these cities and towns become the lifeblood of local food economies, where the symbiotic relationship between urban demand and rural supply fosters economic growth for smallholder farmers and local agribusinesses. The result is a flourishing ecosystem that not only contributes to poverty reduction but also sustains rural development in a balanced manner. Moreover, the geographical diversity surrounding small and intermediate cities fosters varied agroecological practices, becoming a strategic asset for the cultivation and trade of a multitude of crops. This diversity makes the agrifood system more resilient, and capable of adapting to environmental changes and market demands.

In the trajectory of agrifood systems transformation, midstream SMEs emerge as key players shaping the narrative. Positioned between primary production and final consumption, these enterprises hold the power to add value to raw agricultural products. Through processing, packaging, and preservation, they enhance the quality of food products, contributing to improved diets and overall public health. Investing in midstream SMEs aligns with investing in innovation and technology adoption. Cutting-edge technologies in food processing not only enhance efficiency but also ensure the safety and quality of the end product. This drive towards innovation can lead to the creation of fortified and functional foods, addressing nutritional deficiencies prevalent in society.

Furthermore, strengthening midstream SMEs involves a concerted effort to integrate the supply chain. Collaboration and coordination among various stakeholders, including farmers, processors, distributors, and retailers, are imperative. A seamlessly integrated supply chain mitigates post-harvest losses, ensuring that the fruits of agricultural labor reach consumers promptly, making nutritious foods more accessible and affordable.

In the process of agrifood systems, small and intermediate cities and towns, alongside midstream SMEs, emerge as unsung heroes. Recognizing and fortifying their roles in the supply chain is essential for crafting a resilient, inclusive, and nutritious food system.

Governments, private sector entities, and civil society must collaborate to invest in the infrastructure, technology, and capacity-building initiatives that will unlock the full potential of these urban nodes. Only through this collective effort can we usher in a healthier, more sustainable future for agrifood systems on a global scale.



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