When talking about strategic land planning, let us not be surprised if we hear more and more about the importance of turning our attention to intermediate cities.

According to United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), intermediate cities are generally those with less than one million inhabitants (although this number may vary depending on each country’s context). Today, there are more than 10,000 such cities in the world and they gather more than half of the urban population. Fifty-four percent of the world’s population resides in cities of less than 500,000 inhabitants. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, nearly 70% of the population lives in urban centers of less than 500,000 inhabitants (UNCHS, 1996). It is estimated that, in this region, about 645 cities have between 500,000 and 2 million inhabitants, in which 205 million people live, almost 4 out of every 10 inhabitants of the region.

On the other hand, a working paper from the Latin American Center for Rural Development (Rimisp) states that small- and medium-sized cities are gaining importance as centers of economic growth, and reveals their importance as facilitators of rural development. The presence of a city in a rural-urban territory is associated with more economic growth in Chile and Colombia and with greater poverty reduction in Chile, Colombia and Mexico (Berdegué, Carriazo, Jara, Modrego and Soloaga, 2015). “However, despite their growing importance, intermediate cities are still (paraphrasing Christiaensen & Todo, 2013) a “lost halfway point,” says the study.

This represents a call to transform land development models by creating links of complementary work between large cities and their smaller sister cities to address, through a system approach, the gaps and needs of urban planning based on a better understanding of the challenges and perspectives of local governments.

Intermediate cities create important bridges between rural and urban areas, offering rural population an opportunity to access basic facilities (such as schools, hospitals, administration, markets) and also services (such as employment, electricity, technology services, transport). Having this intermediate position, they are also, for the majority of citizens, a focus of transition out of rural poverty. In addition, the links they create with large cities allow them to complement each other and to function as a system of cities.

United Cities and Local Governments

Palmira leading the way

With this in mind, CIAT’s Sustainable Food Systems Program (SFS), with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), has been supporting the Municipal Agriculture Secretariat of Palmira (Valle del Cauca Department in Colombia) in identifying strategies to strengthen the activities developed by their Committee on Food and Nutritional Security.

The Committee established a roadmap to identify priorities, which were embodied in their Food and Nutritional Security Plan, recently approved by the City Council. This Plan — which implementation is also the responsibility of the Committee — is expected to contribute to reducing the indexes of food insecurity in the municipality, as an effort led by the Municipal Administration, engaging stakeholders in the public and private sectors and civil society. It also calls upon stakeholders to unite and concentrate efforts to streamline resources and leverage substantial improvements, not only in the field of food and nutrition, but also in the quality of life of the inhabitants of Palmira, especially the most vulnerable population.

This collaboration emerged from work undertaken by CIAT in Cali since 2016. With the idea of conceiving urban spaces within a city-region perspective, it was identified the need to address the strategic role of intermediate cities in the metropolitan area of Cali which, integrated in the same territory, offer a unique opportunity to strengthen and articulate sustainability agendas.

“Palmira has much productive potential. It is important to make sure that the foods produced are delivered to final consumers with nutritional quality. Palmira has made significant progress that needs to continue […]. It is critical to define the ways forward to achieve food security, acknowledging what has been accomplished so far and the envisioned changes, and identifying actors, key information, and existing gaps. The challenge is to understand the existing food system, bring the actors together, and share data, putting food security at the heart of the discussion along with the creation of sustainable food systems in the long term”.

Mark Lundy

Leader of the Sustainable Food Systems Program (CIAT), International Congress on Sustainable Rural Development "Food Security in Sustainable Development." Palmira, August 15.

Our experience in Palmira so far has allowed us to validate that, despite the motivations or entry points of each city to address their food systems may be different, it is important to work in a concerted manner to overcome the current challenges of feeding the world. Food security is no longer just a matter of lack of food – remarked Lundy – now we also face a lack of sufficient nutrients, and obesity and overweight problems. Scaling out actions or intentions to food policies is the way forward to ensure sustainable actions with a clear direction.

In this sense, the experience in Cali has been a beacon. It has made possible to strengthen links of collaborative work between these cities, which need to develop their own processes, according to their characteristics and specific contexts, articulating all the actors involved, fostering public-public or public-private alliances with shared goals, and managing communication actions for change that invite, include and generate collective actions.

In this process, it is also essential to count with the support of local governments who understand food systems as a strategy for economic and social development (not only related to nutrition, but also as an alternative for income generation, social cohesion, and reduction of health costs among others), but also as a tool for achieving the goals of their government plans, national policies and international frameworks (such as the Sustainable Development Goals).

None of this would be possible without political will in the territory. The interest of the current government of Palmira is a fundamental leverage that must be harnessed to lay the ground for future activities. As an intermediate city, Palmira is a source of both great challenges and great opportunities for integrated regional planning, thinking cities as axes within the same system.

The 21st International Congress on Sustainable Rural Development “Food Security in Sustainable Development” was organized by the Municipal Mayor’s Office of Palmira, AGROSAVIA and the Pontifical Bolivarian University, within the framework of the National  Festival of Agriculture. Three days dedicated to bringing science to the entire community, through keynote presentations, workshops and specialized talks focused on sustainable production, rational use of water, innovation, swine production, family agriculture, vegetables, fruit trees, coffee, livestock and applied technology for small farmers.

The inaugural event had in attendance the Vice-Minister of Agricultural Affairs of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Governor of the Department of Valle del Cauca, CIAT and representatives from the Finnish and German Embassies.

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