Photography by:
  • Blaq Smith & Amanda van der Walt & Simphiwe Mangole

Hungry city-region

This project looks at food systems in the Gauteng City Region. It includes work on urban food security, hunger and food systems in the GCR.

Research on urban food systems for the most part looks at the extent of urban food insecurity as a marker of the growing urbanisation of poverty. Similarly, government policy and programmes in response to food insecurity tend to focus on the immediate plight of hunger resulting from poverty, through measures such as food-banks, food-garden support and food-parcel handouts.

Focusing on food insecurity in this way is not sufficient. More recent work in SA focuses on the need to formulate city-level food policy that addresses weaknesses in the architectures of food systems. This work examines, and highlights system failings in, how urban and peri-urban agriculture is linked to the retail and consumption of food through modern supply and logistics chains. There are many dimensions of these systems that depress the price of food at the farm gate, and raise the price of food on supermarket shelves. Both exacerbate food insecurity.

The project examines urban food systems in the Gauteng City-Region, and connects into various research interests in the GCRO, including 'poverty and inequality' and 'green infrastructure', drawing its inspiration from work in other cities nationally and across the globe which looks at:

  • Food networks, including the processes and systems that make for the shortest possible connections for fresh food between farm and plate;
  • Urban food markets (informal and artisanal);
  • Ways of mapping food access (e.g. the distance between residences and retail food outlets, often making for what are termed 'food deserts')
  • Food systems governance;
  • Urban middle class consumption.

Over the years, GCRO has done a number of pieces of work in this domain:

In 2010/11, as an input into the Green Strategic Programme being developed in partnership with the Gauteng Department of Economic Development, GCRO commissioned Siyakhana to write a working paper examining the current state of food security in Gauteng, and then current policies and strategies to improve food security. Download the working paper here.

In preparation for data collection for a large metabolic flows analysis (MFA) study, Alexis Schäffler wrote a biomass scoping paper in early 2012 which, amongst other things, identified possible sources of information on food provision, flows and consumption. Download the scoping paper here.

For the metabolic flows data collection project itself, GCRO again contracted Siyakhana in 2012/13 to gather as much information as it could on food production and consumption.

In 2014, Dr Caryn Abrahams defined this Hungry City Region project. The intention of the project was to lay a foundation of common understanding on the food systems in Gauteng, before starting a CityLab that would gather interested stakeholders to work collaboratively on developing new food system policies and strategies for the city-region. Siyakhana was again contracted to produce two research pieces: (1) A systemic review of food security in the Gauteng City Region; and (2) an argument for new approaches to food system governance in the GCR.

Tangential work was done under the auspices of GCRO's Green Assets and Infrastructure project. A group of UCL STEaPP Masters students undertook a research project entitled 'Modeling food gardens in Johannesburg: analysing and visualising the benefits of food gardens as a green asset in Johannesburg'. The work has been published as a GCRO Occasional Paper.

The GCRO, together with the Centre of Food Security at the University of Western Cape, has periodically hosted a community of practice on urban food governance in Gauteng. See this news item for a sense of discussions at a food governance CoP workshop in April 2019.

Currently, GCRO’s previous work is being consolidated into a Occasional Paper on Gauteng Food systems. The project also includes new analysis and data on the state of hunger, food security and governance across Gauteng, including from the GCRO's Quality of Life Surveys.



Gillian Maree (March 2018). 'Water and Food Security challenges in the Gauteng City-Region', Presentation to the MSc Specialisation: Urban Competitiveness and Resilience (UCR), IHS - Erasmus University Rotterdam, 28 February 2018.

Gillian Maree (August 2017), 'Urban Agriculture and food security in the GCR', Competition, Concentration and Employment in the food sector Colloquium, 24 August 2017.

Last updated 3 March 2024.


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