Urban food insecurity and malnutrition are often overlooked in low- and middle-income countries, as hunger and malnutrition are perceived to be mainly rural problems. On the other hand, a disproportionate focus on urban areas can bring about an “urban bias” against agriculture and the rural economy in the allocation of development resources and prioritisation of policies to address poverty.

Both the GFPR and the SOFA report emphasise that investments along the continuum between rural and urban – in small towns and medium-sized cities that constitute the hidden (and sometimes non-existent) geographic middle – are critical. Rural townships and medium-sized cities can serve as important intermediary points to connect hinterlands to urban centres while providing social and economic benefits. They can act as service delivery nodes for rural areas and link the rural economy to markets, thereby reducing transaction and transportation costs. Towns and intermediate cities can also foster non-farm rural growth, affording smallholders access to employment in agri-food processing or other commercial or industrial activities.

Still a long way to go

While leveraging food systems by overcoming bottlenecks in the midstream and geographic middle thus can bring significant economic benefits, the consequences for human health and planetary sustainability associated with dietary change and the related greater environmental pressures should not be overlooked.