Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics

Living Edition
| Editors: David M. Kaplan

African Food Security Urban Network (AFSUN)

  • Jonathan CrushEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6167-4_380-1


Food Security Food Insecurity Urban Food Canadian International Development Agency Informal Food 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

History of the Organization

AFSUN was founded in 2008 to generate knowledge on the dimensions of food insecurity among Africa’s urban poor, to propose practical solutions on how to feed Africa’s hungry cities, and to build the capacity of African researchers, policy-makers, and civil society organizations to develop solutions to the urgent but complex problems of urban food insecurity on the continent (http://www.afsun.org). AFSUN began as a partnership between the University of Cape Town’s African Centre for Cities and Queen’s University’s Southern African Research Centre funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). These two organizations now lead an extensive international collaboration involving five Canadian universities as well as institutions in nine African countries (Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). The network also has partners in the governmental and nongovernmental sectors. All AFSUN activities are guided by a multi-partner Steering Committee and working committees on research, policy, training, and community engagement.

Major Areas

The Global South, and Africa in particular, is undergoing an irreversible transition to a predominantly urban society. The UN projects that Africa will be 50 % urban by 2035 and nearly 60 % urban by 2050. The food riots witnessed in cities around the world and in Africa during the global food price hikes of 2008 are a sobering reminder of the consequences if we do not acquire a better grasp of the dimensions of urban food insecurity (Berazneva and Lee 2013). However, there is a serious absence of knowledge about the crisis of urban food insecurity in Africa and a major lack of human capacity and training to develop policies that enhance the food security of urban populations (Crush et al. 2012). After a period of intense interest in urban food insecurity in the 1990s, the issue has increasingly fallen off the global development agenda. The international food security agenda is now increasingly rural and smallholder focused (Crush and Frayne 2011a). At the national level, responsibility for food security policy and planning usually rests with Departments of Agriculture; a rural focus is the inevitable consequence. AFSUN was established as a corrective to the antiurban bias of the current food security agenda.

Major Activities

AFSUN’s activities on urban food security fall under four main headings: knowledge creation, policy advice, training, and community engagement.

Knowledge Creation

AFSUN’s primary goal is to generate new applied knowledge on the dimensions and determinants of food insecurity in Africa’s rapidly growing towns and cities. In 2008–2011, it undertook a major scoping exercise of all existing research literature on urban food issues in Africa to identify the state of knowledge and any knowledge gaps. These reports, published in the AFSUN Urban Food Security Series, cover a wide variety of themes including the implications for food security of the regional expansion of supermarkets, the relationship between food security and urban agriculture, the impact of HIV and AIDS on food security and nutrition at the individual and household level, the rise of food banking in Southern Africa, the impact of climate change on cities and urban food security, the nutrition transition in African cities and the growth of overnutrition or obesity, the linkages between food security and migration and development, and the impacts of gender discrimination on food security. Many are now being published in leading peer-reviewed development and food studies journals in revised form (Frayne 2010; Battersby 2011, 2012; Crush 2013; Crush and Frayne 2011b; Crush et al. 2011a, b; Lane et al. 2012; Tawodzera 2011, 2012). In addition, a number of AFSUN authors have contributed to a recent book on climate change and urban food security in which many of the chapters draw on the baseline survey (Frayne et al. 2012).

To address the knowledge gaps, AFSUN undertook a baseline survey of the food security situation of poor urban neighborhoods in 11 African cities (Blantyre, Cape Town, Gaborone, Harare, Johannesburg, Lusaka, Maputo, Manzini, Maseru, Msunduzi, and Windhoek) in 2008–2009. The survey used a standardized questionnaire to ensure comparability between cities. To measure levels of food insecurity, the survey used the four quantitative food insecurity (access) scales developed by the Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance Project (FANTA). The survey was administered to 6,453 households comprising 28,771 individuals and represents the largest regional database on urban food security yet collected in Africa. AFSUN conducted a follow-up survey in Harare in 2012 to ascertain if there had been improvements since the height of Zimbabwe’s economic and food crisis in 2008.

The AFSUN baseline survey provides unprecedented insights into the state of urban food insecurity in the Southern African region. The results are being published in a series of city-specific studies. Each of these studies identifies how and why each city conforms to or differs from the regional picture. What is clear is that the analysis of food insecurity, even in cities with similar prevalence levels, needs to take into account the particular local circumstances of each urban area.

The AFSUN baseline survey has also identified a number of key knowledge gaps for further research. For example, the relationship between migration and food security and the integration of migrants into urban food systems require much further investigation. In this connection, AFSUN is implementing a study examining the food security status and strategies of Zimbabwean and Mozambican migrants in the South African cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. In addition, the AFSUN survey showed that the informal food economy is critical to the food security of many poor urban households. AFSUN is therefore currently undertaking a major study of the interface between formal and informal food retailing in the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Policy Advice

AFSUN has specifically targeted the municipal level of governance, working closely with city planners as well as local government networks such as the Municipal Development Partnership of Eastern and Southern Africa (MDP-ESA) and the South African Cities Network (SACN). In partnership with these policy networks as well as regional and global research and policy networks such as SAMP, International Metropolis, and the International Migration Research Centre, AFSUN has convened three major policy conferences to discuss its research results with policy-makers. These include a conference on “Urban Food Security: Strategic Policy Directions” (in Ekurhurleni, South Africa in 2010), “The Urban Food Security and HIV” (in Durban in 2011), and “Migration, Urbanization and Food Security in Cities of the Global South” (in Cape Town in 2012). AFSUN also convenes workshops in individual cities to work with city officials on the challenge of food insecurity in their cities. In 2012, AFSUN collaborated with Reos Partners in the delivery of training workshops for city officials and planners which focus on exposing officials in an experiential learning manner to all facets of the urban food system. In 2013, AFSUN was contracted to work on a food security strategy for the City of Cape Town.


One key aspect of the AFSUN program is building the capacity of network partners to undertake policy-relevant research. AFSUN offers an annual graduate urban food security course as well as modules for undergraduate students and summer school courses with the African Centre for Cities and the Department of Environmental and Geographical Science at University of Cape Town. The general lack of capacity in advanced urban food security research and analysis has prompted AFSUN to offer funding and fellowships to both Master’s and Doctoral students.

Community Engagement

The final component of the AFSUN program is its work with urban community change agents to increase their knowledge of the urban food system as a whole and to build interagency partnerships to influence the accessibility of food in poor urban neighborhoods. To this end, AFSUN runs regular workshops for NGOs and CBOs in partnership with Reos Partners. AFSUN is also involved in media work to raise the level of consciousness about the urban food security challenges facing communities in partnership with the NGO Community Media for Development. The two have produced a major radio documentary and drama series on food issues for broadcast on community radio stations. To raise general public awareness and the quality of print, radio, and TV reporting on urban food security issues, AFSUN runs educational workshops for journalists and broadcasters.

Landmark Contributions

Publication of 20 major reports in the AFSUN Urban Food Security Series (downloadable at www.afsun.org).

Three major policy conferences on urban food security convened in Southern Africa.

Over 200 undergraduate students in 11 cities specifically trained in fieldwork methods to undertake the AFSUN baseline survey.

Over 40 graduate students trained in urban food security analysis including five PhD theses on Harare, Kitwe, Blantyre, Gaborone, and Windhoek.



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.African Centre for CitiesUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.Balsillie School of International AffairsWaterlooCanada