© Guangzhou Award 2023

Building Resilient Food Systems in Cape Town


Cape Town

Main actors

City Government, Regional Government, NGO / Philanthropy, Research Institutes / Universities

Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region


Ongoing since 2020

Food systems in Cape Town are complex and loosely governed. Food is not a formalised government mandate, even though it is a constitutional right. The City has identified over 40 actions that intersect with food systems ranging from informal trade and markets, environmental health, spatial planning, urban health - and importantly - resilience. Recent shocks and stresses (drought, COVID-19, load shedding and minibus taxi strike) emphasise the need for a food systems approach that recognises the increasing occurrence of risks that typically impact food access for vulnerable communities. Our work uses a holistic approach that seeks to leverage existing mandates that are managed through partnerships, both internal and external to the City.

Sustainable Development Goals

End poverty in all its forms everywhereEnd hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agricultureEnsure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all agesAchieve gender equality and empower all women and girlsReduce inequality within and among countriesMake cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainablePromote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Guangzhou Award

This project was shortlisted for the 'Guangzhou Award' in 2023.

Cape Town, South Africa
Size and population development
According to the City of Cape Town profile and Analysis District Development Model, the 2019 population was 4,392,562. The city covers an area of approximately 400 km2 with a population density of people 1,800 per km2.
Population composition
The population is comprised of 50.4% females and 49.6% males. The largest share of population is within the young working age (25-39 years) category. The age category with the second largest population share is the 0- 4 years age category. The age category with the lowest number of people is the elderly population - 65 years and older age category. The median age is 29 years. The ethnic and racial composition of Cape Town as follows: 40% Coloured; 43% Black African; 16% White; 4% other. First Languages are as follows: Afrikaans 34.9%; Xhosa 29.2%; English 27.8%; other 8.1%. In 2019, there were 2, 016, 021 (45.9%) people living in poverty. The population group with the highest percentage of people living in poverty is the African population group with a total of 61.4%. Most places of worship are Christian churches and cathedrals. Islam is the city’s second largest religion, followed by a significant Jewish population and small communities of Hindu, Buddhist and Baháʼí followers.
Main functions
The city of Cape Town is the provincial capital of the Western Cape and South Africa’s second largest economic centre and second most populous city after Johannesburg. It is the legislative capital city of South Africa and hosts South Africa’s National parliament. Located on the shore of Table Bay, Cape Town has a coastline of 294km and is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the south and the west.
Main industries / business
Cape Town has become a mostly service-driven economy. Finance, insurance, real estate and business services constitute 37% of economic activity, followed by wholesale and retail trade (15%) and transport, storage and communication (11%). Cape Town also has strong tourism, R&D and various creative industries sectors.
Sources for city budget
The City draws its budget from property rates and service charges, tariffs charged for water and sanitation, electricity and solid waste management, as well as other revenue streams such as investment income and National and Provincial grants.
Political structure
The Mayor is the head of local government in Cape Town and is elected by Council every 5 years and has statutory powers and functions. The Mayoral Committee was constituted in November 2018. The 11-member council received new, streamlined portfolios in December 2018 following the City Council’s approval of the revised Organisational Development and Transformation Plan, promoting more effective and efficient service delivery to the people of Cape Town.
Administrative structure
The City Council is the executive body of the City and is responsible for making top-level decisions about how Cape Town is governed. The Council is also the legislative body of the City and makes and implements by-laws, which are local laws specifically created for Cape Town. Council sets the tariffs for rates and services, decides what the City’s budget is and how it will be spent, and enters into service level agreements with private agencies that do business with the City. Council also elects the Executive Mayor, the Executive Deputy Mayor and the Speaker and appoints the City Manager. The City’s Executive Management Team is responsible for ensuring the implementation of the City Council’s decisions. Council is made up of 231 members. This membership comprises 116 ward councillors, and the other 115 members are proportional representative (PR) councillors. PR councillors are members of political parties. They are given positions in Council based on the percentage of votes their political party received in the local elections. The members of Council serve for a term of five years.
In South Africa, local government does not have a food mandate, subsequently food insecurity is a chronic stress in Cape Town that creates vulnerability and undermines resilience. 
The Food Systems work stems from the Cape Town Resilience Strategy (2019). Upon its adoption, work commenced to develop a Food Systems Programme, one of the Resilience Strategy flagship actions. It aligns with the Milan Urban Food and Policy Pact that the City is a signatory to and the SDGs.
The programme started as a pilot to test the appetite within the organisation and since its adoption in 2020, it has successfully been embedded into the City's 5-year plan - the Integrated Development Plan and the Metropolitan Spatial Development Framework. 
The main goal of the programme is to mainstream 'food' into City policy and strategy, improve governance and implementation. 
Food is transversal across our City work and for this reason, much of the food systems work is advocacy and building knowledge. We do this through a Food Systems Working Group that includes internal and external role players where we build knowledge, network and leverage City work towards food outcomes. 
We also convene a Food Indaba (meeting) internal to the City and Food Systems Community of Practice to co-ordinate and promote research. Innovations are embedded in the resilience and systems approach that we use to test scenarios. 
We have tested a variety of scenarios such as unrest, heatwave, load shedding (energy) and global conflict (Russia/Ukraine crisis). Through this work we have built knowledge of the food system and determined vulnerability and from there, worked with key players to highlight the risk to enable appropriate action.
The City joined the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Programme at a time when the City was experiencing its worst ever drought. Part of the resilient cities work included the completion of a City Resilience Index benchmarking process. Food insecurity emerged as a key vulnerability and a food systems programme as proposed as a measure to address this vulnerability.
It seeks to address the double burden of disease caused by food insecurity that results in child wasting and stunting, overweight and obesity that drive the high incidence of NCDs. The mandate does include humanitarian relief ,(food parcels etc.) we seek to improve access through markets and trading, spatial planning etc. 
Themes that drive our actions include resilience, governance, food environments, health, economy and health. Primarily (and where we have had the most success) is building knowledge within the organisation around the connection between our work, food systems activities and outcomes.  
Food Systems Programme has been developed into an Implementation Programme. Integration into the Integrated Development Plan (5-year). AfriFOODLinks is a significant achievement that will provide resources to better develop informal food access through markets and trad, which is how 60-70% of Capetonians access their food.
Food waste is another significant issue that has made progress and work is underway to determine the potential for solar cold storage that will improve the quality of fresh produce and reduce food waste. Important work is also underway to develop nutrition hubs including early childhood development centres, community kitchens and food gardens. This work is nascent but is growing momentum.
Ongoing participation in the Food Dialogues as partners has provided opportunities to build networks, knowledge and influence thinking around food with multiple partners including children and youth.
We recognise that shocks and stresses affect vulnerable communities most acutely. For this reason, we developed a vulnerability viewer which is an online platform to help plan responses to shocks and stresses. Food infrastructure (NGOs, food gardens, community kitchens, early childhood development centres, warehouses and distribution centres) are spatially located using GIS and is comparable against vulnerability data. This platform assisted to inform food distribution during COVID-19.
The programme is funded directly by the City including salaries. An EU Horizon grant via ICLEI allows us to pursue a multi-city programme that concludes in 2025. 
The City partners with provincial levels of government, universities, NGOs and researchers. All partners fulfil their own roles within the broader network that is co-ordinated and driven by the City. The programme also, on occasion, host interns.
A Food Report is prepared annually that tracks City activities in the Food System. Because the approach is food system based, reporting is high level. We do however include health data as available and food trade, also as available.
Our very small team's success has been in networking partners within the City, and between the City and external partners to improve food outcomes. These are sometimes project based, or research support based. The innovation for government has been the ability to hold partnerships and processes loosely in a non-hierarchical way that nurtures positive outcomes. Our close relationships with researchers has also allowed us to connect with relevant data in times of crisis so as to inform responses. 
Difficulties lie predominantly in the perception of food systems as being limited to food gardens. We believe that food gardens are one, limited part of the food system and that 
local governments responsibilities lie much more broadly and systemically. Shifting this perception has been difficult because it is held at a high political level.
Change has been within the City's policy and strategy and is illustrated in a growing recognition of the inter-connectedness of food and City work. An example of this is illustrated by the recent food systems breakaway at this year's Informal Trade Summit which was organised at the invitation of economic development colleagues, inclusion in the City's Integrated Development Plan and the Metropolitan Spatial Development Plan.
COVID-19: challenges reaching families with humanitarian relief and knowing who to assist on the ground. 
The key learnings are:
  1. Local partners are critical and keeping databases of these partners is a key tool for activating during a crisis. They are often from affected communities and know who needs help and can navigate complex urban and societal systems on the ground in a way that a large organisation is unable to.
  2. Food parcels are less desirable than vouchers due to ease of use and lack of logistics needed to distribute relief. Vouchers can be spent within neighbourhood economies supporting the ongoing economic activity within communities, rather than further destabilising these systems by introducing external inputs.
  3. Partners with intimate, detailed knowledge of food systems at localised level are critical for informing appropriate interventions. Our partnership with a group of research advisors supported decision-making that enabled sensitive and informed interventions that would not damage sensitive local dynamics.

We are actively working to systematise social infrastructure into the City structure to improve our responsiveness to future shocks. Lessons to other cities is the importance of specialist advisors, data and tools for communicating and coordinating data for planning and response.

On Map

The Map will be displayed after accepting cookie policy

Want to know more about this project?

Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation
Guangzhou, China

Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation

Institution | Urban Award

Photo gallery