Food security in coastal cities

Coastal waters and their ecosystems are a crucial source of food and protection for seaside cities, particularly for the urban poor. But competition for marine resources and the expansion of urban areas into coastal land have resulted in environmental degradation, which in turn causes food insecurity and vulnerability to the effects of climate change. To combat this destructive cycle, government and civil society initiatives in Cape Town, Jakarta, Accra, and Mumbai are working to provide environmentally conscious and socially just solutions. Read on to learn about the restoration of fishing rights for marginalized communities, efforts to preserve mangrove forests, and more — then join the conversation below.

Click on the city names to see a perspective from each city below.

Cape Town


Tariq Toffa

Between ecology and economy: The changing status of Cape fishing communities?

Tariq Toffa, Cape Town Community Manager


Despite advances made in natural resource management science, the degradation and the destructive competition for natural resources in most areas of the world has continued more or less unabated. South African fish and seafood stocks, too, generally show no exception. Moreover, there are increasing numbers of applicants, corporations, and communities competing for fishing rights to this shrinking resource.

Worldwide, however, various shifts in approaches to the management of natural resources have also emerged from improved understandings of the complex interdependencies between natural and socio-economic systems. In the South African context, between the focus on ecology (through the Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries, or EAF) and economy (through the fishing rights allocation system, or RBM), a vital concern not adequately included under the current system is that of socio-economic and management issues. In the past, participation in the fishing industry remained in the hands of the wealthy, in the form of an established industrialized white-owned sector, reinforcing both the government's racially discriminatory policies, as well as the links between access to capital and access to the commercial fisheries. Nevertheless, in the Western Cape, small-scale fishers and communities living on the margins operated an informal fish market, especially for 'snoek' (Thyrsites atun), for centuries an important source of livelihood, diet, and culture.

While subsistence fishers were not recognized prior to 1994 and were often arrested or fined, in 1994 the new democratic government promised "improved access to marine resources" for "impoverished coastal communities." Since 2010, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has supported the West Coast Fishing Cluster initiative with approximately R11million (US $1.1 million). Through identifying fishing cooperatives, the project seeks to put in place a comprehensive package of support measures, such as assets and capital, in order to create employment opportunities and to enhance the commercialization of small-scale fisheries in the Western Cape, particularly where such communities are heavily reliant on fishing for their livelihood. Last year, when fishing boats to the value of R1.6 million (US $160,000) were provided by the DTI to the fishing co-operatives of Ocean View and Masiphumelele in Cape Town, in order to enable those communities to generate their own capital (potentially R1.8 million, or US $180 000, annually according to the DTI), it had already funded 39 such co-operatives.

Notwithstanding initiatives such as the Fishing Cluster Project, on a broader structural level there remained the problem of the concentration of fishing rights in the hands of a few rights holders. Due to the many artisanal fishers who were still left to operate informally, a class action case was brought against the allocation system of fishing rights. This precipitated a new small-scale fisheries policy for South Africa in 2012. Due for implementation in 2014, the new policy has a strong developmental focus. Significantly, it also promotes community fishing quotas, through the creation of legal entities representing fishing communities.

The Fishing Cluster Project together with the new small-scale fisheries policy begin to address the longstanding capital and access rights challenges of fishing communities. Senior lecturer and fisheries expert at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies, Dr. Moeniba Isaacs, makes several recommendations to further strengthen fishing 'communities'. First, the new small-scale fisheries policy should protect access to snoek for small-scale fishers only, securing fisher livelihoods and food security for poor communities. Second, it should develop local fish markets (investing in proper cold chains and improved sanitation), which local consumers should be encouraged to support. Third, strong community-based organizations need to be developed to provide agency to poor fishers.


Fig. 1: A landing site. Fig. 2: Snoek sellers operate informally from "bakkies" (pick-up trucks) without cold chain facilities.



Food production, accessibility, utilization and affordability among others define food security. The next question is whether the available food is affordability in to ensure a balanced diet for people in urban communities? The greatest area apart from food production and accessibility should on affordability in sub-Saharan Africa. African governments should work to increase production of local food and decrease imports to ensure food affordability. Road networks and a move from subsistence farming to mechanised farming will help boost food security in terms of food affordability.

Ghana, has responded to food security by creating food buffer stocks that serve as a standby against any food shortage, but affordability should be core in this arrangements for total development. Rural urban migrations must be discouraged by building the rural communities to properly engage in agriculture.

widya anggraini's picture

I think in this case, I found similarity with case on Mumbai on threat to mangrove forest. It is interesting to find that ecological sustainability often lost against economic interest. Massive reclamation conducted to facilitate city development and expansion without knowing (or refuse to know) the consequences. Lack of integrated regional planning between five cities in Jakarta was also contributed to the lost of fishing villages, for the case of Jakarta, and endangering the livelihood of fisherman.

An initiative as has been done in South Africa by supporting co-operatives looks interesting and I wonder what the challenges for government to promote fishing quotas and how these fishing communities will accept this idea?

Also I guess the discussion to engage youth in farming or fishing is important. I saw the youth today are reluctant to work in these areas. They prefer to study and work in the city and disconnect with their parent’s lifestyle. Hence I gues introducing such program as in Ghana, Youth in Agriculture, is very important to maintain food availability and sustainability in the production.

Carlin Carr's picture

Widya, I, too, found a lot of parallels with Jakarta and Mumbai. I had never thought about mangroves until I moved to Mumbai, and since I've been here, I've heard the stories about how quickly they are being destroyed and how devastating this could be long-term for the city. As well as the loss of a massively important natural protective barrier for Mumbai's coastline, the fishing people, too, risk losing their livelihood without the mangroves. They are now often forced to troll much further out to sea to find their daily catch. Because of the difficulty fishing communities have had, many of the next generation, the youth, are not taking up their traditional employment. It's becoming increasingly hard to make a living this way. This is especially true for the urban fishing communities. An article last year talking about the fishing communities in Mumbai "leaving for greener pastures," says that 35% of the community have left fishing for new work. They recently started focusing on educating their children so they could have more opportunities. One fisherman says that it is increasingly expensive (oil prices) and difficult because of pollution: "Our water is being polluted as we speak and the government has no control over any of the industries that dump effluents in it. The first thing we would do after school is jump into the water and swim to Madh, but now we have forbidden our children from entering the water because it is filthy.”

It seems to me that policies need to not only focus on supporting fishing communities, but look at the larger picture of environmental degradation by industrial pollution and other means. I like the ideas put forth from cities such as Cape Town, but without a healthy environment in which to pursue fishing, the support becomes irrelevant. The larger issues need to addressed in any step to preserve these community livelihoods.

Tariq Toffa's picture

Hi Carlin. Perhaps a parallel in the Cape to Mumbai's mangroves is its dune systems, which provide important natural buffers against storm surges.

However, due to the high desirability of Cape Town's coastline, it is already much degraded & becoming subject to increasing pressure. Increased levels of coastal erosion, permanent loss and destruction of dune systems, loss of vegetation, increasing levels of wind-blown sand problems, etc., have made the coastline extremely unstable. These coastal risks are only expected to increase into the future.

Hey Widya and others, keep an eye on our website and to find more information on the challenges for government and fishing communities. Coastal Links, representing 5000 fisher people in South Africa, has rejected individual fishing quotas. This is reflected in the new small-scale fishing policy, which builds on the principle of allocating fishing rights to fishing communities...

Tariq Toffa's picture

Many thanks for sharing your work & your struggle. Much appreciated. We will be following your page. –Tariq Toffa.

widya anggraini's picture

Dear Carsten, thank you for the information. The articles really interesting and looking forward more success advocacy effort for fishing communities in SA

Tariq Toffa's picture

Both Jakarta & Accra propose very positive steps, but I would be interested to see if there are any successful examples of these policies yet?

Some questions on Jakarta:

Can you explain a bit more about the government’s plans "to transform fishing villages into tourist destinations?"
How is the competition managed between commercial vs. subsistence fishers & fishing communities in order for the latter to survive? In SA the legal recognition of fishing communities & securing fishing quotas for them, & the beginnings of investment, is one way of addressing this.

On Mumbai, that natural landscapes should be conceptualized as full & integral parts of the urban landscape — rather than in service of more acquiescent functions — is a brilliant idea that can/should be applied almost anywhere in the world!

The Western Province in Sri Lanka is the first provincial government starting to include urban in their provincial climate change adaptation action plan. Rehabilitation of flood zones through their productive use is promoted as an important strategy to enhance storm-water infiltration and mitigate flood risks. Homegardening is supported with as well as to improve local food security and livelihoods.

Kesbewa is situated about 21 km south of Colombo, in the Colombo District, Western Province of Sri Lanka. With close to 6 million people, the Western Province is the most urbanised province in Sri Lanka, home to about 25% of the total national population on only 5% of its surface area. Though not a coastal city, Kesbewa borders the large Bolgada Lake and suffers from similar flooding risks as coastal cities.

Historically, Kesbewa has been an agricultural area which was endowed with the excess water resources of the bordering Bolgoda lake. Still a relatively large area of paddy lands can be found in its lower-lying zones. However, following the continuous growth of Colombo and expansion of the urban boundaries of Colombo Metropolitan Region, Kesbewa Urban Council became an attractive residential area for commuters, now hosting over 244.000 inhabitants (2012 census) on 49 km2 of land. Many of the agricultural areas, were gradually converted to non-agricultural areas, resulting in about 60% of the land now used for residential purposes and related amenities (2011 land use map).

A recent study by the national NGO Janathakshan, implemented in the context of an UN Habitat and RUAF supported programme, confirms this trend and shows that between 2000 and 2010, 14% of agricultural lands have been converted to residential areas (Kekulandala, 2012). Out of this converted land 4.7% is paddy lands in low lying areas.

In the ancient land use system in Sri Lanka low lying lands are kept free from construction for drainage of rainwater and/or utilised for paddy cultivation. In 2011, Kesbewa still counted over 600 hectares of paddy lands (see green areas on the 2011 land use map). However, the rapid filling and conversion of these lands to residential and commercial lands has significantly altered the natural water flow and drainage in the area. This, coupled to increases in rainfall, has resulted in recurrent flooding to be a common sight in some parts of Kesbewa area (University of Morotuwa, 2011). This is aggravated in areas were paddy lands are abandoned and drainage systems not maintained. In 2011, 32% of the total paddy lands were abandoned (Kekulandala, 2012), as a result of paddy cultivation in this part of the country being less economically profitable in comparison to production in the North of the country, where labour costs are lower. Further, there is an increasing problem with salt water ingress, resulting in lower crop yields and incomes to paddy farmers.

The Western Province Ministry of Agriculture realised that well maintained and drained paddy areas function as buffer zones, where water is stored and drainage regulated, thus reducing flood risk in nearby-located areas. It also realised that as a result of the land use changes, Kesbewa increasingly has to rely on food supply from other provinces. Large amounts of food are brought into the city from distant production centres and sold in whole-sale and retail markets. This has resulted in longer transporting distances and storage, increased refrigeration, and air conditioning, all leading to higher Green House Gas (GHG) emissions. Finally, and as a result from projected climate change and decrease in lush vegetation, a significant increase in extreme hot temperature days is predicted for the area with projected severe impacts on energy demand for cooling and heat-related illnesses (University of Morotuwa, 2012).

Since 2005 the Western Province already promotes home gardening and urban agriculture as part of the country’s policy to achieve food sovereignty for the country and promote domestic food production. This was however never done from a climate change perspective. In 2012, the Ministry of Agriculture from the Western Province asked RUAF, in partnership with the International Water Management Institute-IWMI, UN-Habitat, Wageningen University-PPO and the School of Forestry-University of Florida and with funding from the Climate Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) to make an assessment of the potential impacts of Urban and Peri-urban Agriculture and Forestry (UPAF) on climate change adaptation, mitigation and developmental benefits.

Based on this assessment, Janathakshan conducted a further diagnosis study to identify appropriate UPAF models that fit well within the present and future land use patterns in Kesbewa and to identify the wider context within which these UPAF models could be replicated and guided by relevant policies and interventions. The diagnosis and assessment included five interrelated studies to identify the most feasible UPAF models: Vulnerability mapping, Land use mapping, Food flow mapping, Policy scan and a Feasibility scan.

Supported by RUAF and UN-Habitat, the Western Province, Kesbewa Urban Council and Janathakshan then selected and financed pilot projects on 2 promising urban agriculture models that were considered to have the highest potential to (a) reduce GHG emissions associated with transporting food into Kesbewa from distance sources, distribution, and storing and (b) reduce vulnerability to climate change and enhancing adaptation and increase city liveability and livelihoods. The land use pattern study suggested that home gardens and abandoned paddy lands (in low lying flood zones) are the most appropriate and promising spaces to be preserved for urban agriculture. The food flow mapping identified 5 vegetable varieties and 2 fruit varieties that can be locally grown in Kesbewa but are at present imported from distant locations.

The first project included the promotion of more salt-resistant varieties of paddy, alongside the cultivation of vegetables in raised bunds, and involved 47 farmers in 4 different locations in Kesbewa. Altogether 43 acres (17.4 Ha) of paddy field have as been put into cultivation including 13 acres (5.2 Ha) of abandoned fields, located in medium to high risk flood zones, that have been abandoned for more than 20 years.

The second project looked at the intensification of home gardening units, coupled to promotion of rainwater harvesting and organic waste composting. 2011 data show that in total 410 ha are cultivated with home gardens in Kesbewa, while another 285 hectares are still available for cultivation (Kekulandala, 2012). Home gardening is practised by around 30% of the population for both home consumption of food as well as for income generation. In view of future urban development and increasing competition over land, home gardens were to be designed with a view towards future space restrictions. The vegetables and fruit varieties, to be promoted in home gardens were selected with regards to their potential to replace food imports as identified by the food flow analysis mentioned above (Gunasekera, 2012).

150 Home gardeners from 10 divisions are actively participating in this second project , with a high participation of the elderly community (57%). Space intensive techniques like bio intensive farming, vertical structures and certain irrigation methods like solar drip irrigation and micro irrigation methods were introduced. The gardeners are provided with technical training on space intensive farming and business planning, seed materials and home gardening kits to actively take part in the project.

A demonstration home garden plot was established at the Agrarian services Centre and successfully attracted public, government officers, politicians and school children. A series of television programmes (6 programs) was broadcasted on this demonstration plot in one of the national channels. More demonstration plots are now being established to further enhance awareness raising and uptake of the practice.

In both projects, the participation of stakeholders for the project has been high, with both governments, agricultural institutions and the Urban council taking a leading role.

Preliminary impact monitoring data, collected and analysed by the University of Morotuwa and the University of Colombo shows that households involved in production and sale of urban agriculture can increase income or reduce expenditures on food and improve food security and dietary diversification. Flooding incidences and impacts are lower when paddy-lands are preserved and well-managed as they play an important role in storm-water infiltration and management. Reducing the transport of vegetables over longer distances by increasing local production of vegetables (specifically gourd, cucumber, eggplant, okra, chilli and capsicum) in home-gardens, while at the same time improving organic waste re-use, can reduce GHG emissions by 4133 tons/yr (this amount was calculated, computing the difference between the amount of GHG released during the production and transportation of a ton of a specific food commodity to Kesbewa and the amount of GHG emitted when that ton of food was produced locally). Emissions of GHG could be further reduced if home-gardens are used more intensively, yields are increased and nutrient management is improved (as only low quantities of compost are used), requiring extension and technical support (University of Colombo, 2013).

In parallel to project implementation and monitoring, policy review revealed three levels of policy where intervention was needed if uptake and up-scaling of these models were to follow:

• At local level: promoting the integration of urban agriculture into the Kesbewa Urban Development Plan (preserving low-lying lands for urban agriculture and designing such areas based on the results of the pilot projects) and in the municipal programmes and budgets for example providing financial incentives for rain-water harvesting in home-gardens or for rehabilitation of drainage canals in paddy areas).

• At provincial level: development –with contribution of all stakeholders- of a provincial climate change adaptation action plan that will prepare Western Province to better live and cope with climate change. The Western province Is currently elaborating such plan that seeks to integrate UPAF in each of the 5 sectors to be covered: food security; biodiversity; health; water and human settlements.

• At national level: a revision of the “Paddy Act” regulated by the Department of Agrarian Services, Ministry of Agriculture -that previously only allowed for paddy cultivation in assigned areas- was done in order to promote and support new models and forms of production of mixed cultivation of rice and vegetables that will increase income, promote and revalorise agro-ecological forms of production and traditional salt-water resistant rice varieties and maintain natural drainage functions of the areas. Based on the project results, a recent circular adds value to this policy, and supports the promotion of short term crops as an alternative, to paddy. However uptake of the new practice is lagging behind. A clear implementation plan will be developed in the coming months alongside further awareness raising and information provision for interested farmers and leverage of financial support for rehabilitation of drainage systems.

Climate change adds to the existing challenges faced by cities. For example, the increased levels of risk of flooding induced by climate change, comes on top of already serious deficiencies in provision for storm drainage in many cities in developing countries. Experiences in Sri Lanka have shown that urban agriculture can help reduce the vulnerability of the urban poor and enhances their coping capacity by diversifying food and income sources, keeping low lying zones free from construction so that floods have less impact, storm water runoff is reduced, and excess water is stored and infiltrated in the green open spaces; while at the same time local production may contribute to reduction of urban energy use and GHG emissions. It may thus be a low-cost and appropriate adaptation strategy, bringing with it potentially significant co-benefits in form of food security and job creation.

Carlin Carr's picture

Marielle, this is fascinating, and so much of it rings true for what I was saying about the mangroves in Mumbai. My heart sinks when I hear about how we've so easily and quickly abandoned ancient traditions that understood the natural gifts, such as the paddies in Sri Lanka. To think these have been swallowed up to build more and more buildings with little attention to the land on which these concrete constructions are being erected is devastating. It's no wonder there is such an increase in flooding due to climate change around the world. And to think that massive investment in new technology to deal with all of this wouldn't be necessary if we just protected the natural ecosystems developed to drain excess rains.

It's fantastic that Sri Lanka has taken the steps they have to reverse this trend. I've never heard home gardening linked in this way, but it's an interesting, affordable project with myriad other benefits. In some sense, Sri Lanka always seems to be ahead of the curve in the region when it comes to innovating for urban development. Thanks so much for sharing these initiatives.

Food security hinges greatly on food accessibility. In many parts of Ghana where there are vast lands for food production, the road networks are in bad state, especially during the raining season. Whenever food is produced, farmers find it so difficult to transport their produce to the city centres to sell to make a living. No wonder every farmer wants to leave the farm to become a casual worker or cleaner in an industry in the city. African governments spend lots of money for electioneering and political campaigns, yet, a little is done about social amenities such as roads to ensure transportation of goods and services. In the northern belt of Ghana, there is a place called overseas whenever there is a downpour of rain.

Food security is intrinsically linked with availability of goods and services transported on a good road. People in the cities cannot access their fresh food choice and farmers lose lots of capital as a result of poor roads.

Fish catch is dwindling due to climate change. One major contributing factor is the use of light fishing on the shores of Ghana and inappropriate fishing practices by trolleys from some parts of the world. As fish catches dwindle, accessibility is decreased in the market places.

It is about time African governments to rise and take responsibility for their actions and inactions to ensure food accessibility in their nations.

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