The impact of urbanisation on food systems in West and East Africa

Opportunities to improve rural livelihoods

Urbanisation is a major driver of societal, environmental and economic change in both West and East Africa, affecting all aspects of food systems. This policy report provides insights into the current and projected dynamics of urbanisation and food systems in West and East Africa and assesses the potential impacts on rural livelihoods. The report concludes with three recommendations on how urbanisation can contribute to rural livelihoods.

‘Urbanising’ food systems

The most important food system changes driven by urbanisation are the rising food demand and changing food preferences. Food demand in East and West Africa will on average rise 2.5-fold by 2050, and even more in urban areas. Meeting this demand in an environmentally sustainable way while increasing rural agricultural incomes and employment, are central challenges for both regions. Although diets differ widely between areas, in general, urban consumers spend more than rural consumers on animal products, sugars, oils, fruit and vegetables and processed foods. Continued urbanisation and unequal income growth are expected to further alter diets. Ensuring access to nutritious diets for both rural and urban populations is an additional challenge in West and East African food systems.

Making urbanisation work for rural livelihoods

These alterations in food demand and dietary preferences can provide opportunities for rural livelihoods. Such opportunities include improved social and knowledge networks as a result of migration and better infrastructure, improved access to inputs and growing markets, and increases in off-farm employment.

The report discusses how dispersed spatial patterns of urbanisation, the development of secondary cities and the quality of rural–urban linkages can contribute to the realisation of these opportunities. However, the focus needs to be kept on strengthening the efforts to reduce inequalities between and within urban and rural areas, since urbanisation tends to benefit certain groups more than others, with low-income groups in urban and rural areas at risk of losing out under a scenario of continued economic inequality and rising food prices.

A local market in Africa


PBL Authors
Sophie de Bruin
Other authors
Just Dengerink


Publication title
The impact of urbanisation on food systems in West and East Africa
Publication subtitle
Opportunities to improve rural livelihoods
Publication date
22 September 2020
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