Urbanizing Food Systems

Rapid Urbanization and Transformation of Food Systems

Rapidly rising urban populations and renewed growth in per capita incomes in the developing world are creating major opportunities for local farmers by driving vigorous growth in domestic and regional market demand for food. Globalization of food markets is also opening opportunities, though for a smaller set of farmers, for export to high-income countries. At the same time, both these trends present great challenges for developing country food systems. First, the rapid growth in local and regional market demand puts enormous stress on the supply chains that these farmers rely on to respond to this increasing demand. Yet in many parts of the developing world, these systems are dramatically inadequate for current levels and types of demand. Second, changing patterns of consumer demand, towards more perishable products such as fresh produce, milk, and meats, and towards processed, packaged, and prepared foods increase this challenge, demanding a more sophisticated and capitalized system to maintain food quality and minimize problems of food safety. Third, the globalization of food markets means that local and regional producers and traders must increasingly compete with imports for the urban consumption market.

The Megatrend 2 team will focus its efforts during Year 1 on East Africa, with the following objectives:

  • Review secondary data and literature regarding trends and issues in urbanization and income growth on a country-by-country basis, and project changing patterns of consumer demand to 2040.
  • Conduct a series of forward-looking literature reviews on key aspects of changing food systems in these regions, including implications for women and gendered roles in the food system. The purpose of these focused reviews will be to define the current state of knowledge, specifically addressing the comparability of existing studies, the consistency of their findings, and the sufficiency of the sum of the evidence for conceiving and designing potential solutions.
  • Engage a wide range of stakeholders including private companies, multi-stakeholder networks focusing on developing country food systems, donors, and others. Engagement will continue throughout the five years, with year 1 focusing on identifying relevant stakeholders, prioritizing those with whom to engage, understanding their definition of problems, and incorporating this knowledge into the Center’s thinking. These activities will result in the completion of a phase 1 white paper focused on East Africa. The paper will be enriched with case studies and expanded to Asia during year 2.


Population growth, rapid urbanization, and growing per capita incomes in the developing world are transforming consumption patterns and creating major opportunities and daunting challenges for local farmers, traders, processors, consumers, and public officials.

The interactive map below presents two identical maps which are created to show variation of four parameters (population in the largest city, rural population, rural population growth, urban population, and urban population growth), for different years.

Access to The Downstream Food System Transformation

Access to Urbanization and the Diet Transformation