This report regularly monitors global, regional and national progress towards the targets of ending both hunger and food insecurity (Sustainable Development Goal [SDG] Target 2.1) and all forms of malnutrition (SDG Target 2.2) in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This year, the global assessment of the state of food security and nutrition in 2022 reflects a particular moment in history. In 2022, the world was beginning to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic when the war broke out in Ukraine, shaking commodity and energy markets. The pandemic, the ensuing economic rebound, the war in Ukraine, and the soaring prices of food, agricultural inputs and energy due in part to the war have all played out differently across regions and populations, with differing impacts on hunger and food insecurity. While new estimates presented in Chapter 2 indicate hunger was no longer on the rise at the global level in 2022, this indicator was still far above pre-COVID-19-pandemic levels. Moreover, food crises were still unfolding in many parts of the world. Many population groups were not buoyed up by the economic recovery or were bearing the brunt of higher prices of food, inputs and energy – or both. For these reasons, we are still far off track to meet the SDG 2 targets.

Beyond the global assessment of food security and nutrition in 2022, this report provides in-depth analysis of the major drivers behind these trends which are challenging our efforts to achieve the SDGs in the context of the 2030 Agenda. Past editions have repeatedly highlighted the intensification of the major drivers of food insecurity and malnutrition – conflict, climate extremes, economic slowdowns and downturns, and growing inequality – often occurring in combination, which have pushed us off track to meet the SDG 2 targets. There is no question these threats will continue, requiring that we remain steadfast in taking bold actions to build resilience against them. However, there are still important megatrends that must be factored into the analysis to fully understand the challenges to and opportunities for meeting the SDG 2 targets.

One such megatrend, and the thematic focus of this year’s report, is urbanization. As urbanization increases, rural and urban areas are becoming more intertwined, and the spatial distinction between them is becoming more fluid. Population growth in small and medium-sized cities and rural towns now increasingly “bridges” the space between the rural hinterland and large metropolises.1, 2 The changing pattern of population agglomerations across this rural–urban continuum is driving changes throughout agrifood systems, creating both challenges and opportunities to ensure everyone has access to affordable healthy diets. Overcoming the challenges and leveraging the opportunities will require actions and policy interventions that are informed by a clear understanding of how the rural–urban continuum and agrifood systems interact.

While rates of urbanization vary across countries, with the rate of any given country often linked to its stage of structural transformation, urbanization overall is accelerating. By 2050, almost seven in ten people are projected to live in cities; but even today this proportion is already approximately 56 percent.a In low- and middle-income countries, the urban population is growing more than three times faster than the rural population (3.08 percent compared with 0.89 percent annually, from 2015 to 2020).3 By 2030, the urban population in these countries is projected to exceed 4 billion; that is, it will have more than doubled in size since the year 2000. In contrast, the rural population of low- and middle-income countries is projected to increase much less, to at least 3 billion by 2050 – only slightly higher than the 2.95 billion figure of 2000. While rural populations are still increasing rapidly in some regions such as the African drylands, in most other regions rural populations are declining, including in Latin America and Europe.

The areas currently experiencing the most rapid urbanization are those where the link between urbanization, economic growth and structural transformation is weaker – regions like sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, which have some of the highest numbers of individuals who are hungry, food insecure and malnourished. These two subregions are projected to experience the most rapid increases in urbanization, while at the same time facing the biggest challenges regarding poverty, food insecurity and access to affordable healthy diets. Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban population is projected to almost quadruple in size by 2050, reaching 1.3 billion, compared with 306 million in 2010.4 At the same time, the rural population is projected to increase less rapidly but still profoundly, from 540 million in 2010 to 909 million in 2050. In Asia, the urban population is projected to increase by 83 percent, from 1.9 billion to 3.5 billion, while the rural population is projected to decline by 540 million, from 2.3 billion to 1.8 billion. But in Southern Asia, the urban population is projected to more than double, increasing by 120 percent, from 555 million to 1.3 billion.

Urbanization arises from a combination of rural push factors (e.g. poverty, inequitable land distribution, environmental degradation, and forced displacement due to disasters or conflict) and urban pull factors (e.g. urban employment, higher wages, better social services and educational opportunities), which vary depending on the country and specific context. This leads to increased food supply and demand, direct and indirect land-use change, and more complex agrifood market linkages among producers, midstream supply chain processors and distributors, and consumers.5 While living in urban areas has often been associated with higher standards of living overall, these areas may also have pockets of abject poverty compared to rural areas, and their services are often stretched to the limit. This can result in lack of access to affordable healthy diets, as well as increases in poverty and food insecurity and multiple forms of malnutrition.

Across the entire rural–urban continuum, the majority of food consumed is purchased from markets. Hence, the type of diet that households consume is determined by cost and affordability, which in turn depend on the structure of agrifood systems, including food supply and value-added chains. These factors must be taken into consideration in designing effective policies and investments to ensure rural, peri-urban and urban populations have access to affordable healthy diets. A policy approach that goes beyond sectoral silos and administrative borders will be needed to shape how regions urbanize and affect agrifood systems across the rural–urban continuum.

After presenting the main trends in the global assessment of food security and nutrition, and the cost and affordability of a healthy diet around the world (Chapter 2), this report explores the linkages between urbanization and changing agrifood systems across the rural–urban continuum.

To begin, Chapter 3 examines the drivers, patterns and dynamics of urbanization through a rural–urban continuum lens. It presents a conceptual framework showing the pathways through which urbanization is affecting agrifood systems, and in turn enabling or hampering access to affordable healthy diets, with implications for food security and malnutrition in all its forms.

Looking at this process, one of the key transitions that stands out occurs through the interplay of food supply and demand, as well as the resulting changes in what people are eating across the rural–urban continuum. To better understand this, Chapter 4 presents new analysis precisely on how urbanization is changing food demand, utilizing a unique Urban Rural Catchment Areas (URCA) global dataset combined with georeferenced household survey data. This is followed by additional analysis for selected countries exploring differences in the cost and affordability of a healthy diet, and in food insecurity and different forms of malnutrition across the rural–urban continuum.

Finally, building on the insights from the previous chapters, Chapter 5 identifies the policies, new technologies, and associated investments that can be adapted to address the challenges – and capitalize on the opportunities – that urbanization brings for ensuring access to affordable healthy diets for everyone, across the rural–urban continuum. The chapter describes the governance mechanisms and institutions that are needed to achieve a more coherent and integrated approach for implementing these policies and solutions.

Such timely evidence and recommendations are relevant to the New Urban Agenda, endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2016, as well as other global processes such as the United Nations Food Systems Summit and the establishment of the Urban Food Systems Coalition in 2021. They are also considered highly relevant for the efforts towards achieving SDGs beyond Zero Hunger, not least SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), but also SDG 1 (No Poverty), SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) and SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).

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