How can local communities and governments work together to foster a sustainable future in Africa’s food systems? Luke Metelerkamp explores how municipal fresh produce markets, vital for many informal workers, actively tackle food waste, reach organic waste targets, and embrace low-emission technologies.
Food systems received growing attention at the recent COP28, and for good reason – accounting for roughly one third of all global emissions. COP28 also stood out as victory for the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities Constituency (LGMA), drawing increased recognition of the critical role that local governments play in tackling climate change. This marks an important opportunity to align local government mandates with the growing focus on food systems.
The question is, how?
One answer is through municipal fresh produce markets: The management of local municipal markets falls within local government mandates, offering an important opportunity for cities to attract much needed investment dedicated to local climate action.
A Local Touch to Climate-Friendly Food Systems
A staggering 86 per cent of Africa’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from food systems are attributable to agriculture and land use changes, with only 14 per cent coming from retail and consumer segments (FAO). At the same time over 50 per cent of food in Africa is consumed in cities. This distribution underscores a crucial point: when it comes to climate mitigation, the biggest impact urban systems can have on Africa’s food related emissions is through the value chain linkages to rural landscapes. It is not just about how food is handled within urban areas; it’s also about the food choices cities make.
In this context, Municipal fresh produce markets offer a unique opportunity for local governments to take proactive measures. By shaping the ways in which food is managed and consumed across the continent, these markets present a chance for impactful climate action strategies.
Tackling Food Waste: Strategies for Climate-Friendly Urban Markets
Food waste within markets, particularly in fresh produce is an often-overlooked area in the African food system. Although data remains scarce, available figures point to a significant problem. For instance, the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Food Waste Index reports that globally, 17 per cent of food production is wasted at retail and consumer stages. In Sub-Saharan Africa, estimations by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and others suggest a potentially higher figure – with up to 35 per cent of fruits and vegetables lost between the farm and consumer, far exceeding the global average of 15 per cent.
Building more resilient food systems will support local livelihoods © ICLEI Africa
To align with global averages, we should be aiming to cut food waste at urban fresh produce markets by 15-20 per cent. Such a reduction could lead to a 20 per cent per capita decrease in downstream emissions from agriculture and land use changes.
Key strategies to achieve this goal include the enhancement of storage and management, especially for high-emission products like meat and dairy. Improving facilities through shade structures, improved hygiene and cold storage plays a significant role in this effort.
Moreover, we need to address the challenge seasonal oversupply. Implementing more effective market information systems, can help farmers and middlemen to plan production and supply more effectively. This shift will significantly contribute to reducing unnecessary waste in the system.
African Markets on a Mission: Zero Organic Waste Targets Transform Cities
As food retail systems industrialise and supermarket penetration increases, GHG emissions typically increase. However, Africa’s current low GHG intensity in its food retail sector offers an opportunity for low-emission modernisation.
Shifting the focus to post-production emissions, a substantial 66 per cent of Africa’s retail emissions stem from two primary factors: organic waste disposal and handling (42 per cent) and retail operations (24 per cent) (FAO). Addressing this challenge requires a concentrated effort in improving municipal waste management and circularity. A growing number of African cities have set Zero Organic Waste to landfill targets, with wholesale and retail markets as key actors to achieving these objectives. This necessitates investment in separation and processing facilities at urban markets, aiming to reduce methane emissions and help to put carbon back in the ground.
As instability of electricity supply has been a longstanding issue that hindered market upgrading, leapfrogging refrigeration systems emerge as a potential solution. With emerging studies suggesting that solar-powered refrigeration can increase net revenues sufficiently to cover the costs of cold storage, Solar energy for market refrigeration presents an exciting opportunity.
Empowering Local Economies: The Potential of Urban Fresh Produce Markets
Finally, by creating a retail environment that supports local and regional family farming, municipal markets can help protect local livelihoods and regional agricultural biodiversity. This approach counters the challenges posed by large-scale, globalised value chains and supports a more sustainable and climate-resilient food system.
Urban fresh produce markets have the potential to tackle climate change © Image generated by benjakollenberg using Midjourney
Investments in urban fresh produce markets across Africa hold great promise, not only for reducing GHG emissions but also supporting local economies and ensuring food security. The key lies in a targeted focus on reducing food waste, improving organic waste management, and modernising infrastructure with low-emission technologies. However, creating this enabling environment to unlock the potential of local markets, means that municipalities must align policies and market management institutions effectively.
And when they do, these markets have the capacity to shape a sustainable future for the continent’s food systems.