Review of ‘Climate Change, Assets and Food Security in Southern African Cities’

Editor(s) Bruce Frayne, Caroline Moser, Gina Ziervogel
Publisher Routledge: Earthscan Climate
Year 2012

International reports estimate that the population of African cities is expected to double by 2050[1] and this rapid urbanisation is primarily driven by the push of rural poverty, exacerbated by climate change, as opposed to the pull of better-paid jobs in the city.[2] In addition, the continent will be home to one in five of the planet’s young people[3] all seeking employment, but not necessarily with the requisite skills or education to survive financially in the city. Climate Change, Assets and Food Security in Southern African Cities is thus a timely commentary on food security in an urban context and the likely scenarios for cities that might not have the capacity – financial or otherwise – to quickly adapt to climate change and rapid urbanisation patterns.

The book provides both in-depth and theoretical perspectives on the different aspects affecting urban food security from migration patterns (pg. 75 and pg. 76) and spatial planning decisions that reduce the agricultural potential of cities (pg. 132) to the predicted effects of climate change (pg. 1). However, its greatest contribution – through the work of different authors – is the multi-layered view that it offers on the issue of urban food security from a climate change perspective. It aptly positions food security in the complexity of the southern African city’s fragmented policy frameworks, the lack of capacity and finance in many cities, migration flows between urban and rural areas (of people, food and money), existing asset frameworks and the urban poor’s current methods of adaptation and mitigation.

In particular, the emphasis throughout on multiple intervention strategies is valuable, ranging from the institutional level in terms of policy and policy implementation, to reviewing municipal by-law and regulatory frameworks on a local and regional level to the need for state support for existing adaption measures practiced by the poor, which might need to be bolstered or directed in a way that bolsters environmental sustainability. The need for cities to employ long-term strategies and planning is made evident as climate change is not bound by electoral periods in its manifestation or long-term effects. And the book provides a clarion call for this type of long-term planning as although the effects of climate change and migration to cities with already over-stretched services (in terms of energy, sanitation, education and health) might be relatively incremental in nature, the cumulative effects will be drastic.

What is not covered in the book, and hopefully is the aim of future research work, is how to cultivate a culture of “sustainable state” thinking – on a national, regional and local level – that allows, encourages and then supports the informal networks of food growing, distribution and retail and how to do this in a safe manner. This kind of thinking entails an engagement with globalised food systems and the highly corporate nature of farming systems in southern Africa.

The need to continually focus on both macro and micro elements is emphasised throughout – keeping an eye on the “big picture” while still paying attention to what is happening on the ground among those most affected by urban food security. This is enabled through the comprehensive focus on flows, in particular migration patterns and flows of food (and/or money) between the rural and urban areas. This adds another dimension to the issue of urban food security. The presentation of on-the-ground research and case studies is valuable in that it provides the real-life counterpoint often missing from books of this nature. As does the statistical information gathered on a range of factors from resource flows, poverty indexes and levels of food security in selected communities to the household migration status of particular regions.

The current adaptation methods used by the poor and vulnerable to survive are also of interest and worth further research. These include bartering or food exchanges between neighbours and remittances between rural and urban areas as well as urban farming. Urban farming in particular presents both opportunities and challenges as its potential is bound by by-laws, access to land and markets.

Although presenting grim insights into the current and predicted future state of food security in southern African cities, the book lays the groundwork for much-needed discussion on this issue. This type of discussion, as aptly illustrated in the book, needs to happen at multiple levels: between the state (national, regional and local levels) and citizenry, between countries and between individuals at a community level. The authors and editors have made a valuable contribution to the growing body of work on urban food security and have elevated the discourse on climate change, urbanisation and food security to a more secure footing.

Stefanie Swanepoel is a freelance writer, researcher and editor with a masters degree in Sustainable Development (cum laude) from the University of Stellenbosch. She has performed work for a range of international and national funding organisations, South African government departments and the European Union, among others. Connect with Stefanie on Linkedin.



[1] Ibrahim Forum. (2011). African Agriculture: From Meeting Needs to Creating Wealth. [Online] Available at: Accessed on 1 June 2014.

[2] Africa Progress Panel. (2014). Grain Fish Money: Financing Africa’s Green and Blue Revolutions. Africa Progress Report 2014.

[3] UNDP. (2012). The roles and opportunities for the private sector in Africa’s agro-food industry. UNDP African Facility for inclusive markets. [Online] Available at: Accessed on 16 June 2014.


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