Rome’s transformative journey towards developing a comprehensive food policy reflects the profound influence of food on the city and its inhabitants. Inspired by international research and experiences the Rome municipality embraced a city-region food system approach, recognising the interconnectedness of urban and rural areas. Through a bottom-up process which began in 2018, diverse stakeholders united to raise awareness and explore solutions, leading to the identification of gaps and priority areas for intervention. This revealed a complex food system, but at the same time rich in resources.
Rome is characterised by many experiences related to sustainable food, however, with no defined vision and strategic direction at the political level with the risk that such initiatives will lose their ability to accompany the transition to sustainable food systems. What is more, the agricultural mosaic of considerable value is inadequately supported with among the most pressing challenges are the fragmentation of the agricultural landscape and the fragility of urban markets. The historic approval of Resolution Number 38, on 27 April 2021, solidified Rome’s commitment to adopting a Food Policy, establishing the instrumental pillars of the Food Council, the Food Plan, and the Technical Office for the implementation of food policy. With inclusive governance and collaboration at its core, Rome’s Food Policy aims to foster sustainability, circular economy principles, and resilience in the city’s food system. This article explores Rome’s dedication to creating a holistic, inclusive, and sustainable food system for the benefit of its citizens.
The conceptual framework behind Rome’s food policy
The conceptual framework behind the Rome food policy process is the city-region food system approach. It is an approach developed by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation in the early 2020s. The term city-region refers to a large urban centre or conglomeration of smaller urban centres and the surrounding and interspersed peri-urban and rural hinterland (FAO and RUAF, 2015). It does not only refer to megacities and the immediate rural and agricultural areas surrounding them, but also to small and medium-sized towns that link remote small-scale producers and their agricultural value chains to urban centres and markets in developing countries. The approach focuses on food systems as the functional tie that binds a territory together. More precisely, the City Region Food System (CRFS) is defined as ”all the actors, processes and relationships that are involved in food production, processing, distribution and consumption in a given city-region”. Additionally, CRFS is connected to many other rural and urban sectors (e.g. food security, economic development, water and waste management, energy, transport, health, climate change, governance and spatial planning, etc.) most importantly, by taking into account economic, social, and environmental sustainability links.
The City of Rome, along with scholars on food policies, was inspired by other initiatives in Europe, such as the Projet Alimentaire Territorial (PAT) in France, which is also working in this direction. The most prominent scholars that influence Rome’s initiative were: Ana Moragues Faus et al., (2013) who describe urban food policies as “a process consisting of how a city envisions a change in its food system and how it strives towards this change”, and Roberta Sonnino (2009) who says “local food policies are designed to ensure access to healthy, nutritious, quality, socially compatible and culturally appropriate food for all“. PAT also had a great impact on the discussions about food in Rome, as well as the National strategy of the French government under the Law for the Future of Agriculture in 2014, that aims to relocate agriculture and food in local areas by supporting farmers, short food-chains and the promotion of local products in public canteens. PAT gathers actors interested in the question of food seeking to implement concrete solutions to respond to local problems and needs. These projects can extend to very different territorial scales: from small towns to large regions. They can have a social, economic or environmental aim, but generally it is the combination of more of these aspects that is dealt with within the projects. What brings these approaches together is their collective and cooperative characteristics, and the fact that they take into account the subject of food as a whole.
In addition, in Italy there is an Italian Network of Local Food Policies that promotes exchanges and support advocacy processes in cities and rural areas. The aim of the network is to promote a sustainable food system, and the main objective is to develop the local economy based on new relationships between citizens and countryside, and farmers and consumers. Most of the current initiatives about food policies are developed in the northern part of Italy, with some hubs in Tuscany where there is a great momentum for innovation, but also the Rome food policy has inspired other processes all across Italy.
The process leading to Rome’s food policy
Rome has witnessed a wave of green and food-related movements over the past decade. A large number of initiatives have emerged across the city that seek to reclaim the value of food for citizens and producers, awaken the debate on sustainability, and reaffirm the concept of healthy and local food. Such initiatives include urban and peri-urban multifunctional agriculture, ethical purchasing groups, and farmers markets, reassigning a new centrality to food. These initiatives, while they have had the capacity to increase interest in the population of food-related issues, have nevertheless developed in a very fragmented way, with little coordination between them.
In 2018, in this complex but yet potential and rich framework an initial, bottom-up group of scholars, associations, journalists and farmers gathered together and explored the possibilities and ways to raise awareness of the local government about the challenges and the critical issues of Rome’s food system, as well as the strengths, including the large existing number of food-related initiatives in Rome. The debate has been enriched over time by other researchers and organisations, and over the next year the group gradually grew to include more than 50 organisations and individuals, including academics, agricultural cooperatives, urban horticulturists, agricultural and environmental associations, civil society and other networks.
The result of this bottom-up process was a document grounded in research that has been conducted over many years on a variety of issues related to food, agriculture, and ecosystem services within the municipal area. The document, officially presented to the public on 16 October 2019, mapped and analysed Rome’s food system and identified the gaps that a food policy of Rome should overcome. The analysis was then followed by the identification of ten priority areas for action in the direction of sustainability and circular economy. These ten priorities were: access to resources, sustainable agriculture and biodiversity, short food-chain and food markets, rural-urban relationships, food and territory, food waste and redistribution, multifunctionality, awareness, landscape, and resilience planning. Although its representatives were already aware of the process, this public event marked the first formal involvement of the Municipality of Rome and its first dialogue with the proposing committee.
On 27 April 2021, the Rome Municipal Assembly unanimously approved Resolution Number 38, committing the city to initiate a Food Policy for the Italian capital, which should consist of three instruments: the Food Council, the Food Plan, and the Plan Office. The overall framework of the resolution is based on the adoption of the ten principles mentioned before, and two additional ones added during the council debate: work on awareness of territorial and global food problems among children, youth and families, and allow the sale of food close to expiry in assigned spaces within neighbourhoods. The strength and significance of the resolution resides in the fact that since it is an administrative act, it will remain effective even beyond the current term of the electoral mandate, regardless of political orientation.
How roles and purpose of the Food Council
The main purpose of the Food Council is to ensure representation and broad participation in the definition of the Food Plan. Citizens, public institutions, businesses active within the agri-food chain, third sector associations and universities, training institutions and research institutes are able to participate. On 23 February 2022 the Food Council took place for the first time chaired by the Chairman of the Environment Committee of the City Council. The council will organise its work according to seven modules that reflect the goals of the resolution: (i) Food governance, (ii) Access to resources, local production and agroecology, (iii) Markets, local food and logistics, (iv) Solidarity economy and alternative food networks, (v) Combating food waste and poverty, (vi) School catering, public procurement and food education, and (vii) Food culture, catering and food processing.
Concurrently to the adoption of the Food Plan promoted by the Food Council, the Municipal Council will set up a dedicated Technical Office for the implementation of the Food Policy of the Municipality of Rome as the body responsible for coordinating the relevant Offices of the various competent Departments and updating the planning instruments.
The strategic framework of Rome’s food policy
The Food Policy of Rome resides in Resolution Number 38, where the Municipality decided to adopt a Food Policy through which the Administration, with the cooperation of the Food Council, identifies the objectives, and outlines of intervention and concrete actions to implement in order to realise the guidelines that will be included in the Food Plan. However, working towards a CRFS requires a planning strategy on a larger scale than the municipal one. This concerns the Food Atlas (Marino, et al., 2022), which has been developed as part of the efforts towards the Sustainable Urban Agenda of the Metropolitan City of Rome. The Food Atlas serves as an initial step in creating a collective path involving all 121 municipalities within the metropolitan area, focusing on the subject of food. It is essentially a comprehensive Atlas that visually represents the intricate food system by organising, systematising, and narrating a vast amount of data.
The creation of the Atlas has facilitated the identification of gaps in the metropolitan food system, which involves assessing the alignment between socio-economic phenomena and the objectives outlined in the Agenda 2030. Based on this analysis, five strategies for promoting ecological transition have been proposed: i) Governance tools for the food plan of the Metropolitan City of Rome; ii) Food as a common good. Increasing access to food and food quality; iii) Supply chains, metropolitan metabolism and urban-rural pact; iv) Circular Rome. Increasing circularity of the food system on a social, environmental and local level; and v) Resilient Rome. Increasing food sovereignty. Furthermore, there is significant overlap between the Food Policy of Rome and the identified areas of coherence, allowing for potential coordination between the two processes.
In conclusion, the process towards developing a food policy in Rome has involved a bottom-up approach driven by the recognition of food’s profound impact on cities. Inspired by international research and experiences, Rome adopted a city-region food system approach to address the complexity of its food system. Through collaborative efforts and the establishment of the Food Council, Rome aims to create a comprehensive Food Policy Plan that prioritises sustainability, circular economy, and access to healthy food. By embracing cooperation, participation, and sustainability principles, Rome seeks to establish a resilient, inclusive, and exemplary food system for its residents.
Article written by Giovanni Pagano, Eutropian
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