What happens in the city when we understand that the rural-urban link is increasingly strong? Cali’s example

¿Qué pasa en la ciudad cuando entendemos que lo rural penetró lo urbano? El ejemplo de Cali

Not a new: agriculture is not an exclusive business from rural areas. For that reason, several years ago, CIAT began to respond to the need of building an inclusive and resilient food system in one of the most important cities in Colombia: Cali.

Photo credit: G.Smith/CIAT

There is a common place that comes to mind when we think of CIAT: the countryside, the rural sector. We picture producers, farms, seeds, agriculture, livestock and other components that we label as “rural.” However, a couple of years ago I heard Julio Berdegué – at that time researcher from Rimisp – say: “old rurality is dead… what remains is about to die out […] We have to take off the lenses that look at rurality only as an agrarian matrix. As long as we don’t do that, we are part of the problem“.

… Why did he say that? What about the urban sector: urbanization, consumption, markets, migrations, waste? … More than some people would like to realize, the urban-rural divide is fading away.


We can’t continue to look at rural areas as distant spaces, isolated from urban areas. It has become evident that the urban-rural link is increasingly strong, and in today’s territorial dynamics, these two worlds are intricately linked, even more so if we think of food systems. Therefore, in order to strengthen food systems and make them more sustainable and less vulnerable to climate variability and climate change challenges, we all should also take an interest in urban areas.

Osana Bonilla-Findji

Scientific Officer, CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

Challenges are diverse. “Cali come mejor” (Cali better food), a research study led by CIAT on food systems in Cali, one of the three most populated cities in Colombia, found that industrialized food is highly common in a typical “caleño” (Cali’s inhabitants) meal, and that there are significant indicators of acute malnutrition (4%) and stunting (6.79%) in children under 5 years old (see full post).

Jenny Peña, one of the study researchers, said: “new generations are strongly influenced by the consumption of ultra-processed food.” At the same time, according to El País journal, Cali is the second largest producer of waste in Colombia, and the useful life of its sanitary landfills is coming to an end. Each citizen generates an average of 1.5 kilograms of waste a day, according to Diego Benavides, head of Dagma‘s[1] Solid Waste division. This estimate does not account for the footprint that this waste leaves in terms of food loss, and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production.

Academic Platform 

Waste, carbon footprint, overweight, malnutrition, what do they have in common? At least two things (for the purposes of this post). First, that these issues are linked to food’s pathway from the time it is produced until it is consumed and disposed. Second, that they are some of the key issues addressed by the Academic Platform on Food and Nutritional Security that CIAT has been promoting since 2016, along with Universidad del Valle, World Food Programme, Municipal Public Health Secretariat, BIOTEC Corporation, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, HarvestPlus, Red de Mercados Agroecológicos (Agro-ecological Markets Network), ValleenPaz, CEDECUR and WWF.

Since 2016, the Platform has been a monthly meeting space to analyze, promote, debate and generate proposals for research and intervention related to healthy food, environmental sustainability, climate change, food sovereignty, waste management, conscious consumption, among others, so that it can contribute to nurturing and coordinating actions that may have been undertaken in the city in a non-concerted way. Therefore, the expected outputs of this platform are knowledge, information, tools and recommendations for decision- and policy-makers and for program planning.

[1] Cali’s Administrative Department of Environmental Management.

Figure 1 – Academic Dialogue Platform on Food and Nutritional Security 

Public policy: a guiding effort

Aligned to the Milan Urban Policy Pact (a voluntary action framework aimed to provide strategic options to cities seeking to achieve more sustainable food systems), this Platform is committed to developing a sustainable, inclusive, resilient, safe and diversified food system that ensures healthy and accessible food for all Caleños. All of this, within a rights-based action framework to reduce food waste and preserve biodiversity, while mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

For this reason, in addition to conducting research, members of the platform have been working on a proposal for a municipal public policy on food and nutritional security and sovereignty, which is now ready to be approved for the City Council.

The policy would establish a legal, action and articulation framework for the initiatives developed in Cali within the next 10 years, thus facilitating both the legitimacy of the efforts around this issue and their planning and monitoring according to the six strategic axes that it proposes: food availability and access, affordability, consumption, safety and quality, and biological use.

The approval of this policy is now in the hands of the City Council. However, whether it is approved or not, the very existence of the Academic Platform is already great news. This space represents a meeting point for different sectors (academic, public, private and non-profit) that, together with the Municipal Working Group on Food Security, represent a wide range of the stakeholders of the city’s food system.

An agrifood system (with all its components, see Figure 2) that can be sustainable and resilient to global challenges, such as climate change, demands a double or triple articulating effort from those actors who can participate in a complementary way contributing their different points of view in order to facilitate, more effectively, the interactions between different components of the system.

Therefore, the platform will face many challenges. Some of the most important are:


  • Building a joint vision and roadmap to guide the efforts of its members.
  • Delivering clear and accurate information to help stakeholders change their perception of food security limited only to food production.
  • Undertaking concrete actions aimed at social mobilization in favor of the food system (based on research findings).
  • Designing a food safety observatory that monitors the system and participation of its most vulnerable actors.
Figure 2 –  Graphic representation of the food system 



Academic Platform Contact: 


Janeth Mosquera Becerra

Janeth Mosquera Becerra

Public Health School Professor, Public Health Master's Degree coordinator and member of the Epidemiology and Population Health Group. (GESP). Universidad del Valle.

[email protected]



CIAT team behind this work: 

Sara Rankin

Sara Rankin

Research Assistant

[email protected]

Osana Bonilla-Findji

Osana Bonilla-Findji

Scientific Officer, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

[email protected]