Through crisis comes resilience: Cape Town’s Food Systems approach

Key Insights

  • Food systems weaknesses exposed during COVID-19 and 2018 water crisis
  • Mainstreaming food and stimulating multi-stakeholder collaboration


In 2019, Cape Town launched the City’s Resilience Strategy. This strategy identified food security as a key focus point for the city. This, together with the COVID-19 and 2018 water crises, led to establishing of the Food Systems Programme (FSP) in 2021, for which systems thinking was used. The crises showed the weaknesses of the food system and the importance of a resilient food system. Six themes for the FSP were identified through mandate: food governance, food resilience, food production, food environments, food and health, and food economy. A Food Systems Working Group identified knowledge gaps and opportunities to mainstream food systems thinking.


Food Action Cities. (2023, September 2). Through crisis comes resilience: Cape Town’s Food Systems approach. Food Action Cities.


Photo credit:



Photo: Cape Town, Stephen Koigi Creative Commons
Photo: Cape Town, Stephen Koigi CC by 2.0 license

The action and its aims

Cape Town’s Food Systems Programme aims to create a food system that can produce enough affordable, nutritious, sustainably grown food and can handle shocks. Food system elements will be mainstreamed into relevant policies, strategies, plans, and by-laws to achieve this. The City wants to develop a disaster risk reduction response, prepare for food system disruption scenarios, and build food safety nets. The FSP also stimulates sustainable farming and facilitates a circular food economy. Moreover, public food procurement campaigns, targeted nutrition interventions, and improved food safety should encourage healthy diets.

When it was introduced

The Food Systems Programme in Cape Town was introduced in 2021 after the COVID-19 crisis and 2018 water crisis exposed the weaknesses of the food system. In 2019, Cape Town’s Resilient Strategy had already identified food security as a key focus point.

Why it was needed

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, South Africa was struggling with considerable levels of food insecurity.[1] In 2017, around 16% of households reported facing challenges in accessing sufficient food, with 5,5% of households characterizing their food access as severely deficient. Additionally, around 11% of households expressed vulnerability to hunger. The pandemic only exacerbated the situation. For example, by April 2020, nearly 47% of the adult population reported a scarcity of financial resources to purchase food. Furthermore, during the months of May and June 2020, a notable 23% of respondents indicated that at least one individual within their household experienced going to bed hungry over due to insufficient food availability.[2]

Who initiated it, who is involved

The Food System Programme (FSP) was initiated by the City of Cape Town with the help of the city-led Food System Working Group consisting of provincial government representatives and academics.

Impacts to date

The Food Systems Working group have met more than 13 times since August 2019. These interactions have had impact by enabling food systems mainstreaming into City policy, including inputs to the Urban Agriculture Policy, Informal Sector Support Framework, District Spatial Plans, Metropolitan Spatial Development Framework, Comprehensive Integrated Transport Plan, Informal Trading Norms and Standards and recently and most significantly, for the first time – the Integrated Development Plan, ensuring a five-year commitment.



Do you have an update to this case study?

Contact us

Further reading

What can you do?

Learn about more themes and topics

Share your city’s case study and lessons learned

Sign up to receive updates

Learn more about upcoming events and other highlights 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Food System

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include a significant number of interconnected objectives related to agriculture and food.

Contact details


Related case studies