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City Practitioners Handbook: Circular Food Systems

  • Published on April 14, 2023

This handbook provides local governments with concrete tools their peers are using to facilitate the transition to circular food systems, from stakeholder engagement to designing effective policies. It draws on experiences from the ICLEI network and its Circular Development pathway, learnings from the CityFood Network and best practices from the Milan Pact Awards. This publication features experiences from 50 local governments and was designed by ICLEI experts in collaboration with champion cities for the benefit of city practitioners.

The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) defines food systems as follows: “A food system gathers all the elements (environment, people, inputs, processes, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes”.1

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has framed sustainable food systems as food systems that “deliver food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised.”2

Over the past decade, many local governments have implemented sustainable food systems strategies and have been accompanied in this process by expert organizations such as Ruaf, FAO, UN Environment and ICLEI. A lot can be learned from these experiences.

A key area of commonality between the food system and circular economy frameworks is that both consider all aspects of the value chain, from resource extraction to waste management. Circular food systems prioritize regenerative production, favor reuse and sharing practices, reduce resource inputs and pollution and ensure resource recovery for future uses. As such, they close resource loops and pursue cross-sectoral synergies (e.g. with water and energy systems) that contribute to the resilience of a territory.

This handbook combines learnings from both approaches and builds on existing work and local good practices to offer practical recommendations for designing circular food systems at the local level that also deliver socio-economic benefits. It aims to provide city practitioners with tools and examples to help them turn the concept of circular food systems into tangible local actions.

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