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The world’s urban population is set to increase to 66% by 2050. The dynamics of urbanization and urban life escalate the pressure on food systems to sustainably provide sufficient amounts of healthy foods. Poverty, malnutrition and hunger persist as urban diets are more likely to be unbalanced, with higher levels of energy and salt, lower levels of fiber, and still inadequate levels of micronutrients.


Growing cities can also be part of the solution. Levereging their market demand presents a unique opportunity to stimulate sustainable agricultural practices, economic opportunities along agri-food value chains and consumption of diverse and nutritious diets. Bioversity International's approach takes into account the diversity of food systems, food sources and nature of demand - including the range of sources where people get their food, including small neighborhood stores, supermarkets, fresh markets, street vendors, and urban and peri-urban agriculture (both home gardens and commercial enterprises), and even institutions, such as schools. 

Food and nutrition are moving to the city

Ann Tutwiler, Director General, Bioversity International, draws attention to the shift in the burden of malnutrition from rural areas to cities. Already 50% of the world’s population lives in urban areas and by 2050, more than two-thirds of those people are going to be in cities. This poses a new set of challenges.

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Research highlights

Retail Diversity for Dietary Diversity:

Resolving conflicting priorities of food safety and nutrition for the urban poor in Hanoi, Vietnam

The current food environment in Hanoi provides poor diet quality for the urban poor. Modernization policies aim to improve food safety by promoting closure of open-air markets in favour of supermarkets and convenience stores. Though they do not offer the formal food safety guarantees of modern stores, traditional open-air markets are more accessible for the urban poor. The modern retail outlets may also stimulate consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed foods and reinforce food access inequality. Replacing traditional markets with modern outlets is jeopardising the future diet quality of the urban poor. It is recommended that food safety policies in Vietnam embrace existing retail diversity of local food systems and identify opportunities to improve food safety at open-air markets.

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African leafy vegetables

African leafy vegetables: linking local farmers to local markets, city dwellers were able to find high quality, traditional crops in their local supermarkets, thus enriching their diets.

Bioversity International works with partners in Sub-Saharan Africa to revive the interest of researchers, growers and consumers in nutritious and resilient African Leafy Vegetables in order to promote income and food security.

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Chilli peppers

The Andean Region of South America is the centre of origin for many traditional varieties of chilli pepper (Capsicum).

Bioversity International led a 3-year project to collect and screen traditional Capsicum varieties to determine traits with the potential to be commercially viable.

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Millets in India

Bioversity International has been working with partners for 15 years to promote millet use and conservation.

The millet markets for small-scale producers has increased and have seen restaurants adding millet-based dishes, and women producing millet-based snacks, which have led to increased consumption and demand.

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Thematic research areas

Orange-fleshed Fei banana, rich in vitamin A. Credit: Bioversity International/A.Vézina, courtesy of

Bananas for nutrition

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Trees for nutrition

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Dishes prepared on site for a food fair held in the Barotse floodplain, Zambia. The food was judged in a competition for the most nutritious dish.
Credit: Bioversity International/E.Hermanowicz

Diet diversity

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Andean crops on display at a diversity fair in Peru. Credit: Bioversity International\A. Drucker

Marketing diverse species

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