Ghent is a small city northwest Belgium with around 250,000 residents — and was one of the first European cities to launch its own urban food policy. Launched in 2013, Ghent’s urban food policy demonstrates the potential to transform the food systems at the local urban level.
The policy is called “Ghent en Garde” and aims to strengthen short food supply chains, increase sustainable production and consumption, while also allowing for better access to food and decreasing food waste. Through participative governance models, including a food policy council, Ghent’s food policy has evolved from a range of small scale initiatives to enable wide-spread structural change to the city’s food system.
- Over a two year period, Ghent en Garde’s programs provided products or food baskets to 57,000 people in need.
- In 2009, the city of Ghent, together with the NGO Eva, launched “Thursday Veggie Day”, making them the first city in the world to officially introduce a vegetarian day.
- Around 7% of the population in Ghent is vegetarian, which significantly higher than the Belgian average of 2.3%
- Ghent has become the city with most vegetarian restaurants per inhabitant in all of Europe.
Our current food system faces complex challenges. While 800 million people worldwide are left without enough food, it is estimated that around 30% of food globally is wasted. At the same time, agriculture and food systems are responsible for up to one third of total greenhouse gas emissions.
It is in this context that cities become increasingly important in reducing the emissions associated with food production, while making sure their population has secure access to sustainable, healthy and affordable food.
Ghent en Garde tackles different challenges through tailor-made responses. Local food is booming through the establishment of suburban farmers markets and a new logistics platform for professional buyers. The city also launched a new distribution platform that redistributed over 1,000 tonnes of surplus food over the past two years to over 57,000 people in need, while the city has connected 120 stakeholders to improve access to sustainable and healthy food.
Since 2014, over 42 schools have received training in how to develop community garden beds on their campus, with other 240 parents and teachers having participated in these workshops.
Another initiative, the introduction of “Veggie Day” has significantly changed the eating habits of local residents – now, around 7% of residents in Ghent are vegetarian, compared with the Belgian average of 2.3%. It is understood that Ghent was the first city in the world to introduce a vegetarian day.
Helping the Planet
By preventing food waste and helping promote shorter food supply chains, Ghent en Garde plays an essential role in reducing emissions.
In just two years, the flagship program of Ghent en Garde, the Foodsavers project has redistributed over 1000 tonnes of food to those in need. It is estimated that this redistribution of food has saved around 2,540 tonnes of CO2 emissions, while also playing an important role in alleviating poverty.
Ghent en Garde has also built a platform to help facilitate short food supply chains between various local stakeholders. In the short term, this shorter food supply chain is estimated to cut emissions by 35.8% compared with conventional food supply chains – while in the longer term, this figure is expected to rise to 79%. This would represent an emissions reductions saving of around 72.9 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in the short term, and 482 tonnes in the longer term.
The Foodsavers project clearly helps people in Ghent, by providing employment to locals and enabling better access to healthy food for those in need. It focuses on providing food that is both fresh and sustainable – and as such, 70% of all the redistributed food consists of fruits and vegetables from the wholesale market and distribution centres of retailers.
This food is distributed through 106 local poverty organisations, such as food banks, social restaurants and social supermarkets. In total, 57,000 people in need have received meals or food baskets over the past two years – this amounts to being more than 20% of Ghent’s population.
The school meals initiative of Ghent en Garde also helps serve people, by investing in health and sustainable food for all children in the city. Around 10% of school meals cost only €1 and are given to those who need financial support, thus facilitating access to healthy and nutritious food for all of Ghent’s youngest residents.
When it comes to local food policy, Ghent en Garde has been leading example in Belgium and other European countries. The city has regularly shared the methods and learnings from their local food initiatives with other Belgian cities, while its food policy has also been exchanged with cities all across the world.
Ghent is also a strategic partner of the RUAF Foundation, which is a global partnership on sustainable urban agriculture and food systems. Through the RUAF partnership, Ghent has exchanged in-depth information about their food policy with other cities and countries including Toronto, Nairobi, Quito, Milan, Lisbon, China and Sri Lanka.
The city’s local version of a doggy bag has been widely replicated in the Brussels and Walloon region and in the cities of Kortrijk, Roeselare and Overijse, which cover more than half of Belgium. Ghent en Garde has shown how one city can make a big impact when it comes to fostering a more sustainable lifestyle.
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