Our current food systems are unsustainable and threatened by global pressures. Environmental challenges (e.g. climate change, loss of biodiversity, scarcity and degradation of natural resources), combined with increasing social inequalities amplified by poverty, hunger and malnutrition, and urbanisation, are putting serious pressure on cities and their peri-urban interfaces.
It is estimated that by 2050, not only will food demand increase, but also over 70% of people will be living in cities. Therefore, future proofing our food systems will require a rethinking of the role of cities as agents of positive change. Cities have the potential to become ecosystems of innovation facilitating experimentation and multi-stakeholder engagement, to establish long-term evidence-based strategies that will ultimately ensure safe, healthy, sustainable and nutritious food to their inhabitants and surrounding communities.
Local authorities have a key role to play in convening, connecting and supporting food system actors and citizens across their City Region Food System (CRFS)  to build and deliver transformative solutions with real societal impact based on sound science, research and innovation. However, the degree of embedding of systemic thinking into urban food policies varies greatly among cities and many of the existing fragmented initiatives focus on the production and/or the consumption side only.
The specific challenge of this topic, therefore, is to support cities to overcome existing barriers to food system transformation and develop integrated, sustainable and safe urban food system policies/strategies in line with the FOOD 2030 policy priorities (i.e. Nutrition for sustainable and healthy diets; Climate-smart and environmentally sustainable food systems; Circularity and resource efficient food systems; and Innovation and empowerment of communities).
Proposals shall support cities and their peri-urban interface to develop and implement urban food systems policies delivering on the four FOOD 2030 priorities accompanied by the deployment of concrete actions. Innovation shall be fostered via the establishment of FOOD 2030 living labs as open innovation ecosystems.
The proposals shall draw key learnings from existing good practices in cities that have already engaged themselves in food policies and practices (e.g. the signatories of the MUFPP). Proposals shall include a wide diversity of cities (e.g. in terms of size and geography) that also ensure a good pan-European coverage. Furthermore, proposals shall include cities that have a 'good track record' in food systems transformation, as well as less experienced cities which aspire to put food systems transformation at the heart of their policy agenda.
In line with the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), proposals shall support urban participatory policy processes that convene a wide variety of public and private stakeholders throughout the whole food system from farm to fork to gut and back.
These shall include, for instance: food producers, processors, retailers, procurers, food service industry, nutritionists, universities, SMEs and local/regional business, educators, behavioural and social scientists, museums/science centres, professional associations, innovative ICT companies, banks, venture capitalists and other sources of investment, NGOs, media and citizens and taken into account gender aspects. The set-up of a living lab in each city is required . In particular, proposals shall collaborate with local authorities with a view of creating political commitment and institutionalising the expected food policy for a long-term deployment.
Proposals shall also deploy a compelling communication and dissemination strategy to share best practices throughout a broader network in order to inspire, share learnings and mobilise other cities, regions and national governments. Finally, proposals shall dedicate resources to attract additional financial investments and opportunities to ensure the long-term sustainability of the planned actions. Proposals shall require a strong centralized professional coordination to ensure cities are assisted in implementing a harmonised approach, to allow comparability assessment and to develop an aligned overarching communication strategy.
Proposals shall also foresee the inclusion of a specific and budgeted work-package in view to cooperating closely with other projects funded under this topic and with the European Commission, in particular to align with the FOOD 2030 framing, for consistent communication and dissemination, monitoring and comparability of outcomes. Furthermore, proposals shall foresee cooperation with relevant projects in this domain under Horizon 2020 (e.g. with the projects funded under CE-SFS-24-2019) and other programmes.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU in the range of EUR 12 million would allow this specific challenge to address at least 10 cities. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts and number of cities.
In the framework of the objectives of FOOD 2030, as well as of the New Urban Agenda and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 11 on “Sustainable Cities and Communities”, this topic is expected to support the development of sustainable, healthy and inclusive food systems policies in city-regions, where system thinking, institutional innovation and participatory planning are at the core.
In particular, the expected impact includes the following:
- the creation of new and sound evidence for policy makers in relation to urban food systems in support of policy development;
- the building up of political commitment and capacity for multi-objective coordinated strategies, roadmaps and actions between different government departments, jurisdictions and stakeholders that aim at delivering co-benefits relevant to FOOD 2030 priorities;
- the creation of a wide network of pilot European cities of different sizes and geographical settings that will develop and implement food system policies and actions including living labs, act as demonstrators of good practice, and become ambassadors for the transferability of the food system model all over Europe and beyond;
- the reconnection of citizens with food fostering behavioural change towards healthy sustainable diets and nutrition, responsible production and consumption;
- increased food and nutrition security for urban and rural dwellers;
- improved social inclusion and equity of all actors of the food systems;
- the creation of innovation opportunities, jobs and growth relevant to city region livelihoods and economic development for all actors of the food systems.
 In this context, CRFS refers to hybridity of the food system of any city, which could include urban, peri-urban and nearby rural farms in the complexity of urban-rural linkages.
 Living labs are referred to as open innovation ecosystems based on a systematic user co-creation approach integrating research and innovation processes in real life communities and settings.
Illustration Photo: Indoor fish farming at Urban Farmers Den Haag (credits: ACME / Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0))