Local, sustainable and resilient – Ghent’s leading approach to food procurement
Today is the UN World Food Day, emphasising the need for healthy diets globally. Cities play an increasingly important role in making sure their population has secure access to sustainable, healthy and affordable food. The ICLEI Member and GLCN City Ghent (Belgium) took bold steps to make their food system local, sustainable, and resilient.
Ghent's Deputy Mayor Heyse explains “We want our food system to be local, resilient, and fair. The project ‘Gent en Garde’ has brought significant change to our local food system: through it, we are decreasing food waste, making food procurement more sustainable, and improving access to food.”
At a time where food systems are globalized, connecting producers and consumers around the world, the challenge of localizing is huge and requires the commitment of many stakeholders and change at many levels. “But we believe our approach is working and we will work hard to further scale this up in Ghent”, said Deputy Mayor Heyse.
Gent en Garde - How does it work?
Gent en Garde is being led by the city administration but builds its strength on a co-creative approach. The role of the city shifts based on need. Often the role of the city is one of facilitating early dynamics, strengthening them and helping them scale up. Through stakeholder engagement and piloting projects, the city identifies the right approach for every challenge ahead and dare to adapt our approach over time. At times the city applies its tools e.g. urban planning, public procurement, and other times it influences consumption habits e.g. vegetarian eating habits, taking leftovers home. The project works through participative governance models, including a food policy council, which has brought structural change to the city’s food system.
The project is guided by five strategic goals:
1 the creation of a shorter, more visible food chain by increasing the number of producers and buyers involved;
2 an increase in sustainable food production and consumption behaviour of our citizens;
3 the creation of social added value for food initiatives;
4 a reduction in food waste at household level but also in schools, hospitals etc;
5 working towards the optimum reuse of food waste as raw materials.
Leveraging procurement for local, organic food
‘Gent en Garde’ was translated into tender criteria for the procurement of school catering. Substantial market research and expert consultations were first required to ensure that the tender was ambitious yet realistic: maximizing positive health and ecological impacts, preventing food waste, involving pupils and service personnel, and ensuring that the meals remain affordable for vulnerable children.
The contract, won by a local catering company, includes demanding criteria on health, environment and social responsibility:
- The meals are balanced according to the Belgian High Health Council’s recommendations and are composed together with a dietician;
- Plant-based protein is used as a complement or replacement of animal protein, refined sugars and additives are avoided, and more green salads and fewer sauces are offered;
- ingredients are seasonal and 20% organic;
- fair trade products, free-range eggs and fish with an MSC or equivalent label are used;
- lunch on Thursday is vegetarian;
- the consolidation of deliveries by suppliers to reduce food kilometres, and the reduction of packaging and food waste.
How the tender has improved life beyond school meals
Since January 2017 the city of Ghent serves healthy, tasty and sustainable meals through its schools, daycare centres and boarding schools to around 4.500 students every day, 775,883 meals annually. The catering contract furthermore generates regular and “social” jobs: the city is currently employing 235 FTE service, logistical and catering staff. 43 schools were decorated with a campaign on sustainable food. Educational materials were distributed to 5667 children and 2572 teachers.
- The number of weekly farmers markets has increased from 3 to 9;
- Vegetable basket schemes have similarly grown and new alternative business models have started up successfully, e.g. an online ordering platform for local products, a catering business with a rooftop vegetable garden, aquaponics and packaging-free food stores;
- 7% of the citizens are now vegetarians;
- a new logistics platform for professional buyers;
- 300 tonnes of food waste has been redistributed in 10 months to 19,000 people in poverty;
- The initiative has connected 120 stakeholders on improving access to sustainable and healthy food;
- As a result of Thursday Veggie Day Ghent has the most vegetarian restaurants per inhabitant among cities in Europe.
“The impact of vegetarian diets is significant. If you participate in Thursday Veggie Day for one year, you reduce your carbon footprint as much as if you cycle 1250 kilometres instead of driving a car.”
Setting up the project in itself is an achievement. However, acting as a lighthouse to inspire others, Ghent designed the project with replication in mind. The tender can easily be adapted to comparable (European) markets as the main principles underlying the contract remain applicable. Ghent is actively sharing the tender with other Belgian cities and organizations, both large and small, giving them the necessary support e.g. by drafting a “decision tree” with concrete steps and information for schools who want to make their catering more sustainable.
Taking a lead also means to experiment and apply an innovative approach to the topic of food procurement. The city of Ghent is a pioneer to negotiate a large-scale catering contract that sets very high standards in different fields. This comprehensive and multi-faceted approach focusing on health, social inclusion, sustainability, and involving children and service staff emphasizes Ghent’s leadership in leveraging the power of procurement for sustainability.
Learn more about the GLCN city here.