Cities for sustainable food systems

foodsave banquet in Bern
A big “foodsave banquet” marked the closing of Bern’s week-long sustainable food festival “Kulinata” in 2018. Photo: Pascale Amez

A majority of the world’s population today lives in cities and conurbations. In Switzerland, this share stands at 85 per cent of the population. Accordingly, cities have a big impact when they use targeted strategies and measures to make their food systems more sustainable. Many cities have recognized this and have put food policy on their municipal agendas as one means of progressing towards sustainability and climate goals.

However, activities and processes to promote sustainable urban food systems are still in the early stages in Switzerland. There are considerable gaps in knowledge both about local food systems and about the various existing food governance strategies.

Research involving nine cities in German- and French-speaking Switzerland

The research project “Cities as drivers of sustainable food systems” addresses these gaps. The project is conducted jointly by CDE and the School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences BFH-HAFL.

In collaboration with ten major cities in the German- and French-speaking parts of Switzerland, the project examines their varying levels of progress in developing and implementing food governance strategies and measures.

In addition, with a focus on Bern, the project aims to involve as many different actors as possible, covering the whole spectrum from production, processing, and distribution of food to access to food and the prevention of food waste.

Systematic comparison of cities

A first part of the project consists of a comparative study involving the cities of Basel, Bern, Biel/Bienne, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, St. Gallen, Winterthur, and Zurich, as well as the Swiss Union of Cities. Together with these cities, the researchers work to systematically review progress on the various food governance strategies and to examine and evaluate the impact and relevance of ongoing measures and projects. Comparison of the situation in the various cities will serve to identify particularly promising approaches, draw attention to obstacles encountered during implementation, and outline ways in which these might be overcome.

The aim is to provide a detailed overview and analysis of food governance strategies and at the same time strengthen knowledge transfer and dialogue among cities on the topic of food sustainability.

Fieldwork in the context of community-supported agriculture in Geneva. Photo: Eric Roset

Investigating the city of Bern’s food system

A second and a third part of the project focus specifically on analysing the food system of the city of Bern. This involves quantitative analyses to investigate food flows, the supply potential of regional agriculture, and food waste within the local food system, among other things. The aim is to identify development strategies and provide concrete recommendations for action and management options for a sustainable food system in Bern.

In addition, proposals and ideas that can help increase the food system’s sustainability are developed jointly with the various stakeholders in a participatory process. This includes the development of (political) strategies that enable socially just access to sustainable food for the broad population – including people with a low income.

Info box
Duration January 2022 – December 2024

Stiftung Mercator Schweiz

City of Bern

Cities of Basel, Biel/Bienne, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne, St. Gallen, Winterthur, and Zurich


School of Agricultural, Forest and Food Sciences HAFL, Bern University of Applied Sciences


Bettina Scharrer (CDE)

Dr. Evelyn Markoni (BFH-HAFL)