Ghent gains recognition for transforming their local food system

July 1, 2019

Saint Peter's Abbey, Ghent


The food we consume and the production methods we use have a major impact on our environment, health, and societies. In the European Union, around 88 million tonnes of food waste is generated annually, with associated costs estimated at €143 billion.


By linking sustainable food systems with other policy objectives - such as growing new businesses and improving labour markets, enriching civic culture, and contributing to public infrastructure and social services - food can play an integral role in a city’s sustainable development policy.



Six months after winning the award, we corresponded with Katrien Verbeke, Food Policy Coordinator at the City of Ghent, to discuss what winning the award has meant to them, what sustainability plans the city has in store, and how they have sought to use the €10,000 prize fund of the Transformative Action Award to bolster their sustainability work.






Food Policy Coordinator at the City of Ghent, Katrien Verbeke


What has winning the award meant to the city of Ghent?


“The award is a great recognition for the ongoing work in Ghent and for all the partners involved,” says Ms Verbeke. “It strengthens the credibility of the policy we have. It recognises what has been achieved and energises the drive to build a more sustainable food system for the city.”


“For us this award is very important. The launch of our own local food policy has been one of our top priorities and we are very pleased to see it recognised,” added Deputy Mayor of Ghent, Tine Heyse.




Ghent Deputy Mayor Tine Heyse

IMAGE: Gert Arijs

What is ‘Gent en Garde’ all about?


“Gent en Garde is our ambitious programme to achieve a more sustainable, local food system,” explained Deputy Mayor Heyse. “The project 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.”


The project is guided by five strategic goals: the creation of a shorter, more visible food chain; an increase in sustainable food production and consumption; the creation of social added value for food initiatives; a reduction in food waste; and the optimum reuse of food waste as raw materials.


The project works through participative governance models, including a food policy council, which has brought structural change to the city’s food system.


“We want our food system to be local, resilient, and fair. The challenge 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.




Sustainable food at Gent en Garde

IMAGE: Wouter Rawoens

What food policy plans does the city have in store?


“We see some big challenges ahead of us. We would like to translate our policy into specific targets which we will try to achieve in several domains,” says Ms Verbeke.


“We will focus on short food supply chains and bringing systemic change by increasing the number of producers and buyers involved significantly. We will aim for a major reduction of food waste by including new actors. We will focus on reducing food waste at household level but also in schools, hospitals, and so on.


“Furthermore, we will try to further shift the consumption behaviour of our citizens. We have been leading in vegetarian eating patterns for 10 years now and are currently investigating the best approach to further move toward plant-based eating patterns.


“From a governance point of view, we are strengthening our food council by inviting new members. We will further work with our food council to show and pilot a participative governance structure, including budget authority.”




Watering the sustainable vegetable garden

IMAGE: Wouter Rawoens

What sustainability challenges does Ghent face and how have you utilised the €10,000 prize fund of the Transformative Action Award to overcome them?


“The challenge of food waste is a big one globally,” says Ms Verbeke. “In Belgium, a lot of the food is being wasted in the household. The difficulty is that the reasons for wasting food vary according to the individual profiles of people.


“Some buy food in too large quantities, others prepare portions that are too big, some store food in suboptimal conditions. This means that when tackling food waste, the solutions need to be tailor-made.


“In the course of the second part of 2019, we will use the €10,000 prize fund of the Transformative Action Award to develop and test solutions to build awareness amongst citizens and coach them to reduce food waste at home.”

A sustainable food project in Ghent

IMAGE: Wouter Rawoens

How have the pathways of the Basque Declaration guided Ghent in its transition to become more sustainable and inclusive?


“The Basque declaration is a way for our city to set our ambitions higher,” says Ms Verbeke. “Not only as a policy document and instrument within our own community, but as a way to engage with other cities and governments. The Basque Declaration means joining with more than 500 other cities and regional governments across the world.”


The Basque Declaration supports cities in their implementation of the SDGs. How is Ghent working to achieve the SDGs?


“The City of Ghent received the UN Sustainable Development Goal Action Award in the communication category for its communication campaign. Out of more than 740 applications from 125 different countries around the world, Ghent was recognised for its successful campaign 'SDG Challenges',” explained Ms Verbeke.


“Ghent became one of the ambassadors to help announce the SDGs in Belgium, by being an SDG Voice. To involve as many people and cities as possible the city launched a communication campaign throughout 2017, setting out five challenges. The challenges were not only to promote the SDGs, but to encourage citizens, organisations, the business community, and educational institutes to take sustainable actions.”

Overlooking the City of Ghent

IMAGE: Christophe Vander Eecken

If you were to encourage other cities to apply for this year’s award, what would you say?


“They should definitely go for it. It is a visible recognition for ongoing work. Moreover, it gives financial space to further develop ongoing work and projects.”


2019 Transformative Action Award


If you are inspired by Ghent’s Transformative Action Award win, or know a city, region, or civil society organisation who you think deserves to be recognised as a leader of sustainable urban transformation in Europe (as well as €10,000 to kick-start their next sustainability project), then encourage them to apply for the 2019 edition of the award.


Alongside the recognition and a cheque for €10,000, the winner of the 2019 Transformative Action Award will also be invited to give a presentation at the next European Conference on Sustainable Cities & Towns taking place in Mannheim (Germany), from 30 September - 2 October 2020.




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