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The design of an urban agroecological and food policy

In the context of a partnership between INRA and the Montpellier Metropolitan Council (Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole), a research team has been supporting the process to define an agroecological and food policy driven jointly by the metropolitan authority and the 31 municipalities it covers.

Vegetable stand at the Quai St Antoine market, Lyon. © INRA, LHOPITAL Marie-Christine
By Françoise Maxime
Updated on 01/22/2018
Published on 02/23/2016

At a time when food issues are becoming a crucial issue at the global level, and notably since the food crisis in 2007-2008, cities are  now increasingly interested in meeting local demands from their citizens to improve their diet.  Urban agriculture and food issues are reflected in different regions by a proliferation of grassroot initiatives regarding short supply chains, allotment gardens, the protection of farmlands and the supply of school canteens, etc. However, all these initiatives lack structure, and their transformation into policy is still hesitant.  To date, such actions have often been subordinate to existing policies, such as agri-food sectoral policies that struggle to integrate the territorial dimension, or sustainable urban policies that allow little place for agriculture and food.  Formulating urban agriculture and food policies at the city-regional level has thus become a challenge that has been taken up by a small number of local authorities.

The experience of the Montpellier Metropolitan Council

In August 2014, the new elected people team governing the “Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole" (or 3M)  decided to define a public agriculture and food policy, and requested support from research. An INRA-3M joint team was set up in order to assist in defining this policy, driven jointly by the Metropolitan Council and the 31 municipalities it covers (430,000 inhabitants).  The scientists carried out a cross-disciplinary diagnosis of the agriculture and food situation in the region, and initiated debates on possible orientations and actions with elected representatives and officers from the metropolitan and municipal services concerned.  The different results of their diagnosis were then submitted for debate during stakeholder workshops which involved around 50 people on two occasions, in order to share their thinking and to formulate proposals for action.
Within six months, this partnership generated a preliminary document that was used by the Metropolitan Council to define an agroecological and food policy, which was agreed unanimously by the Council on 29 June 2015.

Dealing with uncertainties and controversies

The first results of the work carried out in Montpellier have confirmed the structuring role of a policy to combine an agriculture and food approach at an urban scale.  An agriculture and food policy can amplify and diversify initiatives that are planned or implemented.  Definition of a policy can also encourage a broadening of the issues to be addressed, the development of links to food topics that can be oriented appropriately (for example, logistics, healthcare and social care, etc.) and the mobilisation of new actors.  Finally, numerous subjects may give rise to uncertainties or controversies regarding what is desirable and relevant: the types of agriculture that should be promoted or not, the type of support that should be given to specific distribution channels, etc.  One question often posed concerns the coexistence of farm development models, and consequently cooperation between the actors driving them.  An agricultural and food policy should also aim to design an inclusive governance mode that will enable the resolution of uncertainties and controversies between different actors.

A fruitful partnership

Following this initial work, a multi-year collaborative agreement between INRA and Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole (3M) is being prepared to support the governance of an agriculture and food policy.  It will concern the development of an observation-evaluation-advice device involving stakeholders who are representative of the urban food system. Furthermore, a PhD project in geography, co-funded by 3M, was initiated in 2015 on the subject of how farmers should participate in the agriculture and food policy of the Montpellier Metropolitan Council (project by Nabil Hasnaoui, supervised by Christophe Soulard (INRA) and Laura Michel (a political scientist at Université de Montpellier).
At present, several INRA teams in Montpellier are involved in setting up a research project in the context of the Surfood programme (Systèmes alimentaires urbains durables (Sustainable Urban Food Systems), co-funded by the Agropolis Foundation, Fondation Nina Carasso and Fondation Cariplo. The project will be managed by the UNESCO World Food Systems Chair and CIRAD, and will involve a consortium of teams involved in monitoring pilot cities in France, Italy, Morocco, Senegal and Vietnam.

Logo Milan Urban Food Policy Pact © Milan Urban Food Policy Pact
© Milan Urban Food Policy Pact
After the vote and implementation of a new public policy on agroecology and food, the Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole joined the network of cities signing the Milan 2015 Pact, which undertake "to work to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people". The Montpellier Metropolitan Council was also successful in its response to the call for projects on "Villes respirables en 5 ans" (Breathable towns in 5 years) issued by the French Ministry for the Environment and Sustainable Development, regarding the introduction of an archipelago of local farms within the area covered by the Metropolitan Council.

The Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole agriculture and food policy

Development of an agriculture and food policy is being driven by Isabelle Touzard, Mayor of Murviel-les-Montpellier and Vice-Chair of the Metropolitan Council responsible for agroecology and food.  This policy was approved unanimously during the Council meeting on 29 June 2015 (the sequence starts at 01:39:00)

Assistance for the Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole managers was provided by a project team coordinated by Christophe Soulard from the Joint Research Unit for Innovation in Agriculture and the Agri-Food Sector (UMR Innovation, Montpellier). This team involved scientists and experts from INRA, CIRAD, the UNESCO World Food Systems Chair and the Montpellier Metropolitan Council.  To help elected representatives to identify priority areas for an agriculture and food policy (P2A), the team compiled an agricultural and food portrait of the region, based on the results of two research projects:

  • ANR Daume – Sustainability of Urban Agriculture in the Mediterranean Region, 2011-2014,
  • Surfood – Sustainable Urban Food Systems, UNESCO World Food Systems Chair  and CIRAD.

A comparative analysis of pioneering French and foreign experiments in P2A was made and workshops were set up in order to organise and facilitate dialogue between elected representatives and agents from the metropolitan municipalities.
The policy thus compiled was designed to enhance the sustainability of the food system by targeting five goals:

  •  to offer healthy, locally-grown foods to as many people as possible,
  • to support the economy and employment in the agricultural and agri-food industries,
  • to preserve landscape heritage and natural resources,
  • to limit greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change,
  • to encourage social cohesion.

Seven operational areas were defined; they combine actions intended to promote the coexistence of several agricultural and food systems:

  • To consolidate the network of agroecological farms selling direct to consumers,
  • To foster local supplies for towns, and particularly for collective catering organisations,
  • To develop community and family gardens,
  • To mobilise citizens around food and the links between producers and consumers,
  • To support innovative companies in the agri-food sector and that which provide services to agriculture,
  • To promote the diversity of products emblematic of the region, and develop rural/wine tourism,
  • To develop a coherent approach towards including agriculture in integrated projects.

Finally, three transversal actions structure the whole around the training of elected representatives, communication with the general public and the coherence of land policies.


  • Soulard CT., Banzo M., Perrin C., Valette E., 2015. Urban strategies and practices for agriculture and food: six Mediterranean case studies. 2nd Int. Conf. on Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society, Rome, 14-17 September 2015. http://prodinra.inra.fr/record/331457
  • Soulard CT., Bricas N., 2015. Pourquoi et comment les villes bâtissent des politiques agricoles et alimentaires ? Revue de travaux et étude de cas à Montpellier. 52ème colloque ASRDLF, Montpellier, 9-11 July 2015.
  • Soulard CT., Touzard I., 2015. Construire une politique agricole et alimentaire métropolitaine. Proposition méthodologique à partir du cas de Montpellier. Rural Geography Symposium, Valenciennes, 25-28 September 2015.
  • Soulard CT., Vonthron S., Bricas N., Debru J., Jarrige J., Le Velly R., Michel L., Muepu AS., Sandiani S., Sebbane M., 2015. Construire une politique agricole et alimentaire à Montpellier. Etude de préfiguration. Report (in French) INRA-3M, UMR Innovation.