Achieving urban food security through a hybrid public-private food provisioning system: the case of Nanjing, China


Chinese cities have been able to maintain much higher levels of household food security than many other cities in the Global South, according to recent surveys. Yet, little is known about the governance of the food provisioning system that underpins its urban food security. Based on a combination of household survey data, unstructured interviews and analyses of government documents, regulations and laws, we reveal that both Nanjing’s food provisioning system and its governance employ a public-private hybrid model. The hybridity is reflected in the mixed ownership structure of food wholesale and retail markets, the companies that manage them, and the involvement of both public and private capital in these markets. This hybridity prevents market failure in food system operation and thus is the underlying mechanism that ensures physical accessibility to and affordability of food in the city; it also balances food affordability and the profitability of food markets. This paper identifies various food security policies and regulations implemented by the Nanjing municipal government, such as the “vegetable basket” policy, the “crawling peg” policy in urban planning, the financial supports for upgrading wet market facilities and reducing rental fees, and the regulations on the retailing of fresh produce in supermarkets. These policies ensure that there is relatively equitable and easy access to healthy food for Nanjing residents and that the establishment of new wet markets keeps up with urban population growth. These food policies in Nanjing provide important lessons for other cities in the world to foster urban food security.

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  1. 1.

    See more information at the Hungry Cities Partnership website:

  2. 2.

    The Food and Nutrition Technical Assistance (FANTA) project (Swindale and Bilinsky 2006a, b) conducted a series of studies exploring and testing measures of household food insecurity in a variety of geographical and cultural contexts and developed widely used indicators to measure aspects of food insecurity.

  3. 3.

    Following a city-initiated campaign to renovate and upgrade wet markets since 2007, most wet markets in Nanjing are located within permanent structures.

  4. 4.

    The difference in the prices for electricity between commercial and residential usage is about 0.25 CNY/kWh in 2018 (State Grid Jiangsu Electric Power Co. 2018), and the difference in the prices for water between commercial and residential usage is about 0.78 CNY/m3 in 2018 (Nanjing Tap Water General Company 2017; State Grid Jiangsu Electric Power Co. 2018).

  5. 5.

    In Nanjing, supermarkets and wet markets are commonly open 7 days per week and about 14 hours per day. Business hours are from around 6:00 to 20:00 for wet markets and 8:00 to 22:00 for supermarkets. The different business hours allow them to cater to households with different time constraints for grocery shopping.


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This research was funded by the Hungry Cities Partnership project supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the International Development Research Centre through the International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies (IPaSS) Program. We are extremely grateful for the assistance and suggestions of Dr. Shuangshuang Tang, Miss Menglu Yan and Dr. Xiang Zhang.

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Correspondence to Taiyang Zhong.

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Zhong, T., Si, Z., Crush, J. et al. Achieving urban food security through a hybrid public-private food provisioning system: the case of Nanjing, China. Food Sec. 11, 1071–1086 (2019).

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  • Urban food system governance
  • Food security
  • Inclusive development
  • Food accessibility and affordability