Planning for Regenerative Equitable Food Systems in Urbanizing Global Environments (Plan-REFUGE)

Plan-REFUGE team in Kerala, India.

Plan-REFUGE team in Kerala, India

Plan-REFUGE aspires to understand and mitigate food inequities experienced by small-holder farmers in the Global South. Using a transdisciplinary approach we investigate how small-holder farmers in the Global South adapt their daily living practices in the face of a number of challenges including globalization and climate change. Lessons from on-the-ground experiences are used to inform purposeful community development and planning strategies. The project ensures a Global South to Global South learning exchange as well as capacity building of policy makers both locally and globally through publications and trainings. Plan-REFUGE is a collaborative effort that aims to have multiple study countries including India.

Partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

In 2015, Dr. Samina Raja was invited by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to join an expert working group convened by the UN Habitat for the development of an action-oriented document intended to drive sustainable urban development. This New Urban Agenda was adopted at the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Quito, Ecuador, on 20 October 2016. At Habitat III, a team of UB students, staff, and faculty, as well as partners including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, led a workshop on planning for food systems in urban settlements.

Following Habitat III, UB developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with FAO to understand and develop a model for food systems planning in Global South countries. To this end, Dr. Raja launched a project that outlined food systems policies in communities in India, Jamaica, and Ghana, and developed a model to conduct a food systems plan in Global South countries. The team shared its results via in-person trainings and webinars.

The work culminated in a FAO report “Local Government Planning for Community Food Systems” published in 2021.

Report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

UB researchers were the driving force behind this report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

"Local Government Planning for Community Food Systems" was co-produced by researchers and community partners in the case study countries, along with authors Samina Raja, Erin Sweeney, Yeeli Mui and Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah of UB’s Community for Global Health Equity and the UB Food Lab. It includes contributions from 10 students and six community partners from Ghana, Jamaica and India. The report, which centers the experiences of smallholder farmers in low- and middle-income countries, "reinforces the critical role of community food systems for broader social transformation in cities and regions,” states Dr. Raja, Co-Director for the Community for Global Health Equity. "These farmers are responsible for growing food for the world, yet they are often the most food insecure." FAO directors Anna Lartey and Vimlendra Sharan note that “This publication invites us to rethink food systems and supply chains through the lens of a ‘community,’ as a reminder that people and their everyday practices and relationships with food are central to the design of these processes.” 


Plan REFUGE Applied in Global South Contexts

  • Karakulam Food Systems Plan
    In January 2020, as part of a graduate practicum in the Master of Urban Planning program, seven students from the University at Buffalo traveled to Thiruvananthapuram, one of the most rapidly urbanizing districts in the southern state of Kerala. In partnership with planning students from the College of Engineering Trivandrum (CET), a partner university in Kerala, UB students conducted three weeks of intensive field work in the village of Karakulam. Their work included site visits, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping, household and retail store surveys, and stakeholder interviews.
  • The Story of Haakh (Collard): Tracing the Trajectory of Collard in the Face of Land Use Change in the Region of Kashmir
    Presented at the 56th Annual Conference of the American Collegiate Schools of Planning in Portland, Oregon, this working paper, the result of collaboration with researchers at the University of Kashmir, documents how land use change, poor planning decisions, and recent extreme weather events coupled with the arrival of the global food system affect production and consumption of healthy foods, particularly haakh (a green much like collards), in the Kashmir region of India. At the time of the presentation the working paper was a review of the small body of literature and government documents available. 

Planning for Community Food Systems Webinar

This free webinar series highlights some of the ways by which local and regional governments interface with communities' food systems. This webinar series draws on research from multiple countries, including Ghana, Jamaica, and India.

The series is hosted by the Community for Global Health Equity and the Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab at the University at Buffalo, with support from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  • Go to video playlist

Articles and Reflections

Our Team

Emmanuel Frimpong Boamah

Co-lead, Food Equity Team; Assistant Professor

Urban and Regional Planning and Community for Global Health Equity


Alex Judelsohn

Programs Manager

Global Health Equity

Yeeli Mui

Assistant Professor

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Samina Raja

Co-Director and Founding Co-Lead, Community for Global Health Equity; Co-Lead, Food Equity Team; Project Lead, Plan REFUGE; Professor

Urban and Regional Planning

233C Hayes Hall

Phone: 716-829-5881


Erin Sweeney.

Erin Sweeney

UB Alumna; Former Graduate Assistant

M. Urban and Regional Planning and Community for Global Health Equity