De Hongerige Stad

A Civic coalition to protect public land from being sold and ensure the use of public land for local, sustainable, healthy and fair food production (local food strategy)

Name of organisation
De Hongerige Stad
Year established
De Hongerige Stad
Ghent, Belgium
Type of organisation
Civic coalition to protect public land from being sold and ensure the use of public land for local, sustainable, healthy and fair food production (local food strategy)
Key words 
Civic food network; social justice; agroecology; public land; local food strategy
Thematic Focus
Civic Food Networks

Who is De Hongerige Stad?

De Hongerige Stad (meaning “the Hungry City” in English, named after the book by Carolyn Steel) is a citizen collective in Ghent. The main objective of this group is to ensure that the city does not  sell its public agricultural land to the private sector, but uses the land for local, agroecological, social and fair food production instead. De Hongerige Stad wants to ensure there is  public input and debate on the use and sale of public agricultural land held by the city of Ghent, and that this input is duly assessed. Part of this is to advocate for the city to develop a vision on sustainable agriculture and to develop a public land policy in consultation with the public.

De Hongerige Stad was founded in October 2019 after the city of Ghent decided to sell a vast amount of its public agricultural land (owned by the city’s public centre for social welfare OCMW) to the private sector. A small group of farmers, academics and activists managed to mobilise a very broad coalition, made up of more than 70 civil society organisations and hundreds of civilians, who signed a public letter to demand the city to stop selling its public land. This resulted in the city agreeing on a moratorium of two years, during which it would not be selling public land (2020-2022). De Hongerige Stad has since then been pushing for the development of a new local food and land policy, which relies on using the city’s public land for local, sustainable, social and fair food production. For this it developed an extensive policy note which contains recommendations to the city.

Who do De Hongerige Stad work with and how do they do it?

De Hongerige Stad collaborates with other citizen collectives working on public land and on real-estate, as well with farmer movements in and around Ghent (e.g. Boerenforum, a La Via Campesina member organisation). These collaborations take the form of the co-signing of a public letter, a policy note with recommendations, actions and demonstrations, informal partnerships, organisation of collective events, formal interventions in the public debates (i.e. city council), and through social media. As a citizen collective, collaboration with other groups, and collaboration within the collective are essential to carrying out advocacy.

De Hongerige Stad has access to a large and diverse community of hundreds of citizens and more than 70 civil society organisations, to create awareness on the importance of public land and the arguments against selling land in the absence of public input and debate.

What are De Hongerige Stad’s main challenges?

One of the main challenges for the collective is to find the time and resources to organise more groups and people and strengthen existing work. . The collective’s work is highly dependent on a handful of volunteers, who all have very full agendas.

Another main challenge is ensuring the city of Ghent does not sell public farmsteads. In spite of the temporary ban on the selling of public land, the city is in the process of selling several public farmsteads, including the historical Blauwhuis site in Nazareth (see picture), arguing that the moratorium only applies to land and not to farms. The farm was occupied in protest (2021), and the battle to preserve it from being sold to a big company is currently ongoing (in 2022).

Another local battle which is ongoing concerns the sale of 450 hectares of public land (owned by the OCMW of Ghent) in one single batch to one big industrialist, Fernand Huts, in 2016. This decision was contested in court by two small scale farmers who argued that they couldn’t participate in the sale and that the price was below market prices. This went all the way up to the European Commision and the court cases are still ongoing. It should be noted that this case sparked the initial debate on the selling of public land in Ghent and contributed to the creation of the movement of De Hongerige Stad.

Building up the core team of the group, and finding more resources to ensure capacities is essential.

What are the priorities for De Hongerige Stad?

The first goal of De Hongerige Stad is to stop the city of Ghent from selling its public agricultural land (and farms) to the private sector. Instead De Hongerige Stad urges the city to use its public land to foster an agroecological transition of the urban food system. Public land should be used to enhance the transition to more sustainable, climate friendly and socially just farming (with a decent income for the farmers). Access to land for small scale agroecological farmers is recognized as a key challenge in Belgium and could be facilitated through the allocation of public land. Public land should also be used in priority to supply healthy and nutritious fresh food for those in the city who have lower incomes.

To ensure that public land is used in priority for these two purposes, the city should adapt its local food strategy and align its food policy with its social, land and agricultural policy. De Hongerige Stad urges the city to do so and to organise a public debate on the topic, before the end of the moratorium (December 2022).