Nutrient deprivation is a stimulus shared by both autophagy and the formation of primary cilia. The recently discovered role of primary cilia in nutrient sensing and signalling motivated us to explore the possible functional interactions between this signalling hub and autophagy. Here we show that part of the molecular machinery involved in ciliogenesis also participates in the early steps of the autophagic process. Signalling from the cilia, such as that from the Hedgehog pathway, induces autophagy by acting directly on essential autophagy-related proteins strategically located in the base of the cilium by ciliary trafficking proteins. Whereas abrogation of ciliogenesis partially inhibits autophagy, blockage of autophagy enhances primary cilia growth and cilia-associated signalling during normal nutritional conditions. We propose that basal autophagy regulates ciliary growth through the degradation of proteins required for intraflagellar transport. Compromised ability to activate the autophagic response may underlie some common ciliopathies.