Informal food retail in Africa’s cities: governance, politics, policy issues

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To mark UN World Cities Day (Oct.31), new PIM Synthesis Brief summarizes recent research on urban food traders in African cities.

The theme of this year’s UN World Cities Day (October 31) is “Valuing Our Communities and Cities,” which stresses the key role of local urban communities in contributing to keeping people safe and maintaining some economic activities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rapid urbanization in Africa south of the Sahara continues to highlight the importance of informal retailers as a source of both food and employment for the urban poor. The most recent Africa Agriculture Status Report emphasizes that, due to demographic and socioeconomic transformation in the region, the center of gravity of Africa’s food system is shifting to urban areas. Informal retailers—including those who vend in open-air wet markets and hawk on pavements and streets—provide a critical link between agricultural producers and consumers. While the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of this group, informal traders have long been victims of other public health, economic, and climate shocks. To build the resilience of informal traders and enhance their contributions to urban food security, fundamental governance issues need to be addressed.

A new PIM Synthesis Brief, released just before World Cities Day, summarizes recent research on urban food traders in African cities. The work spanned Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Zambia and involved various comparative research methods including analysis of media events data, surveys with traders, and interviews with urban bureaucrats. Read on for key insights and download the brief for more details.

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