27 January 2015 – Local vendors, not supermarkets, are key to food security in sub-Saharan Africa

The International Livestock Research Centre (ILRI), Nairobi has published a new book: Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a compilation of 25 studies in Africa that finds informal markets provide essential sources of food and income for millions of poor, with milk and meat that is often safer than supermarkets.

The book also argues that efforts to control the alarming burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries is misguided and risks intensifying malnutrition and poverty — while doing little to improve food safety. The researchers say that the push for greater food safety standards in markets must be informed by an understanding of their vital role as a provider of food and income to several hundred million people who rank among the world’s poorest.

As has already been noted on this blog with reference to research on food safety in wet markets in Vietnam (see 27 November), the ILRI book also shows how small producers have many attractions for poor consumers. They are typically within walking distance for people who lack cars and they offer the opportunity to purchase fresh food in small amounts — part of what is known in East Africa as the ‘kadogo’ economy. (Kadogo is street slang for ‘small.’) In addition, many sellers in traditional markets will extend credit.

As the excellent review of the book also says, the research shows that consumers prefer informal to formal markets, and not just for their lower prices, but also because traditional markets tend to sell fresher food. They also sell local products and breeds, which many consumers continue to prefer — and those preferences seem to intensify as incomes rise. For example, in Africa and Southeast Asia, consumers often prefer local chicken breeds over cheaper imported breeds.

‘Informal markets are growing, not shrinking, across the developing world and in many ways mirror the “locavore” trend occurring in wealthy countries’, said Grace. ‘If we are going to improve food safety in these markets, we need policies that are guided by an understanding of producer and consumer behaviour, local diets and customs, and interventions that can reduce illness without imperilling food security or increasing poverty.’

You can read the full review and find details of the book here

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