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Major Food Supply and Distribution Problems

Urban Market Facilities and Management

Public markets have burned down throughout the world over the last few years because of inadequate structures and maintenance, poor management, fire-hazard practices, ... or to force traders into new markets. These blows to the local economy have important financial implications for small traders and entrepreneurs as well as consumers.

Existing market spaces and facilities are often insufficient in developing countries and countries in transition. Consequently, many food traders occupy roads around markets.

Urban markets are usually seen as a source of revenue to local town coffers, but those funds are often not reinvested in infrastructure maintenance and better services. This leads to traders feeling that market taxes are not justified and to unrest when rates are increased.

Cold-storage facilities are usually insufficient and rent is often high. The few cold-storage rooms built by market managers are often inefficient, mostly because of inappropriate design, or do not work at all, for lack of proper maintenance. Perishable food products, therefore, deteriorate rapidly.

Public markets lack professional management and its continuity. Market authorities have insufficient skilled personnel and are unable to enforce regulations. Consequently, trading in public markets becomes more difficult and, therefore, costly.

Food Retailing

Middle and high-income consumers shop at supermarkets while low-income consumers, who can spend as much as 80 percent of their income on food, go to local shops, to market places near their homes or buy from street vendors.

Public retail markets have not expanded rapidly enough in newly urbanised areas and existing markets have been unable to accommodate the increasing number of retailers.

Lack of space or new market opportunities in satellite city districts are thus the cause of spontaneous markets which fill an important gap in the distribution chain. However, their unplanned nature may create traffic, health and environmental problems.

In Dakar, Senegal, three-quarters of the retail markets began on a spontaneous basis. In Lima, Peru, 80 percent have arisen spontaneously, often near slums where there is little availability of public facilities.

In the low-income districts of Latin American cities, a plurality of small, family-run food shops compete for the local market. Such competition, made more difficult by the growing presence of supermarkets and hypermarkets, and the lack of an entrepreneurial mentality as well as technical and managerial expertise, are responsible for low and even negative returns which, in turn, do not stimulate private investment.

Informal Food Distribution

Informal retailing and street sales are an important and convenient source of cheap food for low-income urban consumers. Informal activities are also a source of employment and income for the poor, particularly women.

Most informal traders sell in the street because they believe that they can reach more customers. Others do so because they are denied access to market facilities and services, as they are unable to pay market charges. Because of their illegal status, informal traders are often harassed by police.

Wholesale Markets

In many Latin American and Asian countries both the construction and the expansion of wholesale markets have lagged behind the growth in urban populations and food flows. African cities, with very few exceptions, totally lack specific wholesale market facilities. The countries of Eastern Europe and of the Commonwealth of Independent States are increasingly realising the need for market infrastructure and facilities to support the transition to liberalised food markets.

The inadequacy of wholesale facilities is not only the cause of food losses, traffic jams, hygiene and safety problems, but is also an impediment to achieving an efficient food marketing system.

Urban Markets: Hygiene, Health, Security and the Environment

Market authorities usually guarantee cleaning inside the markets, but this is rarely adequate. Toilet facilities are rare and seldom properly cleaned. Water points, drainage and sewage are usually insufficient.

Inadequate lighting in markets exposes users to additional risks and increases the likelihood of theft.

The precarious hygiene conditions of established and spontaneous markets, the increasing quantities of waste, and the growing number of lorries required for food transport, have an adverse impact on the environment, as they pollute air and water, increase noise and threaten public health.

Market Planning

Plans to develop market facilities away from urban centres often result in under-utilised markets. This may be due to:

Legislation and Regulations

The rationalisation of food marketing systems may require appropriate changes in the rules governing them. National legislation and local regulations in Rabat, Morocco, required that fruit and vegetables be transported through a series of wholesale markets where apparently unnecessary yet compulsory middlemen, and a series of market taxes, led to higher retail prices.

Multiple Municipal Authorities

As cities expand, food must travel through areas under different, and sometimes conflicting, municipal authorities. Food can thus be subjected, for example, to multiple taxes.

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