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Foro Global sobre Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutrición • Foro FSN

Re: Street food and urban and periurban agriculture and horticulture: perspectives for a strategic coalition towards food security

All I cannot forget is that as a bachelors student at a university located in a capital city, and as a high school student in a boarding school; street foods, roadside foods, by-fence foods made our days. Looking back, they made a contribution to our nutrition as well.

I knew that the maize vendor located halfway from our university halls of residence and lecture theaters was linked to some nearby farmer; how else did he manage to access and provide fresh maize and mangoes on a daily basis? Each morning there was a whole sack full of fresh maize which he pulled out, removed the green self covers and roasted on the fire kiln. The numbers at any one time varied with the time of day. I guess he had information on when lectures started and ended so as to have ready hot roasted maize for students. The vendor tended to have just enough supply for the day. The good thing about foods such as roasted green maize is they are easy to tell if not fresh. Thanks to the vendor, students were able to access not only a snack to and fro class, but a delicacy not provided for in the university menu. Anyone recalls roast maize as part of the university variety of rich menu items?

Based on my networks in the city and daily reads of local newspapers, I gather that the services provided by street food vendors have become more important as universities shift more towards cost-sharing whereby students have to pay-eat or cook. The street vendors help students save on costs and cooking time. The vendors, unlike formal establishments in the form of restaurants and hotels, tend to be affordable and providors of variety and fresh foods. The street food providers do individual research on supply and demand, and after a short period of time are able to cook just enough food for the day: they end up not wasting food while the consumer receives freshly harvested and cooked food on a daily basis. Subsequently the street food providers enhance food security of not only students, but the employed who commute to the city for work.

The street food vendors rely a lot on relationships to run their business. Good relationships with the urban, peri-urban and sometimes rural farmers means that they are assured of a supply of raw materials. The nature of the business being direct, with limited middle-men means that farmers and street food providers have a direct relationship, so is the relations between the food vendor and individual buyers. I remember while in university, the maize and fruit vendors knew their customers so well that on some evenings they would inform you that they have run out of the food when you could see the mangoes or roast maize on the stand; then they explained that whatever you see there is because the expectant women or aenamic student will be leaving class at 6;00 pm and they will need their share of the food to have a good evening and night. Therefore in large cities, where restaurant are struggling to supply "modern mass meals", the street food vendors are left to provide for individual and seasonal needs. The established social relations also ensure that the food provider supplies food of good quality - if a customer falls ill from consumption of such foods, they will have a direct conversation with the vendor without the bureaucracy of making an appointment to meet with a restaurant manager who will require time to establish who the supplier of the raw food was, etc.

At the same time, the existence of street food vendors is an indication of goverance, regulation and formal markets. Unlike what many people perceive, street food vendors are licenced operators; an indication that government recognizes their role in food security and nutrition. On the other hand, the existence of street food vendors can be an indication of the failure in formal establishments/restaurants to purchase foods from small scale farmers. For example it restaurants and hotels in urban areas rely only on large scale farmers for supplies, who will provide a market for the small-scale farmers in urban and peri-urban areas? Street vendors emerge to fill that market gap of not only purchasing from the farmers, but supplying unique ready food items to individuals with particular food needs.