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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

Lalita Bhattacharjee and Sridhar Dharmapuri
Lalita Bhattacharjee and Sridhar DharmapuriFAOBangladesh

Dear FSN Forum members,

Please find below a note prepared in collaboration with a colleague (Dr Sridhar Dharmapuri) from our FAO Food Safety Program. It illustrates the experience of street food vending in a peri urban location, Khulna city in Bangladesh.  This initiative which is likely to be taken to scale builds on an earlier action research supported under the –NFPCSP - FAO Food Policy Program.

On linkages with urban agriculture,  there is need to explore the potential, especially in schools and communities notably through gardening activities.  We are also attaching some pictures.

Kind regards,

Lalita and Sridhar


The Street Food Initiative in Bangladesh – The Khulna Example 

Sridhar Dharmapuri[1] and Lalita Bhattacharjee[2], FAO Bangladesh


The Government of Bangladesh has recognized the role of street foods in urban food security and it has been outlined as a strategic area of intervention in the National Food Policy of Action (2008-2015) under strategy 3.5, entitled as ‘Safe, quality food supply: Institutionalization of safe and hygienic street food vending as medium and long term actions’.

Street foods are noted to be low in cost and present an attractive alternate to home-cooked food. Street food vending is usually practiced as a family business and in the majority of cases; it is a source of employment for the household members. Precise numbers of street food vendors in Bangladesh are not available but estimates show that the capital Dhaka alone (population: 14 million) may have more than 2 million street vendors.

Critical issues however remain with regard to legal and commercial recognition, poor safety and hygiene and disputes over urban spaces that are occupied by the street food units. Recent evidence from FAO supported research also suggests that street foods in Bangladesh are highly contaminated with pathogens causing illnesses such as typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and related infections.

Given this context, FAO under the aegis of its Food Safety Project supported by the European Union piloted a unique street food initiative in the southern city of Khulna, Bangladesh in partnership with the Khulna City Corporation (KCC). Khulna is the third-largest city in Bangladesh with a population of 1.5 million. This urban street food scheme that was initiated in 2012 is characterized by several hallmarks that underlie a successful FAO-Government partnership.

High level buy-in

The Mayor of Khulna was instrumental in the successful implementation of the scheme. From the outset, when the FAO team mooted the idea of a street food assistance program to the city, the Mayor constituted a task force that included the CEO and veterinary officers of the KCC whose remit includes food safety. This team actively liaised and held several meetings with the FAO team to plan and implement the initiative. All through the process, the Mayor monitored progress and resolved bottlenecks in the administrative procedures.

The steps to roll out

FAO procured 300 street carts based on a design by Concern Worldwide and provided them free of cost to the KCC. These three wheeler carts are based on the model of a rickshaw and are therefore mobile.

  1. KCC team orientation to licensing

The FAO team initially provided the information highlighting the necessity of the street food initiative and the importance of enrolling street food vendors through a licensing system. Licensing was necessary as it rendered the vendor accountable for maintenance of the street cart and observing Good Hygienic Practices (GHP). It also facilitated monitoring as each cart has a unique number with a license book valid for a year. Failure to observe GHP and poor maintenance could lead to the cart being withdrawn and transferred to another vendor.

  1. Training of vendors in GHP

The KCC task force enlisted 500 vendors for training in GHP. An initial two-day Training of Trainers (TOT) program was conducted with 15-20 participants on good hygiene practices in street food vending. The training was delivered by the FAO team using manuals and flip charts specifically developed in Bangla for this purpose. The trainers were drawn from KCC officials and other professionals. The trainers then conducted 2 day training courses in 25 batches of 20 vendors each. The course material was based primarily on the ‘5 Keys of Food Safety’ developed by WHO. The vendors were provided with a list of do’s and don’ts for safe and hygienic food vending.

  1. Setting up of street food kitchens

Four street food kitchens were constructed as part of the street food vending programme in different parts of the city. The purpose of these kitchens was to provide a clean, well maintained space for cooking of street food. The street cart vendors would then collect the food items and circulate through the city. The kitchens also had a separate area where the carts could be washed and cleaned.

  1. Distribution of carts and utensils

Each cart was equipped with the essentials. These included a kerosene stove, a 20 litre refillable bottle of drinking water, utensils including pans and tablespoons for cooking as well as plates, cups, glasses and tablespoons for customers. The carts were handed over at a high level ceremony by the Mayor to 300 vendors. The vendors received their license books as well as aprons and caps to be worn while cooking and serving street food.

The entire process from ordering of procurement of carts to distribution took only 4 months. This was possible because of the whole hearted commitment of the KCC to see this initiative realized in the shortest time frame possible.

Monitoring of street carts and GHP

Over the last two years, a monitoring program has been set in place by KCC and the FAO Food Safety Project supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A core group of 31 food safety monitors of the KCC who visit vendors regularly has been established. The process was kicked off with a 2 day training program on the 5 keys to safe food, the role of GHP in street food vending to assure hygienic food and a field visit to observe the current level of GHP in street food vending. Checklists including questionnaires were developed and SOPs for monitoring, recording and reporting were finalized. Khulna City consists of 31 wards and the vendors in each ward are being overseen by a monitor. The vendors being visited in each ward also include those who did not receive a street food cart from FAO and use a different one. The monitors also conduct practical demonstrations of good practices and behaviors that ensure safe and hygienic food to customers.

 The school program

Street food carts converge in public area and particularly around schools. Most children in these schools depend on the carts for their snacks and lunch. Through an initiative of the education department of the KCC, FAO facilitated the establishing of a core group of 50 food safety school volunteers. 10 schools have enrolled in this pilot group. One teacher and four students from each school have been provided training as was provided to the monitoring task force. The school groups now monitor GHP in the street food vendors near and around their respective schools. Given the increasing popularity of this initiative, more schools are planning to join the volunteer force in 2015.

The outcomes

  • Interviews and responses to questionnaires reportedly showed that most vendors have increase in income by 100% or more with the new hygienic street carts.
  • This had a ‘knock-off’ effect on other vendors, many of whom have repainted or remodeled their carts to look like the FAO-provided carts.
  • The licensing system provided an excellent handle for establishing a routine monitoring system.
  • Good hygiene and safe food practices are beginning to take root as routine practices. This behavioral change has been gradual but noticeable over a period of two years. Customers, who are also regularly interviewed by KCC monitors, have expressed their satisfaction at the level of hygiene and the quality of food being served.
  • The KCC has benefited through capacity building activities and are being uniquely placed to lead on food safety in urban areas in Bangladesh.
  • The school volunteer program is emerging as a potential mass food safety education movement beginning with the youngest participants.

A caveat

The vast majority of carts find it profitable to remain in fixed locations rather than being mobile, as a consequence, there is no incentive to use the street food kitchens. Moreover, vendors prefer either to cook at home or cook on the cart. The KCC now leases them out to private parties for use as restaurants.

Lessons learnt

  1. The involvement of civic authorities at the highest level is key to success of any such initiative.
  2. The gradual change in behavior and the rising level of compliance with GHP indicates that constant monitoring with friendly interventions can be very effective.
  3. Added dimensions can be brought into such programs such as the school volunteer line up.

Healthy recipes linked with urban nutrition and health interventions need to be integrated as part of the wider street food vending initiative. Local fruits, vegetable salads and healthy meal-in-a dish recipes need to be promoted. The potential involvement of school and community gardens in street food vending in peri urban locations needs to be explored. Nutrition training and imparting cooking skills on healthy, easy- to- cook recipes following hygienic practices will be one of the keys to addressing urban food and nutrition security.  

[1] Food Safety Officer

[2] Nutritionist


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