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25.09.2011 - 20.10.2011

Street foods: the way forward for better food safety and nutrition

Dear FSN Forum members,

I am very glad to be the facilitator of this online discussion as it is an excellent opportunity to exchange views on street food vending with an eye on lessons learnt and new perspectives and hopefully leading to concrete actions. I also hope this will be an opportunity to expand our network and collaborations.

First of all my name is Giorgia Nicolò and I am currently an Associate Professional Officer for Food Safety at the FAO Regional office for Africa based in Ghana.

Within our regional strategy on improving food safety and nutrition in Africa, I am currently designing a study that focuses on creating linkages between street food vendors and public/private institutions, as an incentive to improve the safety, quality and nutritional value of street food.

In other words, my research aims at understanding if, where canteen services are not available, namely in mainly all major public institutions such as universities, schools, hospitals and private companies, properly trained and “licensed” street food vendors, can formally fill the gap of daily food provision. This could be made possible by granting vendors the access to some basic facilities such as water and sanitation and adequate space adjacent to the institution premise. A voucher mechanism could also be envisaged for promoting the consumption of food from specific recognizable vendors.

Several studies have been conducted on the subject of safer street foods. In 2006 the FAO, together with Tanzania’s Sokoine University, investigated the level of malnutrition in school pupils in Tanzania showing that street foods make up a significant part of their dietary intake during the school days. According to studies conducted in Bamako, Mali, food consumed at home covers less than 75 percent of the total energy requirements for almost 40 percent of poor families. Street food vending provides foods which are generally not used at home such as ready- to- eat foods and also fruits and vegetables, which serve as healthy complements to the diet. As an example, in Bamako, mangoes purchased form street foods stands are the primary source of vitamin A, covering 99 percent of the needs of poor households.

Likewise, experiences form Asian countries also show how street foods are increasingly gaining importance to attain food security. FAO projects in Bangladesh have demonstrated the need for technical support and training to improve street food vendors’ food hygiene knowledge and practices as part of the institutionalizationofhealthy street food systems. Training on these issues is currently being provided with the involvement of key stakeholders and the ultimate goal is to develop in Bangladesh a groundswell of interest among the street food vendors for safe, hygienic and healthy food.

The relevance of the different experiences clearly shows that, to prompt a change towards safer and more nutritious street food, all stakeholders along the food chain (suppliers, consumers and food control authorities) must be involved.
In light of this, I would like to raise the following questions /reflections to be discussed among members of the FSN Forum:

  1. We believe that creating a system of incentives (e.g constant number of customers/day, vouchers or some sort of recognition mechanism for good practices) is required for motivating the street vendors to improve the informal street food sector. What types of incentives have worked in improving food safety and quality, what types have not worked and why?
  2. Are there examples of concrete measures promoted by local authorities to recognize and increase visibility of street food vendors producing safer and/or more nutritious food and how have these actions influenced consumers’ choices towards food? Have similar initiatives been prompted directly by street food vendors associations? How?
  3. How can cultural norms and practices related to vendors’ and consumers’ behaviour regarding the food they prepare be strengthened and addressed within local contexts? What new mechanisms can be put in place to raise peoples’ awareness on the consequences of their eating habits? New advertising methods which have been proven of being effective (e.g. alternative marketing strategies)?
  4. Despite recognizing the importance of street foods, local authorities often appear weak in being able to control the potential negative impacts (unsafe food, pollution, disruptions in traffic etc). Can you inform us of innovative and successful policy approaches implemented by local authorities in this regard?

I wish a fruitful exchange and I thank you in advance for your inputs as they will contribute to refine our assessment and any future intervention on the ground.

Many thanks.
Giorgia Nicolò

This discussion is now closed. Please contact fsn-moderator@fao.org for any further information.