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Annex 1. The Interdisciplinary Approach

A1.1 The interdisciplinary approach
A1.2 Scientific approaches
A1.3 The problem/approach grid
A1.4 Examples of case studies: research systems and subsystems

A1.1 The interdisciplinary approach

FSDSs should be analysed using different disciplines. Each point of view must be part of a wider perspective which does not stem from a mere summation of the various disciplines (Aragrande, 1997). In fact, each discipline must be linked to the others to provide a coherent, global interpretation framework. This task cannot be efficiently completed without the support of a closely coordinated team with assorted skills. The team must guarantee that the study progresses from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary.

The interdisciplinary approach is also reflected in the design of FSD policies, strategies and programmes. In fact, no action can be taken to improve one or more elements without taking account its position in the system and the complexity of the surrounding relationships.

The features and problems to be analysed determine the expertise involved. The problem/approach grid will provide assistance. Operational hierarchies exist between the various disciplines and enable priorities to be identified and arranged in order of importance at the operational level.

A1.2 Scientific approaches

A1.2.1 The historical approach
A1.2.2 The demographic approach
A1.2.3 The economic approach
A1.2.4 The sociological approach
A1.2.5 The geographical approach
A1.2.6 The urban planning approach
A1.2.7 The logistical aspect
A1.2.8 The legal approach
A1.2.9 The nutritional approach

The role of each of the major scientific approaches depends on the case study and on the association with the other disciplines (see Table A1.1). It is the task of individual researchers to detail the methodology of their disciplines1.

The appropriateness of each approach must be evaluated. Attention shall be paid to:

A1.2.1 The historical approach

The historical approach explains the current status of FSDSs as the result of an evolving process rooted in the past. This interdisciplinary approach enables us to understand how cities have resolved the food problem over time and to recognize:

The purpose is not to reproduce historical studies but to extract the elements essential for an understanding of the present situation. This approach can facilitate the search for future scenarios and decide what should be done. The history of the city and region must be separated into segments corresponding to periods of development or crisis which led to significant changes in FSDSs. This is seen from the institutional, political, social, economic and food-related viewpoints. The data obtained can be used to produce a structural diagram (Guyer, 1982)2. For each of these periods the influence of the past on the present in relation to structured situations must be recognized and identified. The team will sift the characteristics and historical factors determining the food problem, the steps taken to find a possible solution and structural changes in terms of urbanization.

A1.2.2 The demographic approach

Population growth in cities is one of the major factors underlying the urban food problem. The demographic approach is expected to show:

By using the demographic variables, a number of analyses are possible in the various disciplines3.

Table A1.1 Interdisciplinary Relationships: a Synthesis

Approaches (Xi)

Approaches (Yi)





Urban Planning




Urban Planning

Urban spatial determination of economic functions, costs of production, transport and distribution

Urbanistic factors determining social patterns and urban social segregation

Urban-rural link; goods and services flows in urban areas.


Functions, relationships and urbanistic factors determining urban S&I


Description of marketing channel structures and infrastructure


Structural and infrastructural factors determining product quality


Legal constraints to economic activities and strategies

Legal constraints to the adoption of social behaviour patterns and players’ strategies

Legal and regulatory constraints to the economic management of urban space

Rules governing S&I operation


Legal rules governing food quality





Dynamics of the consumption units; economic stratification of the population; food requirements

Social stratification of the population

Analysis of migratory flows

Trends in urban population growth

Description of vulnerable groups



Social distribution of resources and economic functions

Economic functions of the spaces in marketing channels

Fonctions Economic functions and conflicts in the allocation of urban space

Functions and economic organizat- ion of S&I; S&I economic management strategies; determination of the cost of S&I manage- ment strategies

Effects of the regulatory framework on resource allocation and costs; economic reasons for informal activities

Economic factors determining consumption models


Differentiation and socio-cultural determinants of food models, purchasing patterns and players’ strategies


Social characterization of players

Urban social behaviour patterns, urban social segregation; social strategies to an urban environment for adapting

Social strategies for S&I management

Strategies for social adaptation in light of legal and latory frameworkregu

Socio-cultural factors determining consumption models; social characterization of vulnerable groups


Spatial characterization of migratory flows

Determination of analytical levels; spatial characterization and dynamics of production; flows of goods and products; spatial determination of production, transport and marketing costs


Urban-rural relations

Spatial characteization of S&I


Aspects affected by disciplinary relationships;

No marked relationships;


A1.2.3 The economic approach

The activities, which enable the FSDSs to operate and justify their purpose, are strongly driven by economic reasons. The final aim of the economic approach is to analyse FSDS efficiency, which mainly concerns the operation of marketing channels and markets. Other aspects are subject to an economic interpretation, but are not driven by the need for efficiency (e.g. food demand).

In summary, an economic approach to FSDSs concerns:

The economic approach is pivotal to FSDS analysis. However, to understand how FSDSs operate and analyse their efficiency and dynamism, we must have a knowledge of factors, which are not strictly economic. Thus, it is essential that the sociological, geographical, urbanistic, logistical, nutritional and legal approaches be interlinked.

A1.2.4 The sociological approach

The behaviour patterns of the FSDS players are based on principles, which are not governed by mere economic logic. In developing their economic activities and pursuing their economic aims, the players come up against a social structure and act consistent with a given social status and cultural heritage.

In FSDSs, the sociological approach enables us to establish a link between players’ social and economic behaviour patterns and to identify those which do not conform to economic logic, but which impact on the development of the commercial activity.

The sociological approach concerns:

- consumption (consumption models and purchasing patterns);
- all trade in goods and services;
- relationships with the institutions and the legal system.
In addition to links with the economic approach, the sociological approach is connected to:

A1.2.5 The geographical approach

Like the urbanistic approach, the geographical approach allows us to describe space in relation to production, marketing and transport as well as to the structures and infrastructure pertaining to these operations. The geographical approach resolves the appropriate levels of analysis (national, regional, metropolitan, urban, local – periurban, rural and municipal) to be targeted when examining FSDSs in cities.

The geographical approach is useful when analysing:

The geographical approach is linked to:

A1.2.6 The urban planning approach

Urban space is at the heart of FSD issues. It is influenced by stronger and more close-knit relationships and dynamic forces than the rural environment. These have a striking effect on the urban structure and its functionality, especially for meeting food requirements.

The urban planning (urbanistic) approach concerns ways and means of organizing and allocating urban space. This often leads to conflict. It helps to understand how city and local authorities (CLAs) can play their role in food security through planning and managing urban space and its functions. The urbanistic approach analyses:

This approach is related to a number of other approaches:

A1.2.7 The logistical aspect

The failure of structures and infrastructure (S&I) to keep pace with growth in population and in food demand is a constraint which directly reflects on the efficiency and dynamism of FSDSs pertaining to prices, product quality and supply regularity. The S&I problems are not limited to physical or technological aspects. They also affect services and their organization. Logistics cut right across FSDSs. It is important to reserve a degree of autonomy for logistics during research and to analyse and verify its specific effects on overall FSDS efficiency.

An in-depth review of logistics should enable to pinpoint the causes of FSDS malfunctioning: the inadequacy of S&Is, and their poor management and organization (e.g. overloaded markets, lack of basic services, makeshift marketing sites, poorly maintained roads and unreliable transport facilities) (Wilhelm, 1997a and 1997b).

A logistical analysis would cover mainly:

The logistical aspect is a very specific technical point in FSDS analysis, but it must be modified depending on the approach used. It relates to and may even override other disciplines, especially:

A1.2.8 The legal approach

The legal approach analyses the legal framework, which defines the official rules which the players must obey. The rules stemming from local habits and from cultural heritage are covered by the sociological approach. The dialectical relationship between these fields contributes, as do other factors like economic and sociological, to important FSDS phenomena (e.g. the informal sector), which determine the players’ behaviour patterns and the strategies they use to adapt to the environment (Ferro, 1998).

The legal approach is expected to recognize all the rules governing FSDSs at all levels, their ability to structure FSDS activities and their effectiveness in meeting urban food security aims (see Cullinan, 1997 and 1999).

A legal analysis must:

There are obvious links between the legal approach and other approaches:

A1.2.9 The nutritional approach

Meeting urban food requirements based on consumer habits is a reasonably effective way of satisfying nutritional requirements. The role of the nutritional approach is to describe the population groups who are permanently vulnerable also because of the malfunctioning of FSDSs in cities. It is not a question of ascertaining that food consumption patterns are acceptable or of promoting the adoption of given food consumption models. Rather, it is a question of identifying whether:

The nutritional approach focuses on:

Methodological links and scientific complementarities characterize the nutritional approach in relation to other approaches, such as:

A1.3 The problem/approach grid

A1.3.1 The grid for urban food demand analysis
A1.3.2 The problem/approach grid for analysing marketing channels

After identifying which disciplines should be included in the analysis, it is necessary to determine the position of each one. The problem/approach grid relates the problem to be analysed to the approaches used to clarify it. Because FSDSs consist of a network of subsystems or elements, FSDS analysis becomes a research system composed of research subsystems for which problem/approach grids may be prepared in order to facilitate interdisciplinary analysis.

Annex 1.3 gives examples of studies and preliminary studies of real cases to aid in the understanding of these interrelationships.

What is the purpose of this tool? The problem/approach grid allows us to:

How is this done in practice? Two exercises in designing a problem/approach grid are suggested below:

A1.3.1 The grid for urban food demand analysis

Consumption models and purchasing patterns are two fundamental points to be considered (Figure A1.1) in any case study of FSDS in cities as they determine the quantity and variety of food required by the urban population and the supply arrangements needed. The questions that arise are:

Which interdisciplinary approach? Coverage of food requirements may be differentiated in terms of the variables (economic, demographic or social) which enable us to describe the vulnerable groups.

What are the relationships between the "food demand" subsystem and other research subsystems?

The consumption model and purchasing patterns are influenced by the macroeconomic framework through purchasing power, and by the food product price system. Purchasing power is also likely to be differentiated subsequently by way of population stratification.

The vulnerable groups must be described within the urban context. These entails taking an urbanistic view of the food problem at consumption level (Where is the food problem located in the city? How can it be described in relation to the city?) and of the distribution channels (What are the FSDSs’ characteristics towards disadvantaged urban consumers? What is their relationship to the city’s population as a whole?).

Purchasing patterns (i.e. where do the consumers purchase their food and why?) formalize consumer strategies at the last links in the distribution chain and have a bearing on the analysis of the marketing channels.

The food product price system is the outcome of several factors (e.g. demand, production potential, macro-economic and sectoral policies, and marketing costs). These factors must be examined in relation to the efficiency of the marketing channels, which are also involved in pricing.

This example shows that the food demand analysis involves four disciplines (demography, economics, sociology and nutrition). The functional relationships between them depend on the importance of the economic factor in the case study.

A1.3.2 The problem/approach grid for analysing marketing channels

The aim of the "marketing channel" subsystem analysis (Figure A1.2 and A1.3) is to explain the structure, cost and price levels of food products by analysing the players, the markets and the flows of goods, services and their dynamics.

The characterization of the players involved in the marketing channels is based on the economic and sociological approaches. The socio-economic factors enable us to determine how the players conduct themselves in fulfilling their roles within the pipelines. The general legal framework and, in particular, legislation on commercial activities are often a source of constraints to which the players are subject.

The players’ strategies determine the terms of trade (e.g. market control, and risk and information management) and the flows of goods and services in the marketing channels. These aspects are formalized by the markets, i.e. the sites where trading in economic goods actually takes place in line with specific socio-economic conditions.

The notion of flows of goods and services leads to other aspects of the analysis. The products sold on the markets are either imported or locally produced. The description of the products, production areas and structures and infrastructure allows us to understand the geographical organization (i.e. regional or national) in relation to the marketing requirements. The same applies at urban level with regard to the city and the relationships of the city with the surrounding space. The urban organization model on which urban space management is based must be understood in relation to food supply and distribution.

The structures and infrastructure (S&I) system covers the flows of goods and services, trading operations and storage. An analysis of its efficiency and organizational procedures formalizes the logistical side of distribution. Constraints within S&I cause the malfunctioning of the marketing channels and this affects pricing. Upstream, organization methods and urban rules may well influence structures and infrastructure.

Figure A1.1 The Problem/Approach Grid to Analyse Urban Food Demand: Approaches

Figure A1.2 The Problem/Approach Grid to Analyse Marketing Channels

An analysis of marketing channels reveals the links between them and other subsystems: food demand, and macroeconomic and sectoral policies (e.g. agricultural policy and urban planning).

This approach may pinpoint specific areas of research within a subsystem and limit the number of disciplines involved. For instance, in the analysis of marketing channels, the definition of players’ strategies is a particular aspect of the economic, sociological and legal approaches. Similarly, data on geographical space may well require preliminary work by geographers and town planners.

Figure A1.3 Areas Served and the Level of Services Offered by Retail Markets in Calcutta, India

A1.4 Examples of case studies: research systems and subsystems

A1.4.1 The Dakar case study
A1.4.2 The Cotonou case study
A1.4.3 The Accra pre-case study

Below is a comparison of three case studies in the cities of Dakar, Cotonou and Accra. These studies provide good examples of research arranged into research subsystems.

Figures A1.4, A1.5 and A1.6 are schematic examples of case studies and pre-case studies in African cities. The analysis focuses on the structure and linkage of the research. They intend to show the possible ways to develop research on FSDSs in cities founded on given issues.

The essential points of the research and how they are related are shown in simplified form in the diagrams. As a result, the relationships are not described as fully as in the text:

A1.4.1 The Dakar case study

The Dakar case study (Seck et al., 1997a) takes into account a number of research and analysis subsystems, most importantly:

The relationships involve sociological and economic factors relating to food demand and marketing channels (players’ strategies). The diagnosis mainly concerns nutritional coverage, a description of the vulnerable groups, the inadequacy of the infrastructure and transport inefficiency. Causal relations and transport inefficiency. Conflicts are highlighted, especially the negative effect of urban growth on periurban production, competition between domestic production and imports under the effects of the monetary policy.

Figure A1.4 Schematic Representation of the Dakar Case Study

Figure A1.5 Schematic Representation od the Cotonou Pre-Case Study

Figure A1.6 Schematic Representation of the Accra Pre-Case Study

A reading of the diagram symbols will show the effort made to ensure that the research subsystems match the complexity of food supply and distribution systems.

A1.4.2 The Cotonou case study

The Cotonou case study (Thuillier-Cerdan and Bricas, 1996) places the consumer at the centre of the analysis. Particular attention is paid to players’ strategies with the socioeconomic approach criteria. Attention is also paid to consumers’ tactics, especially:

The study also emphasizes the critical aspects of the research subsystems shown in the diagram. Among these is the informal sector’s role in marketing and the spatial development of marketing structures in relation to urban growth.

Sectoralization has a strong effect on food demand, for the study gives the consumers a central place, a fact that is stressed in the market perception analysis. Furthermore, the socio-economic approach leads to full methodological integration at the development level of this research subsystem.

A1.4.3 The Accra pre-case study

The main research subsystems of this precase study (de Lardemelle, 1995) concern food demand, marketing channels and the analysis of marketing margins. These various research items are not fully integrated; each one can be considered individually. The determining factors are almost all economic (price and income for demand and market integration), with the informal sector and women’s role in the marketing channels are not mentioned.

A comparison of these three examples shows the difference between a preliminary case study and a case study proper. For instance, the Accra study puts forward ideas for discussion and ways of structuring a fullscale case study. Such a study could be based on the recognition that certain key aspects could be examined in greater detail as part of a better coordinated disciplinary and methodological framework.

The comparison between the Dakar and Cotonou studies is more interesting as these are completed studies. The difference in strategy should also be noted. The Dakar study is entirely centred on the issues. The Cotonou study focuses its analysis on the consumers.


1. For detail, see Aragrande (1997).

2. In many developing countries, this could include: the pre-colonial period, the colonial period, political independence and economic restructuring.

3. Average consumption per inhabitant uses an economic factor (food expenditure) and a demographic factor population. This indicator may be handled in several ways, thus giving rise to a number of interesting analyses in other disciplines for use in the case study. The characterization of the problem and its relation to a specific food context could be improved if the population were structured in terms of other variables: economic (income, professional status) or demographic (age, sex), urbanistic (replacing the population data in the urban spatial context) and social (ethnic group and religion).

4. See bibliographic references on players’ strategies in Dia (1997).

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