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

Dear FSN Forum members,

I am very glad to be the facilitator of this second online discussion about street food vending.

My name is Stefano Marras. I am currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Business Administration, Finance, Management and Law, and at the Department of Sociology and Social Research of the University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy.

The aim of this second discussion is to share perspectives on actual and potential links between street food vending and urban and periurban agriculture and horticulture (UPA), analyzing if and in which way such links may represent the basis for possible strategies to enhance food security in urban areas.

This discussion will be an opportunity to expand and strengthen the network of specialists involved in street food trade and governance worldwide.


Urban food security depends on food availability, access, and quality over time. With the rapid growth of the urban population and the low nutritional levels of the urban and peri-urban poor, there is tremendous scope for increasing supply of accessible, safe and nutritious food, while ensuring its sustainable production. Academics, FAO, WHO, all recognized street food – i.e. ready-to-eat foods and beverages prepared and/or sold by vendors or hawkers, in the street and similar locations – and urban and peri-urban agriculture and horticulture (UPA) – the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities – as having the potential to help achieve food security in urban areas.

Street foods account for a significant proportion of daily urban food consumption for millions of low- and middle-income consumers in urban areas, representing the least expensive and most accessible means of obtaining a nutritionally balanced meal outside the home (provided that the consumer is informed and able to choose an appropriate combination of foods). In addition, the preparation and sale of street food provides a regular source of income for millions of men and women with limited financial, social, and cultural capital, since the start-up investment and the overheads are relatively low, and cooking requires little or no formal training.

Within this framework, UPA can provide street food vendors fresh, nutritious, less expensive ingredients. Although in most cities in developing countries an important part of urban agricultural production is for self-consumption, the importance of the market-oriented urban agriculture, both in volume and economic value, should not be underestimated. Research has shown that market-oriented, small-scale urban agriculture is often more profitable than small-scale agricultural production in rural areas and generates incomes above formal minimum wage level. A comparative advantage for the urban producers is their close proximity to the urban consumers. Urban vegetable growers spend less on transport, packaging and storage, and can sell directly through street food stands and market stalls. The urban grower can capture as much as 50-75 percent of the retail price, depending on the marketing system, whereas the rural farmer may receive more typically 15-40 percent.

Local food production can be an important source of supply of fresh vegetables for street food preparation. Since locally produced food requires less transportation and refrigeration, it can supply nearby markets with fresher and more nutritious products at competitive prices. Food growing in cities, thus, can and does help improve the quality of people’s diets by providing a greater choice of fresh fruits and vegetables at better prices, particularly to people in the low-income bracket. More common street foods, in most countries, are based on animal-source ingredients often derived from animals kept in cities, there where the commercial peri-urban production of livestock is an extremely fast-growing sector, representing 34 percent of total meat production and nearly 70 percent of egg production worldwide). Nonetheless, fresh salad preparations have increasingly become an integral component of street food sold in cities like Accra, Ghana, and Santiago, Chile. Some urban and peri-urban farmers are even moving towards intensive production of high value-added produce, rather than basic food stuffs; such activities can become major sources of income for more sophisticated members of the population who have investment capacity.

In Bogota, Colombia we can see another trend in direct marketing, wherein the farmers-producer and retailer sit on the board of the corporation and jointly decide what will be produced when. This trend and others are also supported by new communications systems.

Nonetheless, both, street food vending and urban agriculture are still largely debated and opposed or rather ignored by planners and both street food vendors and UPA farmers often operate without permits. Since it is officially "invisible", the sector receives no public assistance or oversight in many cities. For this reason, UPA carries health and environmental risks – potential use of contaminated land and water smells and noise pollution, and inappropriate use of pesticides and of raw organic manure that can leak into water sources. Food production, processing, and vending in the peri-urban zones, while providing employment, do raise issues related to pollution and food safety.

Authorities in many countries have responded to this problem with weak and erratic implementation of legislation on street food and urban agriculture. As formal and informal standards grow, there is a real risk that the poor will be excluded from markets.

Governments should recognize the role played by UPA and street food in making food available to poor families in urban areas and in generating income; they must face and cope with the prevailing problems and accept urban livelihood grassroots strategies including urban farming and street vending, as well as realize the benefits and opportunities created through productive use of green open spaces in cities, both, in terms of nutrition and environmental development.

FAO supports the transformation of UPA and street vending into a recognized urban land use and economic activity in their own right, integrated into national and local agricultural development strategies, food and nutrition programmes, and urban planning. FAO helps national and regional governments and city administrations optimize their policies and support services for urban and peri-urban agriculture, and improve production, processing and marketing systems. Over time the image of urban and peri-urban agriculture may evolve into that of accepted and needed activities which will supersede the temporary and crisis-oriented image of the past.


In light of this, I would like to raise the following questions /reflections to be discussed:

  1. Are you aware of actual direct links between street food vendors and local urban farmers?
  2.  Are there examples of concrete measures promoted by local authorities to recognize and increase such kind of link?
  3. If so, how have these actions influenced consumers’ choices towards street food?
  4. Have similar initiatives been prompted directly by street food vendors associations? How?
  5. I believe that creating a system of incentives (e.g permits to sell in areas where there are more potential customers, such as near schools, hospitals, transportation hubs; vouchers or some sort of recognition mechanism for good practices) is required for motivating the street vendors to use locally-sourced, fresh produce. Do you think that such incentives could be successful, and why? What other types of incentives might be, and why?
  6. What new mechanisms can be put in place to raise peoples’ awareness on the consequences of their street eating habits? Do you know any advertising methods which have been proven effective?

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

Many thanks,

Stefano Marras

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Dear FSN members,

I thank you for all your valuable and interesting contributions to this discussion about the actual and potential connections between street food and urban / peri-urban farming.

Street food is result of the world urbanization as well as of structural or transitory economic recessions, both in developing and developed countries. The growth of urban dwellers and shrinking economy prevent large segments of the population (in particular vulnerable groups such as women, migrants from rural areas, foreign immigrants, ethnic minorities, elderly people, children) from accessing the formal waged labor market. For them, self-employment and micro-entrepreneurship, especially in the food trade sector – which require low start-up investment and overheads, and no formal training – become viable income-generating options.

At the end of the chain, street food responds to the increasing demand for nutritious and inexpensive food, not only (and not primarily) by the poor, but most of all by the growing middle- and lower-middle-class urban commuters. All in all, street food participates in alleviating urban poverty and ensuring food security for millions of people in urban areas around the world.

Nevertheless, criticalities (and criticisms) regarding street food safety and quality challenge the sector that is often deemed dangerous to public health as potentially contaminated by environmental pollutants and prepared in poorly sanitized conditions (this is often true in poor countries).

Within this framework, after decades of policies aimed at discouraging street food vending, local authorities in many countries, often under the aegis of FAO, recognized its great usefulness and right to exist, and started implementing policies (mostly including food handling training programs, some technical support, little infrastructural provision) aimed at improving the hygiene standards. The focus of such interventions, nonetheless, is still stuck on safety issues. Nutritional, as well as social, cultural, culinary, economic, urban, and environmental dimensions are rather neglected by policy makers.

If we want to effectively and deeply support the development of this important and long-lasting sector, we need to broaden the policies’ reach and objectives in a holistic and systemic perspective; we need not just to tackle criticalities, but also to emphasize and support the potentials of the sector itself (eg. small-scale vendors’ inherent space-time flexibility should be aided, since it enables to stock up when needed, meet customers’ demand just in time, minimize waste; also, it allows plug-in and pop-up events that revitalize underused urban land) and the existing and possible fruitful connections between street food and other sectors (eg. urban farming, school and community gardens, sustainable design, tourism).

Many of your contributions prove that synergic, fruitful, largely informal coalitions between street food vendors and urban farmers are already in place in many regions. There are two-way relationships based on mutual exchange of services and products.

Small-scale urban farmers’ proximity to the city gives them two comparative advantages. First, shorter transportation and less refrigeration translate into fresher and more nutritious products. The use of these ingredients helps street food vendors to build a positive image of themselves, meet the consumers’ growing demand, regardless of their socioeconomic level, for quality street food, that is, not just safe food but also healthy, nutritious, sustainable, slow, local, traditional, zero mile, zero waste food.

Secondly, urban farmers’ proximity to the city allows street food vendors to stock up directly from them. By cutting transport, packaging and storage costs, and no need for middlemen, urban grower who can earn more, while street food vendor who can spend less to buy the ingredients, and in turn the consumer, who can have nutritious, fresh food at a fair price.

Finally, the vendors and farmers can make exchange agreement, and feed food waste back into the farmers’ land or stables.

I believe that by supporting and stimulating a synergetic coalition between street food vending and urban farming we can achieve not only safer but better street food: a food that is able to ensure the immediate and long-term health of consumers, but also to meet their ethical and cultural needs, while supporting biodiversity and local economy.

Hoping that this discussion will be the basis for further reflections on this topic, I thank again all, wishing you happy holidays and a happy new year!

Greetings to all. Here are my contributions to the last two initial questions. I did not have time to ponder on the follow-up questions. I hope this e-dialogue yielded the results that were hoped for. 

1.    I believe that creating a system of incentives (e.g permits to sell in areas where there are more potential customers, such as near schools, hospitals, transportation hubs; vouchers or some sort of recognition mechanism for good practices) is required for motivating the street vendors to use locally-sourced, fresh produce. Do you think that such incentives could be successful, and why? What other types of incentives might be, and why?

Recognition will only go so far. I suspect pricing, convenience and perceived quality are the major issues.

2.     What new mechanisms can be put in place to raise peoples’ awareness on the consequences of their street eating habits? Do you know any advertising methods, which have been proven effective?

I am not aware of any advertising methods nor whether such methods have been effective or not. I suspect the most issues are price, convenience and quality, as above. 

However, the above answers are based on conjecture rather than systematic evidence. 

Hello member,

Starting with apologies for late contribution.

I take another opportunity to participate in this dialogue concerning linkages between food hawking and the growing of food in cities in order to stimulate sustainable diets and increased income.

My opinion in this is that; the farmers who are involved in the production should cooperate by conducting some meetings with some representatives from the government plus educaters on the importance of these food. On that meeting they should discuss price of selling their products depending on their efforts, accessibility of markets, how to educate the customers on the product and others which benefit the producer on income side and consumers.

From these suggestions I hope when the procedures are followed benefits to both sides will be obtained.


Best regards,

Young farmer and Research Analysist,

Agape Ishabakaki.

1. Are you aware of actual direct links between street food vendors and local urban farmers?

It is rampant in India and more so in Tribal areas - where it is not only cultivation but also collection of food items. Collection of different fruits, tuber, medicinal plants' product which are sold rampantly in the urban areas.

There are many laws to take care of these issues - Rights of the Forest dwellers - Individual Rights and Community Rights.(Forest Rights Act -2006 - INDIA)

Let us not confine our thinking to the so called food items which are cultivated in large scale and there is visibility of Marketable transaction and a modern economy operates (with money). Let us think of those items which are part of consumption of even modern man but only collected from forest or rural areas and most recently near the urban areas.

Take the case of all medicinal plants and tubers. Is medicine a part of food items or not? The Triphala - ( Harida, Bahada, Amala)

A big question really to the modern Economics.

Are these sold, as food vendors sell the tiffin's, drinks, launch or dinner pack.

Can we extend our discussion to the all the products (of Consumption) in the food basket and how these operators really function?

2. Are there examples of concrete measures promoted by local authorities to recognize and increase such kind of link?

The so called Informal Sector - as the mainstay of a large section of people's engagement talks about these vendors. And a host regulations are there in India to restrict their operations.

By the same time the local authorities also impose some guidelines for hygienic safety, provision of safe shade, polythene to cover the food items (as in Ahmedabad).

3. If so, how have these actions influenced consumers’ choices towards street food?

Many a time it has a very good effect on the consumers - Restrictions on hygienic, quality of oil used, cleanliness of the utensils used for cooking etc.

These have a lot of good effects on the consumers :- washing the glass/cup used for sipping tea in hot water (as is practiced in most part of Kolkatta) -- at least on the health and hygiene of the consumers.

4. Have similar initiatives been prompted directly by street food vendors associations? How?

Yes. Some attempts have started in Pune and Mumbai, but could take shape. But the association of Dabba Bala in Mumbai has time and again emphasized upon the health and hygiene as maintained by them to be taken up seriously by the roadside venders. But it has not taken shape.

In sharp contrast to this Karnataka has strict laws at least in the city of Bangalore, Mangalore and Mysore. No vendor can go scot free without maintaining the basic minimum standard.

This has a positive effect in making the city Silicon valley of India.

5. I believe that creating a system of incentives (e.g permits to sell in areas where there are more potential customers, such as near schools, hospitals, transportation hubs; vouchers or some sort of recognition mechanism for good practices) is required for motivating the street vendors to use locally-sourced, fresh produce. Do you think that such incentives could be successful, and why? What other types of incentives might be, and why?

Rayathu Bazar, the concept of MARKET by the farmers or of the FARMERS/ CULTIVATORs as developed in Andhra Pradesh (India) has given a lot of incentives.

Long since the sale of Grapes, watermelon in Hyderabad , Maize(Corn) and now baby corn cultivated near Hyderabad city have been duly promoted by these Rhyathu Bazar.

Allotting specific locations of high sale point (based on localized customers' demand)to vendors go a long way as found in Hyderabad city (India)

6. What new mechanisms can be put in place to raise peoples’ awareness on the consequences of their street eating habits? Do you know any advertising methods which have been proven effective?

In India the large scale advertisement of eating out as a symbol of status has significantly increased the habits of people eating from vendors.

Recent news of Amir Khan - the cine Star eating out from a vendor in Jharkhand has created much ripples.These are big advertisement stunt than the so called health and hygiene concern expressed by Govt of India's advertisement on Cleaning the hands before eating or the campaign for Swachha Bharat or Sanitary Toilet.




INDIA 500 030 

Lalita Bhattacharjee and Sridhar Dharmapuri


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


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.





Dear all,

Apologies for coming late into this discussion. Fascinating contributions!

Mine is not so much a contribution as a plug for a forthcoming report documenting people’s views on processed and unsafe foods in 10 countries (Bangladesh, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Kenya, Pakistan, Vietnam, Zambia)/

As part of the Life in a Time of Food Price Volatility, a joint programme with the Institute of Development Studies and Oxfam GB we have been looking at the impacts and responses to high and volatile food prices across 23 communities. More info here.

Each year we focus on a  ‘special topic’ such as young people’s perceptions of farming or local accountability for food security.

This year we chose to focus on understanding the adequacy and acceptability of the food people are eating in the research communities, focusing specifically on how food habits and customs are being influenced by processed foods and foods perceived to be unsafe. In particular, we ask 1) what kinds of processed or adulterated foods people consume, 2) Why they do so, 3) What their worries and concerns are, and 4) What is being done to address people’s concerns (eg. education, regulation, inspections etc.).

Why are we interested in these issues? Concerns about food safety have emerged in earlier rounds of the research, as have signs that cooked (out of the house), processed or ‘fast’ foods are becoming more important in many people’s diets, including in rural areas. People may think the food they are consuming (or selling) is inadequate in various ways – they may worry about how nutritious it is, how clean it is, or they may feel that an important part of culture and wellbeing is being undermined as food habits change. Others may disagree: they may like the new tastes and believe processed foods bring better nutrition and a modern way of life.

While food safety and quality are growing issues for people who are poor, they are also raising anxiety among middle class consumers – campaigns have been started and people are talking about it in the media and day-to-day. We think that our research can make a contribution at a moment when these issues are getting a more responsive hearing in policy circles.

Our national research teams have been conducting focus group discussions as well as interview with households, and key informants in the area of food safety, the informal food industry and nutrition. We are currently in the process of collecting all the data and will soon be proceeding with the coding and analysis. For now, there are a couple of blog posts online (here and here). We’re hoping to be able to share our findings in the spring. 

If anyone is interested please do not hesitate to email me via this forum.


Best regards,


Alexandra Wanjiku Kelbert

Keith Kline

Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Соединенные Штаты Америки

Overall, agricultural production systems around the world have been improving in efficiency such that the vast majority of increased production over the past two decades is attributed to enhancing “total factor productivity” (TFP) rather than expanding the land area or increasing the inputs needed to feed the world (See for example, Fuglie and Rada 2013; http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2013-november/growth-in-global-agricultural-productivity-an-update.aspx#.VIm0GDHF-E4 ). 

Further, as urbanization accelerates, many households bring agriculture and small animal husbandry with them into urban and periurban areas. Similarly, urban areas often expand into agricultural zones without totally displacing production. Thus, it seems clear that an important and growing share of food consumption is coming from these periurban/urban landscapes and this may be one of many reasons for observed improvements in TFP in recent years. However, more research is needed to quantify the scale and impacts. In the USA, rural producers living near urban centers are increasingly participating in urban “farmers markets.” Given that the most urgent and growing food problems in the world relate to malnutrition and health effects associated not with lack of food, but with too much of the wrong foods (WHO 2014), trends that facilitate healthy diets  should be encouraged. As the US Department of Agriculture reports, “The growing number of farmers markets could reflect increased demand for local and regional food products based on consumer perceptions of their freshness and quality, support for the local economy, environmental benefits, or other perceived attributes relative to food from traditional marketing channels. This chart updates one found in the ERS report, Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, ERR-97, May 2010.”  Given population dynamics, periurban and urban food production and systems will need to be designed to conserve and recycle energy and nutrients to efficiently meet future food security requirements.  

Keith L. Kline 

Senior Research Staff, Environmental Sciences

Climate Change Science Institute http://climatechangescience.ornl.gov/

Center for BioEnergy Sustainability http://www.ornl.gov/sci/ees/cbes/

Oak  Ridge National Laboratory