Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Member profile

Dr. Stefano Marras

Organization: Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca
Country: Italy

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. I manage the Street Food SQUARE Association ( and the Street Food Global Network (, an international, multidisciplinary network of academics, non-profit professionals, public managers working in this field.

I recently co-edited the volume Street Food. Culture, Economy, Health, and Governance (Routledge, 2014), that includes an article by FAO’s Renata Mirulla, Max Blanck, and Mauricio Rosales summarizing the outcomes of the first discussion “Street foods: the way forward for better food safety and nutrition”, successfully facilitated by Giorgia Nicolò in 2011.

This member contributed to:

    • 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!

    • On the basis of the many interesting contributions to this discussion, I would like to share with you additional questions, hoping you find inspiration for more, new contributions.

      1. Some of you have pointed out the benefits of street foods based on millet (particularly in India, as reported by Prof Kirit Patel and Salomeyesudas), fruit (e.g. in South Africa, as noted by Prof. Hélène Delisle) and vegetables (e.g. in Lahore, as pointed out by Hamid Ahmad, and in Europe a century ago, as noted by Lal Manavado).

        What products, both plants and animals (including insects), do you believe should be more present on street food vendors' stands? Why?

      2. Are you familiar with technologies or techniques being tested for better transportation and better storage of food from rural to urban areas? (See Mr. Vijay Yadav Tokala's contribution)

      3. A key, often neglected issue is brought out by Hamid Ahmad. Hamid notes that the consumption street food in the United States is related to socio-cultural practices and secondary needs (e.g. free time). The so-called “foodies” in the US are even willing to pay the same price they would pay for the same product in a restaurant. In poorer countries, however, street food is mainly related to urban poverty and basic needs, providing nutritious food at low cost. Hence, Hamid points out the risks coming to official, top-down projects aimed at improving the quality of street foods, there where such projects may bring higher costs for vendors, and therefore higher prices for consumers. Rather, Hamid suggests that "social pressure and table talk on the spot by consumers routine matter and affect much more than drawing any lines for monitoring and evaluation."

        What do you think about this?

      4. Lisa Kitinoja points out that postharvest losses (due to poor handling on the farm, damages during harvest, poor quality packaging) bring farmers to raise the prices of their products on the market to compensate.

        What role could street food vendors play to reduce farmers postharvest losses?

      5. Prof. Hélène Delisle mentioned the Nutrition Friendly School Initiative implemented in Benin and Burkina Faso: street food vendors were trained in hygiene and basic nutrition to be able to sell healthier food to school children. This project proved to be successful, generating improvements in the variety and quality of food served. Nevertheless, such a project needed to sensitize the students themselves (they often love, you know, foods that are rich in chemical colors and flavors). Awareness activities were then conducted with the participation of teachers.

        Are you aware of campaigns or communication strategies, aimed specifically at children and young people, aimed to encourage them to eat healthier foods? Any example of  “fun and creative” campaigns, as suggested by Ms. Amila Fauziah?

      6. Farmers prefer to sell their products in bulk (either to general markets or supermatkets) in order to have a high revenue. This means that street food vendors, taken individually, are not an attractive customer to farmers. As pointed out by Salomeyesudas, to support the connection between street food vendors and local farmers, the former should unite in cooperatives enabling to buy large quantities of products. This strategy would benefits both actors, as it would eliminate middleman (See Mr. Palanivelayutham's contribution).

        What organizational strategies could be put in place to encourage, strengthen and make the link between street food vendors and local farmers profitable?

      7. Massive conurbation erases cultivable areas within urban areas (See Lal Manavado and Gisèle Yasmeen). This happens because the value of building areas is higher than that of cultivable areas. For this reason, cities’ governments prefer to sell (at high prices), or to grant land (with the prospect of high returns in taxes) for building rather than farming.

        Can you think of possible strategies to make arable land in the city as profitable (either in the short or in the long term) as building land?

      8. Finally, the food safety issue is certainly important. But it is necessary, in my opinion, to go beyond the great amount of literature and reports showing the high level of bacterial contamination and ensuing toxicological hazards of street foods. In 1985 Pan American and World Health Organization (PAHO and WHO) organized the first workshop on the issue in Lima, Peru. A few years later, in 1991, a severe cholera epidemic struck the Peruvian country and the surrounding Andean region; street food was considered to be the major carrier of the disease (Ries et al., 1992, Panisset, 2000). Ever since, the assessment of bacterial contamination levels in street foods has drawn the attention of scholars, authorities and organizations throughout the continent and beyond (Schubert, 1992; Arámbulo et al., 1995; Costarrica et al., 1996; Morón and Schjtman, 1997; Moy et al., 1997; Evans and Brachman, 1998; López Rivera et al., 1998; FAO and WHO, 2001; Hanashiro et al., 2005; Larralde and Sciutto, 2006; Bogota N.A.O., 2009; FAO, 2009a; Méndez et al., 2010).

        Several factors potentially contribute to bacterial contamination of street food. Beside the dust, pollution, insects that are lurking in the streets, risks may arise where street food is home-prepared by those vendors living and selling in underdeveloped settlements, where water and sanitation infrastructures and services are often deficient (UN-Habitat, 2003). When vendors have low or no schooling, their knowledge and awareness about bio-medical guidelines to handle food safely may be limited.

        Despite knowledge of the risk factors, actual harm to consumers’ health is yet to be fully proven and understood. Due to difficulties in tracking cases and the lack of disease-reporting systems, follow-up studies proving actual connections between street food consumption and food-borne diseases are still very few (i.e., Flisser, 2013). Little attention has been devoted to consumers and their eating habits, behaviors, and awareness. The fact that social and geographical origins largely determine consumers’ physiological adaptation and reaction to foods--whether contaminated or not--is neglected in the literature.
    • Dear all,
      Thank you for all the valuable contributions that have enriched this discussion so far.
      Among the many useful information and ideas that you all shared, let me point out a very interesting and, I must say, unexpected observation raised by Gisèle Yasmeen.
      In her report for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) entitled “Urban Agriculture in India” (available at: she described the case of Dr RT Doshi – an internationally recognized leader in urban food production – who obtained biomass from sugar cane vendors for his own food production work.
      This case shades a light on the fact (often neglected) that the relationship between street food vendors and farmers is not necessarily a one-way relationship, in which the farmer sells to the street food vendor the raw ingredient for cooking, and that is it. Rather, it can have a "reverse" direction, there where waste products from the sale of street food, for instance, can be put back into the production chain in the form of fertilizers or even as fuels (eg. exhausted oil can be turned into fuel for farming machines).
      I would invite you all to send your thoughts about this!
      Are you aware of cases or recycling projects that involve farmers and street food vendors?


    • Dear Dr. Santosh Kumar Mishra,
      Thank you so much for its extensive contribution and for the many inputs that certainly has.
      I will read it carefully and I will post my comments as soon as possible.
      Kind regards
    • Welcome Giséle!
      I am happy you are interested in the topic. I am sure that your long research experience on street food and on its link with urban agriculture will make an important contribution to our discussion.
      Looking forward to sharing ideas and perspectives with you.
    • Dear Agape,
      Thanks so much for sharing your interesting project, and congratulations.
      It would be interesting if you could provide more information about the following aspects:
      1. What is the total amount of Chienese and SP amaranthus (Mchicha) that you obtain? (in kilograms or pounds)
      2. What amount did you managed to sell? In how much time?
      3. What price did you set for your products? (per kilograms or pounds)
      4. How much do these products normally cost on the market?
      5. Who were your main customers?
      6. How many hours a day did you have to devote to the cultivation?
      7. How many hours a day did you have to devote to vending?
      8. How did you deal with the problem of birds that ate your crop?
      9. Where do you get water to irrigate?
      10. Where did you purchase the seeds?
      11. How many more farmers grow the same products in the vicinity of your plot?

      Looking forward to your reply.