Systematic review of the literature on ‘informal economy’ and ‘food security’

By Etai Even-Zahav , Candice Kelly, July 2016

Despite the importance of the informal food economy in fulfilling the daily and weekly food needs of a large proportion of South Africa’s low-income population, it appears little research exists on the exact nature of the relationship between the informal food economy and food security. This paper performed the first qualitative systematic review of research from South Africa that addresses both these aspects. The methods used in the review are described in detail, to increase the readers’ ability to assess the reliability of subsequent findings and analysis. Findings confirmed the low level of research focus on the informal food economy (and food security), in particular the stages of the value chain beyond the farm gate and before the consumer. Food safety research is common, although applied narrowly and with mixed findings. The conceptualisation of nutrition research is encouragingly wide, encompassing both over- and under-nutrition, but does not seem to consider the broader urban informal context in which consumers are embedded. Lastly, the research approaches used are predominately quantitative, and the voices of those who survive within the informal food economy are largely absent. 

Keywords: food security, informal economy, informal sector, systematic review, South Africa