CoE Articles

2022 CoE-FS research in review: Maximising access to a balanced, safe and healthy diet for the poorest urban residents

Published December 31, 2023, by Carla Bernardo

The “Maximising access to a balanced, safe and healthy diet for the poorest urban residents” is led by Dr Marc Wegerif (University of Pretoria).

Around the world, there are pressures from urbanisation, a crisis of growing inequality, ecological breakdown, and a denial of people’s right to food manifesting increasingly in the phenomena of the triple burden of malnutrition.

With more than half the world now in urban centres, and urbanisation continuing rapidly, the challenge of feeding the world becomes increasingly one of feeding the cities, with the different logistical and social challenges that follow. South Africa is now a majority urban country and is experiencing all of these conditions in extreme ways, in part due to the history of racial division and imposed inequality, and the current trends of corporate concentration and capture of value, alongside poverty.

South Africa faces particular challenges in building a more inclusive economy that brings greater opportunity for black ownership as well as incomes. Any sustainable food system needs to contribute to addressing these issues. The research continues to be on the informal food sector due to the lack of knowledge about the sector and its key role in creating livelihoods and serving low income communities. The focus remains on fresh produce that is essential for balanced diets and the importance of fresh produce to emerging black farmers.

The informal trade does not operate in isolation, but is closely linked to the formal sector with mutual trade and exchanges taking place between them. This unique landscape forms an interesting, but complex backdrop to what requires context specific interventions to address its most pressing concerns.

Work on this project undertaken in 2020/21 found that street traders perform a key function in making food accessible to low-income communities through their pricing and locations. They have also been found to be a key market for emerging black farmers. But there is a lack of sufficient data on the pricing, costs and other factors that determine the viability of trader-farmer links, and the ensuring of food accessibility. It has also been found, from the experiences of actors in the food system, that they are often negatively impacted, especially under COVID-19, by regulations and their enforcement. The regulations also affect the viability of new market opportunities. More work is needed to understand what is reasonable and needed regulation, and what can be eased to enable the food system. This also requires a better understanding of the interface between forms of self-regulation in the informal sector and government regulation.

Recognising these drivers, and their importance, the project has been amended and extended to reflect a shift to a wider focus that incorporates looking at production, pricing and governance. Continuation of the project in 2023 will complete work underway, and introduce new work to fill the gaps identified above.

The project incorporates more collaborative work across Gauteng and the Western Cape, and will give more attention to sharing findings and stakeholder engagements aimed at improving food systems. The intention is to expand the project in the future to include food systems in secondary cities, small towns and their rural hinterlands.

In 2022, six #FoodTalks seminars, that later became online webinars, were organised with a range of speakers and participants from academia, government and civil society. These seminars covered the following topics:

  • School food, equity and social justice
  • COVID-19 impact on food systems
  • Endogenous paths to a resilient food system
  • Student hunger and achieving the right to food for all: what role for universities?
  • Land and food
  • Creating a more equitable, just and democratic food system in South Africa.

Work on mapping urban food systems revealed the importance of the informal fresh produce sector, in particular, street traders and bakkie traders for fresh produce markets and, therefore, farmers, as well as for making fresh produce more accessible to low income eaters. The informal sector accounts for over 50% of municipal fresh produce market sales and also sells fresh produce at prices substantially below those of supermarkets and other formal retailers. This has led to the initiation of more systematic price checking among street traders and engagement with key institutions involved in market regulation. Discussions have been held with the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) and the Agricultural Produce Agents Council (APAC). These focused on the future of the fresh produce markets, in particular, the municipal fresh produce markets, given the challenge of them losing market share and the lack of transformation in what remains a divided agriculture and food sector. Presentations of research findings have also been made to a NAMC organised webinar and to the City Economic Development Managers Forum (convened by the cities support programme run by Treasury for municipal local economic development managers).

The work on urban food systems also positioned the CoE-FS to contribute to debates on the impact of COVID-19 on food systems. An advocacy position on informal food traders was drafted for the C19 People’s Coalition and supported research which contributed to persuading the government to allow informal food traders to be able to operate after they were initially blocked by COVID-19 regulations. Several publications on the impact of COVID-19 were published in collaboration with other initiatives and using CoE-FS supported research.

Research and a publication on the National School Nutrition Programme revealed a strong programme, feeding over nine million children a day, but also that more could be done to ensure food safety and to use this large scale state procurement to leverage greater agricultural sector development and transformation. Lessons from homegrown school feeding programmes elsewhere show how, with explicit and more coordinated strategy, school feeding can contribute to agricultural sector and food system improvements.

Research under this project will continue in 2023.

related Articles

2022 CoE-FS research in review: National food governance – Towards national knowledge...

The “National food governance – Towards national knowledge brokerage” project involves Dr Camilla Adele (UP), Florian Kroll (UWC), Professor Lise…

2022 CoE-FS research in review: Local food governance project

Florian Kroll and Dr Camilla Adelle during a Food Governance CoP field trip. The “Local food governance” project involves Dr…

Research at the CoE-FS in 2022

Professor Julian May, co-PI of the CoE-FS’s Programme 1, examining food supplies in the home of Brenda Siko, who runs…