CoE Articles

Meet the grantee: Thato Mokgalagadi

Published February 22, 2024, by Thato Mokgalagadi

Thato Mokgalagadi, a student currently doing her MSocSci Development Studies degree at CoE-FS co-host institution, the University of Pretoria. Photo: Supplied.

Thato Mokgalagadi is a CoE-FS grantee, which means she receives financial and/or other support from or via the CoE-FS. Currently pursuing her master’s, Mokgalagadi is supervised by CoE-FS project lead, Dr Marc Wegerif. Here, she writes about her research, and what she hopes to contribute to the field of food and nutrition security.

I am Thato Michelle Mokgalagadi, a student currently doing my MSocSci Development Studies degree at the University of Pretoria. The DSI-NRF Centre of Excellence in Food Security (CoE-FS) is supporting my master’s research which focuses on the operations of street food traders selling fresh produce, and their contribution to the food system in my hometown of Mahikeng, South Africa.

Academic researchers like Professor Jane Battersby and the late Professor Vanessa Watson have written about the important role of street traders in the informal sector and in food accessibility. Part of what makes my study interesting and different from most similar studies is that it is being carried out in a medium-sized, former “Bantustan” town. Mahikeng is also far from any municipal fresh produce markets which play a very important role in fresh produce supplies.

Most research on the informal sector’s role in food retailing in South Africa, including current CoE-FS work, has focused on the large urban metropolitan areas with large municipal fresh produce markets, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. I am, therefore, looking forward to my research bringing new information and a fresh look at the operations of street food traders within a different context. This will include unpacking from where and how they source their fresh produce.

Thato Mokgalagadi’s research focuses on the operations of street food traders selling fresh produce, and their contribution to the food system in her hometown, Mahikeng. Photo: Thato Mokgalagadi.

I have begun collecting data, focused on price-checking, as part of the Urban Food System Project of the CoE-FS, led by Dr Marc Wegerif. This has given me initial information on how these traders make fresh produce more accessible and has given me a chance to interact with the street food traders selling fresh produce in Mahikeng’s central business district (CBD). I have, thus far, made a connection with a few of them, and we have conversations each time I go and buy or when I am just passing through town. The traders that I have interacted with are very family-oriented and work hard to ensure their businesses go well, to provide for their families.

I have also observed that the quality of the fresh produce sold by street food traders appears to be fresher, as compared to the fresh produce sold in stores. The pricing of the fresh produce is also much more affordable from street traders, as compared to the prices in the nearby supermarkets. The stalls of the fresh produce street traders are located within or right in front of taxi ranks in different parts of the CBD. This is convenient for consumers who purchase fresh produce when they arrive in town, or on their way home from shopping or work.

While accessible, taxi ranks are not ideal in terms of working environment for street traders, nor are they suited for food safety. Photo: Thato Mokgalagadi.

Unfortunately, the taxi ranks do not present the best working environment for street food traders or the most hygienic environment for food. There is a lack of shelter, limited space, and puddles of water, including water coming from the public restrooms found inside these taxi ranks. Upon gaining more knowledge from the unique experiences of street food traders, I anticipate that my research may help raise awareness about their contributions and the challenges they face. Hopefully, this will help change the mindsets of the municipality and officials towards street food traders and influence the improvement in policies, regulations and infrastructure affecting street food trading.

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