Joint Publications

The informal sector’s role in food security: A missing link in policy debates?

Published 16 September 2016, by Caroline Skinner and Gareth Haysom

Publication: PLAAS Working Paper 44

This paper aims to review what is currently known about the role played by the informal sector in general and informal retailers in particular, in the accessibility of food in South Africa. The review seeks to identify policy relevant research gaps. Drawing on Statistics South Africa data, we show that the informal sector is an important source of employment, dominated by informal trade with the sale of food a significant subsector within this trade. We then turn our attention to what is known about the informal sector’s role in food sourcing of poorer households.

African Food Security Urban Network’s surveys show that urban residents and particularly low income households regularly sourced food from the informal sector and we explore why this might be the case through an expanded view of access. We then consider existing evidence on the implications of increased supermarket penetration for informal retailers and food security.

Having established the importance of the informal sector, we turn our attention to the policy environment. First we assess the food security policy position and then the post-apartheid policy response to the informal sector – nationally, in provinces, and in key urban centres. We trace a productionist and rural bias in the food security agenda and argue that the policy environment for informal operators is at best benign neglect and at worse actively destructive, with serious food security implications.

Throughout the paper we draw on regional and international evidence to locate the South African issues within wider related trends.

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