Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Poor Conditions in Markets Create Barriers to Food Security


The 2017 Frugal Innovation Practicum uncovered many costs to urban food retailers that undermine their ability to earn enough money to support their families. Many of the costs in markets create barriers to entry and put a cap on economic growth. This limits profitability within the market, which also increases barriers to strengthening local food security.

FIP students sought to precisely identify these costs and explored solutions by conducting a collaborative inquiry with vendors and other local food system actors. Lizzy LaFave, Communications Aide and Reporter for FIP 2017. Dr. Stephanie White, City-Regional Food Systems Lead and MSU FIP Program Director Hilda Tabulo, Market Vendor




Thursday, December 21, 2017

Innovations in Urban Food Sourcing: A model to serve the un-served

I don't know that Twiga Foods can be classified as social entrepreneurship, but it is definitely guided by the needs of an un-served market.  Take a look at this story (or see below), which I came across on Twitter.  The CEO of Twiga Foods explained that this retailer was acquiring her produce from a Twiga depot. As someone who does research in urban food markets, I can tell you that urban food retailers typically spend a huge amount of time and money sourcing food for their businesses, traveling to other markets, often located in distant cities and, when produce is scarce, directly to farms and/or increasingly further from the cities where they are based. The model here would seem to relieve that burden enormously.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Research Brief: Regional Supply Chains and the Food Economy of Malawi


We've just published our first research brief from data collected in April in Lilongwe markets. This is but a drop in the bucket of all the wonderful data we have and I'm very excited to continue working with LUANAR to build on this work.

I'm particularly excited about this one because it represents the first time I've used my newly acquired GIS skills to create maps from original data, and that was fun.

*edit 10-10-2017: I inserted a new version of the brief, which contains one more author.


Monday, September 18, 2017

NYTimes Article: How Big Business Got Brazil Hooked on Junk Food

The New York Times published an important article over the weekend on how Nestle is changing the food system in Brazil and the health effects those changes are having on people.  I appreciated the article's framing, which highlights how Nestle has exercised power to achieve its goals.  The focus on power is in contrast to how this issue is often discussed in relation to urbanization and the so-called 'nutrition transition.'  Rarely is the activist role by the food industry mentioned, and the nutrition transition is generally seen as a natural outcome of a developing food system/increasing incomes. As this article points out, however, Nestle used its considerable resources to mount a multi-pronged, all-out effort to crush or discredit any kind of obstacle that would limit its reach to the hearts, minds, and stomachs of the population.

The one complaint I have about the article is that the existing Brazilian food system is invisible. The local, small-scale food system, which is likely where most poor people still get the majority of their food, is not alluded to even once. That system is generally viewed by decision-makers and development economists as an 'under-developed' food system and therefore destined to disappear. People working in it typically receive no support and lots of harassment.  It's not a minor critique because so often the colonialist mindset sees anything 'pre-Western' as either a void, or as chaotic and inefficient. I've never been to Brazil, but I'll bet there's a thriving local food exchange system that employs many, many people, and though those incomes may be small, the work is valuable.

The article is here, and there is a video, too, which I've not yet watched (it may be that local food system makes an appearance there).


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Why support the small-scale urban food sector?

On the way to work today, I heard that what's in the news is the single greatest predictor of where people decide to donate their money. So, I thought I'd give you a few newsy facts about why supporting urban food systems is important:
  • The share of Africans living in urban areas is projected to grow from 36 percent in 2010 to 50 percent by 2030. Thus far, not much planning has occurred to deal with an impending worsening of urban food security.
  • Inequality in Africa is rising http://africasacountry.com/2017/…/african-inequality-rising/ People need jobs. The urban food sector is already thriving and the barriers to working in it are low. Supporting it to do better is 'low hanging fruit' in relation to improving city well-being.
  • the urban food sector is a major employer of women and the working poor, two groups of people who often don't have access to additional resources, but who could definitely use them!
  • those who work in the urban food sector are often disenfranchised and harassed by city officials. One major aspect of our program is that we work w/the municipality to bridge this divide: http://mgafrica.com/…/2017-05-01-why-brutalising-food-vendo… (Did you know the Arab Spring was set off by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a fruit vendor that had been brutalized time and time again? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_of_Mohamed_Bouazizi)

Supporting an inclusive and sustainable food system that improves the income margins of the people who work there and maintains access to nutritious food at affordable prices is the goal of the practicum. Help us out by supporting our work!


 FIP Student, Lindsay, interviews a retailer in Lilongwe's Tsoka Market. Credit: Alyssa Cleland
FIP Student, Lindsay, interviews a retailer in Lilongwe's Tsoka Market. Credit: Alyssa Cleland

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Crowdfunding improvements for safe, nutritious, and widely accessible food environments.

The money you donate goes DIRECTLY to retailers in markets who use it to make improvements that benefit both the people who work in markets and the people who shop there. Last year, the money donated was used to upgrade toilets and install water taps, for example. What's more is that the whole process of student engagement has enabled a much broader conversation between the municipality and retailers about how to support safe and accessible food! Please consider a small donation for this work!

Support Innovation in Malawi's Urban Food Markets






To learn more about small-scale retailers and their work, watch "Ruth's Legumes: Small-scale Urban Food Trade in Lilongwe."


Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Book on Global Urban Agriculture

CABI just published an edited volume entitled "Global Urban Agriculture: Convergence of Theory and Practice between North and South" in which I have two chapters. One is a chapter co-authored with Michael W. Hamm entitled A View from the South: Bringing Critical Planning Theory to Urban Agriculture.  In this chapter, we discuss urban agriculture as an urban practice, rather than a rural practice misplaced, that might be regarded as one dimension of a diverse food system. We argue that studies of urban agriculture can be 'put to work' to,

  1. develop more accurate, locally-grounded understandings of how people provision their households,
  2. shed light on city processes that make people vulnerable to food insecurity,
  3. provide instructional case-studies that challenge conventional notions of what cities are and how they are put together.
The chapter encourages food and urban scholars to take a more systemic approach to understanding urban agriculture, which goes beyond judging it solely in relation to the absolute quantities of food it produces.

The second is entitled Urban Agriculture as Adaptive Capacity: An Example from Senegal. This chapter was based on my dissertation research carried out in M'Bour, Senegal. I argue that different frames yield different understandings of various social phenomenon, and that resilience theory can help us to better qualify and situate urban agriculture in relation to city food systems and household food provisioning strategies. I did a webinar for this chapter about a year ago.

The book's overall argument is that better theorizing of the practice of UA has implications not only for enabling more sustainable food systems, but also for urban social and economic justice.