This paper reviews what is currently known about the informal economy’s role in the food system focusing on informal retailers. Existing evidence suggests that the informal food economy is not only an important source of employment, particularly for women, but also a key source of food for poor households in general, and food-insecure households in particular. Contrary to the claims of many public officials, the results of toxicology tests of street foods show that informal traders can sell food with low bacterial counts, with access to infrastructure being a decisive factor. Given the role played by informal retailers in food security, the implications of greater supermarket penetration are considered. Rather than blanket displacement, there are many cases of formal and informal retailers co-existing. The policy and regulatory trends suggest that exclusionary practices are pervasive.
The paper calls for more attention to alternative approaches, including legal frameworks. Collective action among traders is a key factor in both resisting exclusion and shaping the policy environment. The review suggests a
significant diversity of organisational forms. Research gaps are identified throughout the review but
the conclusion highlights priorities.
This work is part of the ‘Governing Food Systems to Alleviate Poverty in Secondary Cities in Africa’ project and
was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK Department for International Development.
Skinner, Caroline (2016), Informal Food Retail in Africa: A Review of Evidence, Consuming Urban Poverty Project Working Paper No. 2, African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town
Published 30 November 2016