Excerpts from Undertaking Food Value-Chain Research in Bangalore, India

Farhan Rahman

Apr. 13 2018

I embarked on my first trip to Bangalore in September 2017. My initial plan was to conduct a survey of the informal food sector in Bangalore. While surveying the city and reading further about the food systems in India, it became clearer to me that there is a lack of academic ‘geographical’ research in the urban sphere with respect to food. Specifically, I extensively surveyed the literature on the current food (wholesale) marketing system. In addition, I sought to understand how I could borrow analytical techniques from the regional sciences, urban planning, statistics, and management. It became clear over time that the ‘value-chain’ approach would be a novel and useful way to chart the flow of food in the urban sphere.

During my time in Bangalore, I also learned that food made its way into the city through publicly-regulated wholesale markets, and that those nodes would be ideal for beginning my investigation. If I could follow the chain of food as it enters and makes its way throughout the city, I could contribute something original and useful for both academic and policy-making purposes. Thus, I put together a team of two young researchers who were looking to gain more first-hand experience in qualitative work. Their contact was passed onto me by an acquaintance of my spouse who was aware of their work in the youth development space with an NGO called the YeahMovement. They are engaged in educating and bringing together youth from diverse backgrounds in the context of Bangalore, to learn about the socio-economic challenges that youth face. The NGO provides a platform for both education and involvement for youth interested in tackling the social challenges that come with growing urban environments, historical socio-economic and political inequality, and consumerism.

Through them, I conducted interviews of different types of food vendors (corner stores, street vendors, wholesalers) and commission agents in different neighbourhoods. The insight gained from these activities helped me revise my approach to research on the ground as the consent process and interaction with respondents in the context of India differ vis-a-vis the Canadian and the North American context. I also gained a great deal of knowledge as to the socio-economic and political realities, constraints, and inequities that occur in the urban space through dialogue with my research assistants both of whom come from Bangalore and have first-hand knowledge of these issues through their own experiences and struggles.

It was also important to have a visual representation of spatial inequalities and differences that can exist within even the same neighbourhoods, a key factor to take into account when designing surveys and interviews. In future, I plan on interviewing food vendors in the wholesale markets, the traders (agents) who buy produce from farmers, and the different types of vendors spread out throughout the city in their varied forms, such as convenience stores, street vendors, and grocery stores. In addition, I also plan to interview consumers such as households, restaurants, hotels, and cafes. The objective is to obtain information related to the profitability, economic relationships, and strategies utilized by these varied players.

Vendors at a wholesale market in the inner city

 

Kirana – A neighbourhood family-run store

 

Inside a wholesale market

 

Street Vendor

 

Outside wholesale markets