HCP Discussion Paper No. 3: Urban Food Deserts and Climate Change in African Cities

The underlying assumption in much of the Euro-American food deserts literature is that urban food deserts are dynamic spaces, expanding and contracting with the advent and withdrawal of supermarkets. This discussion paper argues that to tie such dynamism purely to the spatial behaviour of formal food retail outlets is both narrow and inappropriate in the African context, where the use of the food deserts concept requires a sophisticated understanding of the multiple market and non-market food sources, of the spatial mobility and dynamism of the informal food economy, of the changing drivers of household food insecurity and the local conditions that lead to compromised diets, undernutrition and social exclu- sion. The paper discusses the case of Cape Town, South Africa, where supermarkets command a signifi- cant share of food retailing and have been expanding into all areas of the city. After tracing the spatial expansion of supermarkets in the last two decades, the paper examines the nature of the food interactions between modern retail, the informal food economy and food access in poor urban neighborhoods from the perspective of consumer households. It argues that the concept of urban food deserts needs to be reformulated and redefined to fit African realities since there is very little evidence that the growth of supermarkets across the city and in low-income areas is eliminating urban food deserts. The paper also addresses one of the major silences in the food deserts literature; that is, the relationship between climate change and urban food security.

Mary Caesar & Jonathan Crush

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