No. 24: Mapping the Invisible: The Informal Food Economy of Cape Town, South Africa

The informal food retail sector, which is diverse in terms of products traded as well as business models utilized, is an important component of urban food systems and plays a vital role in ensuring access to food by the urban poor. Yet, policy frameworks both to address food security and to govern the informal sector neglect informal retail in the food system and, as a result, the sector is poorly understood. This report attempts to identify the characteristics of the sector that impact on its ability to address the food needs of the neighbourhoods in which the businesses are located. The findings illustrate that far from existing independently of each other, the informal and the formal food retail sectors intersect at various points upstream as well as through customer practices. It is therefore essential to view the formal and informal food sectors as part of the same food system and to generate policy and planning responses that acknowledge the role of both in meeting local food security needs. If South Africa’s constitutional right to food is to be achieved, it will be necessary to develop a multi-departmental food system and food security strategy that champions and facilitates the progressive realization of the right of all residents to access sufficient, nutritious, safe and culturally appropriate food. Although the research in this report is focused on Cape Town, South Africa, the findings are of broader relevance.

Jane Battersby, Maya Marshak and Ncedo Mngqibisa

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