Retail Planning as a Means to Support Food Security: A Role for Urban Planning
South Africa’s towns and cities experience high levels of food insecurity.i Although municipalities have no direct mandate to address food insecurity, many municipalities have attempted to alleviate food insecurity. These efforts have generally focused on the promotion of urban agriculture. However, the vast majority of urban residents obtain the vast majority of their food via market sources, formal and informal. This policy brief argues that the informal food retail sector is an important contributor to the food security of the urban poor, and therefore requires greater policy attention.
Supermarkets and informal food traders are important components of the urban food system and deliver different food security benefits to urban residents. Although supermarkets are generally cheaper per unit food, and are recognized to have higher food safety standards, they are not always responsive to the food security needs of the poor. Informal food retailers, including spazas and street traders, sell in smaller unit sizes, operate for longer hours and will often offer credit. These make them an important contributor to household food security. Therefore, a mix of retail types is important to ensure food security for the poor.
At present municipalities do not consider the food retail sector, and their role in shaping the food retail environment, as an element in ensuring food security. As a result local government planning and management of food retail, formal and informal, takes a purely local economic development or livelihoods approach. Informal traders have been over-regulated on the basis of food safety.
There is a need for a new approach to food security. Although there is a lack of formal mandate for local government, there are many activities taking place within existing mandates that impact the food system and therefore food security. Municipalities should therefore assess their role in enhancing or hindering food security. This policy brief recommends the following: a) Integrated (formal and informal sector) food retail planning should be a component of any food security strategy; b) The sale of healthy foods near transport hubs should be incentivized; and c) Municipalities should engage informal trader associations to co-develop appropriate means to ensure food safety.