Third Eye

Informal food enterprises critical for development

Wednesday, August 4th, 2021 00:00 |
A firm worker at Engineer Food Processing sorts the crop for sale in Engineer town . Photo/PD/Timothy Njenga

With the ongoing debate on the best model to accelerate economic development, informal food enterprises and the attendant policies must be given attention. 

According to investopedia, the bottom up approach focuses on specific activities that make life better. Informal Food enterprises are such activities in Nairobi.

Living in the city is a challenge not only for the poor who run away to the city to escape the vagaries of rural poverty but also those considered the middle class.

Due to the high cost of living, the amount available for food is minimal, a reason food insecurity is prevalent and alternative income sources necessary for survival.

However, city challenges have always aroused the survival instinct of city dwellers, from Maputo to Windhoek, research shows that informal food entrepreneurs, who in most cases are those unemployed or underemployed, have stepped up to feed the people through informal enterprises including vending food on the streets.

In Nairobi, many of the streets are occupied by informal food enterprises.

The role of informal food enterprises has not been given sufficient attention which has in turn hindered development of policies that promote sustainable growth.

It is important to note that the history of the street market in Nairobi has been identified as a history of destruction.

There have been concerted efforts to eliminate informal businesses from the city but they have proved futile.

But what is the impact of informal food enterprises, and why should it matter?

Food security is the anchor of human and economic development. Food insecurity, therefore, jeopardises a country’s prospect of growth.

Informal food enterprises are a critical link to food access to the majority of the low wage earners.

Tese food enterprises also play a key role in sustaining the livelihood of individuals in the city.

Further, informal food enterprises help in enhancing rural urban linkages through food remittances which in turn form part of the source of the food sold in the streets. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic, informal food remittances have acted as a buffer for those in the city who have lost jobs.

Consequently, rural food remittances has been the hidden driver of informal food business in Nairobi.

Resilience of informal business in Nairobi and other urban centres generally depicts the essence of food enterprises.

The change of strategy to address the issue of informal food enterprises in Kenya is imperative.

Given that the population in urban centres will continue to increase while employment opportunities decrease, it is important that policy makers re-imagine new policies.

For instance, the health burden and cost that is occasioned by unhealthy food systems must be tamed.

With research showing that informal food businesses largely offer healthy food, the safety challenges could be addressed through comprehensive health and hygiene education.

A number of studies have associated development of infrastructure such as roads and electricity as contributing factors to growth of business enterprises.

As indicated by Samuel Owuor and others in The Urban food system of Nairobi report by Hungry cities partnerships, business hours of food entrepreneurs in various informal settlements is determined by availability of street lights and security.

It is, therefore, critical that policy makers put concerted effort to continuously improve roads, access to electricity and water to aid the entrepreneurial effort of city dwellers.

Entrepreneurs must also be willing to improve their capacity on matters of health and hygiene.

Enhancing public education is one of the ways to improve the capacity of entrepreneurs hence a need for budgetary allocation to set up platforms to facilitate training activities. — The writer is an international food policy analyst 

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