Informal Food Vendors: Urban Food Security’s Invisible Experts

**Cross-posted from the IIED blog**

By Paolo Cravero

One in three urban citizens in Asia and Africa live in informal settlements. It’s time to consider their priorities when shaping urban food security policies.

Njoki places a flat disc of dough on a blistering, oily hotplate. Within minutes, it transforms into a chapatti she can sell to one of her hungry neighbours in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi. It will be a long day.

“I wake up at 5am to prepare the food,” she says. “I have my first clients at 8am and I close at ten at night.”

Night-time means more customers. By then, workers on day-wages have been paid and can afford what might be their only meal of the day. But often Njoki cannot serve these customers.

“If I had light I’d work for more hours,” she says.

The lack of light is not her only concern. Across the global South, millions of low-income people – mostly women – earn a living like she does. These food vendors are vital to the food security and informal economies of their communities, where most customers lack the time, money and place to cook for themselves.

Despite this, policymakers often ignore or stigmatise people like Njoki instead of learning from these invisible experts.

Why the stigma?

Policymakers often view informal food vendors as obstacles to infrastructure development and traffic flow… as sources of unsafe food and pollution. As a result, authorities often relocate vendors, sometimes by force.

When shaping policies and legislation, policymakers focus on the formal sector. The failure of policymakers to recognise a continuum from fully legal to fully informal, means legal barriers prevent informal food vendors from meeting their potential.

Contributing to this is a lack of information. While traditional vending locations such as markets and business districts are well studied, the roles and dynamics of vendors acting inside informal settlements are not.

As a result, informal food vendors continue to be seen as problems, acting outside the law. Instead, governments should identify the priorities of informal food vendors and their customers in informal urban settlements.

A community-based approach

In Nairobi, the Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a federation of Kenyan slum-dwellers’ associations – assisted by the Muungano Support Trust, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and University College London’s Development Planning Unit – set out to fill this gap and redefine policy priorities.

The research involved vendors, their customers and the settlement’s livestock keepers in mapping activities and focus group discussions (read the associated blog and briefing paper). Community members identified challenges that go beyond a lack of access to food, such as problems with infrastructure, environmental hazards, lack of capital and contested public spaces.

Factors affecting vendors’ businesses and food safety, and therefore food security within the settlement, included:

  • Insufficient sanitation facilities
  • Overflowing sewage in the rainy season
  • Infestations of pests
  • Inadequate access to fresh water
  • Livestock food contamination, and
  • Rapid food spoilage.

Through community-led mapping – which allowed the community to coherently articulate their priorities – residents gained a sense of ownership of the area they inhabit and the challenges they face. This led to an informal settlements-based Food Vendors’ Association, founded in late 2013, becoming more active in the community.

The mapping exercise and its results also provided residents with abundant, relevant, verifiable data that local governments simply do not have. This provided a basis for the community to encourage authorities to consider urban inclusion and food security in their policy discussions. It allowed disenfranchised communities to begin building their political voice.

Logical but rare

Community-based approaches that involve people from informal settlements in conversations about urban food security are as logical as they are infrequent.

Yet a third of Africa’s and Asia’s urban populations live in low-income, informal settlements, and the urban population is expected to increase by 2.5 billion by 2050 (PDF). Informality is likely to continue expanding. It already provides up to three quarters of non-agricultural employment in low- and middle-income countries, according to International Labour Organization data (PDF).

To achieve sustainable urban food security, the knowledge and insights from local communities are fundamental. It is time for policymakers to consider these people’s priorities when shaping urban food security policies. The difficulty is that this may reveal systemic state failure to provide basic services or develop inclusive, equitable urban policies.

Launch of Public Toilets in Blantyre, Malawi: Building a Citywide Sanitation Strategy

Written by CCODE

On Friday 22nd May, 2015, the normally busy market in Ndirande was even busier than usual. This time, there was a reason to celebrate: local authorities, Councillors from different areas, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and community members came together to officially launch the five new public toilets that have been recently constructed in market places in different informal settlements across Blantyre.

The toilets have been built by the Malawi Alliance as part of the Sanitation and Hygiene Applied Research for Equity (SHARE) project, which aims to test an approach to pro-poor citywide sanitation strategies driven by communities and supported by public authorities. One of the challenges that communities identified during the community-driven research stage of the project was the problem of public sanitation in the informal settlements. It is against this background that CCODE and the Federation has facilitated the construction of five public paying toilets at market places in the settlements of Ndirande (2), Manase, Nancholi, and Likotima.

The public toilets have two main features that make them unique:

1) They have been constructed with the EcoSan technology – which means they require little water for their maintenance (something that is scarce, especially in high density areas like Ndirande) and the waste can be harvested as humanure – a safe, nutrient-rich compost manure that can be utilised as fertilizer to improve crops.

2) They will be paid toilets – ensuring their sustainability in the long term. People will pay a small fee for using the toilets, which will ensure their maintenance and cleanliness. A percentage of the profits obtained from the toilets will go towards the repayment of the facilities, and the majority will remain in the community for community-led projects. Local and City-Wide Sanitation committees have been created to oversee the management of the system, which include members of the City Council, Traditional Authorities, community leaders and Federation members.

The new toilets will benefit the communities in many way: not only they provide a safe sanitation option for crowded areas (and comfort for those who reside of visit the areas), but also will give a sense of pride and a small profit to be put into the most pressing needs of the community. Furthermore, the involvement and commitment of the City Council in a community-led process of improving the living conditions of slums sets an important precedent for the future.

Citywide Sanitation Projects in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe & Tanzania Report on Successes of First Year

*Cross-posted from SHARE Research website*

SHARE partners Shack/Slum Dwellers (SDI), together with their affiliates and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), have just published four policy briefs documenting the first year of the SHARE-funded City-Wide Sanitation Project.

The purpose of this research project is to develop inclusive, sustainable sanitation strategies. In practice this involves creating a scalable, bottom-up model for the development and realisation of pro-poor citywide sanitation, in which the residents of informal settlements engage with their local authority to identify new ways forward. The four cities where this model is being developed are Blantyre (Malawi)Dar es Salaam (Tanzania)Kitwe (Zambia), and Chinhoyi (Zimbabwe)

The first year was focused on data collection, including community mapping and profiling. Here are some of the findings: 

• The study in the City of Blantyre found that 9 in 10 residents of information settlements use unimproved latrines, and that the majority of residents have experienced a collapse in these latrines during the rainy season. Most cannot afford the sanitary draining of latrines, opting instead to dig new pits every two years. 

• In the City of Dar es Salaam, the study concluded that the sewerage system only reaches 10% of the urban population, while less than 10% of public funding for sanitation is directed towards onsite sanitation services, which the majority of the population relies on.

• In the City of Kitwe, the study found that over three quarters of households in informal settlements use traditional pit latrines, due in particular to the high cost of installing sanitation facilities. 

• In the City of Chinhoyi, 70% of people in the profiled settlements rely on improvised water sources such as shallow wells and other unhygienic sources, which greatly affects their sanitation options. 82% of dwellings do not have regular rubbish collection. 

In all three cities, the vital importance of the relationship between tenants and landlords was highlighted. Tenants make up the majority of households in informal settlements, and are therefore unlikely to invest in improved water and sanitation facilities. On the other hand, the incentives for landlords to make this important investment are not always eviden

The community-led approach to understanding the water and sanitation situation in these four cities has not only made residents and Federation leaders better informed, but it has also already greatly improved the relationship of these residents and Federation leaders with the City Councils. In Blantyre, for example, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the City Council, SDI partner CCODE and the Federation committing them to work together in the housing, water and sanitation sectors. The council has also set up the Informal Settlement Unit to work directly with the informal settlements in the city, demonstrating its commitment to scaling up action to address needs in these areas. In Kitwe, the City Council has agreed to establish a multi-stakeholder sub-committee on the upgrading on informal settlements, which will include SDI affiliate members along councillors and utility providers. In Chinhoyi, following an MoU in 2012, the communities of two of the profiled informal settlements – Mupata and Shackleton – have now begun to explore strategies for moving forward on the issues of sanitation in collaboration with the city authorities. 

The project is now in its second year, where, building on firm knowledge of the situation in each locality and the stronger collaboration that the first year has enabled, precedents will be developed to exemplify new and effective sanitation solutions. The third and final year will be dedicated to planning to expand provision to those in the city without adequate sanitation. It is anticipated that this final year will develop a city-wide strategy for inclusive sanitation and include agreements with local government that can help provide the foundations for such a strategy.

Read the full Policy Briefing for Blantyre, Malawi

Read the full Policy Briefing for Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Read the full Policy Briefing for Kitwe, Zambia

Read the full Policy Briefing for Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe

Why Enumeration Counts: Documenting by the Undocumented

Women are gathered around a paper with squares on it talking.

Women and men from Pupo community, southern Thailand arrange squares, representing house plots, on paper to visualise how they could group dwellings together. Credit: Chawanad Luansang.

**Cross-posted from IIED Blog** 

By Sheela Patel, SDI Secretariat / SPARC 

Around one in seven people around the world live in informal settlements in urban areas. These settlements – sometimes referred to as slums or shantytowns – lack not only good provisions for water, sanitation and basic services, they are also often deliberately left out of official surveys and maps. As a result, their inhabitants rarely have official identity documents, or other official papers confirming their address and therefore their right to live there.

For residents, having no official documents often means being denied connections to piped water supplies and sewers, and not having access to services such as household waste collections, local policing, and even schooling and/or health care. It often means no possibility of opening a bank account, obtaining insurance or getting on the voters’ register.

If someone has an address and has been counted in a city survey, with documents to prove it, this suggests they (and their neighbourhood) are considered part of the legal city. A legal address can also provide some protection against their house being bulldozed or, should it be destroyed, of getting some compensation.

Truly participatory documentation?

Clearly documentation is important, but what is collected and how it is collected is also crucial. While many development interventions and the surveys associated with them are often said to be participatory, many are not. Assessing participation in documentation should include an assessment of whether inhabitants:

  • are involved in setting the questions being asked to them
  • have ownership of the information generated from the survey and
  • can use the knowledge that the research, surveys and data collection produces for their own discussions of priorities and in their negotiations with local governments

Based on these three assessment criteria, many documentation processes calling themselves participatory would come up short.    

Community-led documentation

People living in informal settlements are well aware of the benefits of documentation and are now carrying out enumerations and mapping their own settlements as a result. This truly participatory work is described in case studies from Ghana, Kenya, India, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda and Zimbabwe in the new issue of the journal Environment and Urbanization.

In Zimbabwe, community-driven settlement mapping and enumeration in Magada, a large informal settlement in Epworth, just outside the country’s capital, Harare, has brought about plans for major changes. The process facilitated an agreement between the residents and their community organizations, and local and national government to work together to improve the conditions, for example, of the settlement’s road layout and water and sanitation systems. The process also provided the maps and data needed to implement this work.

It’s the first time that a local government has agreed to support ‘upgrading’ or improvement works, and it’s the first settlement plan in the country to include meaningful participation by residents in articulating their priorities and in influencing the design. The work to map and number each plot was undertaken by teams that included residents, supported by members of the Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation. For more details, see the paper by Beth Chitekwe-Biti, Patience Mudimu, George Masimba Nyama and Takudzwa Jera.

The National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda enumerated informal settlements in five cities where 200,000 people are living. This work developed the skills and capacity of Federation members carrying out the enumerations and mapping, which in turn supported the planning and implementation of upgrading work by federation, local and national government agencies. Read the full paper by Jack Makau, Skye Dobson and Edith Samia for further information.

In Ghana, community-driven enumerations were undertaken in Old Fadama, the largest informal settlement in Accra, whose residents have long been threatened with eviction. Three enumerations have been done to show politicians and civil servants the scale of economic activities carried out in the settlement, and its importance for the city’s economy as a whole. The enumerations changed the city government’s perspective on informal settlements and helped shape policy away from forced evictions towards participatory relocations or rehabilitating the settlement. The enumerations also increased the residents’ confidence to engage with city government. For more details, see the paper by Braimah R Farouk and Mensah Owusu.

In South Africa, the survey and enumeration held in Joe Slovo, an informal settlement of about 8,000 inhabitants in Cape Town, showed the likely negative impacts of a proposed resettlement on the residents. Many residents worked nearby and, if moved further out of the city, would have faced difficulties paying for transportation. The enumeration – which revealed that the population of Joe Slovo was much smaller than expected – helped open up the possibility of redeveloping the existing settlement. The data collected is now being used to facilitate this work, including improving the settlements’ sanitation systems. For more details, see the paper by Carrie Baptist and Joel Bolnick.

The Shack Dwellers Federation of Namibia has carried out enumerations and mapping in all the country’s informal settlements. The scale of the work sets a precedent – more than 500,000 people live in the settlements without secure land tenure. The residents were supported to carry out detailed enumerations and mapping to identify development priorities and to provide the information needed for development initiatives. For more details, see the paper by Anna Muller and Edith Mbanga.

A federation of women’s savings groups from the city of Cuttack, Orissa state, India has surveyed and mapped all 331 of the cities’ informal settlements. Meetings with residents were held to create a profile of each of the settlements, and Global Positioning System devices were used to map out settlement boundaries. This information has helped provided the local government with accurate digital maps of the settlements, and has influenced plans to upgrade the slums. For more details, see the paper by Avery Livengood and Keya Kunte.

Sharing learning

Similar tools and methods as those outlined above are being used in many other cities around the world by different federations of slum/shack dwellers. These federations, and the local NGOs that work with them, are members of Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI). These community-led documentation processes have become a core practice of the federations – along with supporting community-managed savings groups, and federation exchanges to see and learn from each other’s work. Many of the peer exchanges have involved community leaders experienced in community-led documentation visiting groups in other cities or nations to share their experiences on how this can be done. So, the groundwork is being laid for further community-led documentation of urban informal settlements in the future.