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The Impact Initiative has closed. This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Motorcycles and food security in African 'secondary cities'

Kelly Shephard 

Jul 2019

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is undergoing rapid urbanisation. This poses a series of development challenges and risks undermining Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities.

Among these challenges, safeguarding or achieving urban food-security is a key issue. Contrary to what is commonly thought, SSA’s so-called ‘secondary cities’ (so not the capital city or other major metropolises) will see the largest increase in growth/urbanisation. These secondary cities tend to have the least developed infrastructure and typically lack the resources to develop in more conventional ways. However, there are also characteristics that may work in these cities’ favour – their proximity and close relations to more rual areas, for example could provide answers to questions of food security. Much of the staple food consumed by urban populations in these cities – and fresh fruits and vegetables, which are an important component of a balanced diet – are brought in daily, straight from rural smallholder farmers to the urban food sellers. In many places the transport mode of choice is the motorcycle taxi (better known as boda-boda in Eastern Africa or okada in Western Africa).    

A Dragons’ Den event leading to a novel collaborative initiative

In December 2018, at the ‘ESRC-DFID Power of Partnership: Research to Alleviate Poverty’ conference in Delhi, participants were invited to ‘partner’ with another grant holder and make a pitch for a joined impact-focused event to an audience of ‘dragons’, comprised of ESRC, DFID and IDS’ Impact Initiative representatives. Our ESRC-DFID funded study At the end of the feeder road: assessing the impact of track construction for motorbike taxis on agrarian development in Liberia’ teamed up with Governing food systems to alleviate poverty in secondary cities in Africa and proposed to organise a workshop bringing researchers on motorcycle taxis, mobility and track construction and researchers on urban food-security together with relevant civil society groups (motorcycle taxi unions; market traders’ association, etc.) and local policymakers in Kisumu, Kenya. The objective would be to explore local policy opportunities to further enhance and support the role of urban/rural motorcycle taxi transport in addressing urban food security challenges. The ‘Dragons’ liked the idea and subsequently provided funds to organise this workshop. Swansea University, following an internal Global Challenges Research Fund competition, awarded additional funds to allow us to do a transport-focused rapid rural assessment in Kenya. One of the workshop’s anticipated outcomes was to formulate a Joint Statement of Intent, formulating evidence-based policy and action recommendations.   

A Workshop on the shore of Lake Victoria

The workshop, hosted by the Kisumu Local interaction Platform (KLIP), took place on the 10/11 June 2019. From fifteen participants, four African countries were represented (Liberia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) and we were happy to welcome representatives from the Kisumu motorcycle taxi union; the Kibuye market board; the traders’ union; and Kisumu City Hall. Furthermore, there were experts from Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology and the Source Plus, a Kenyan NGO specialising in agriculture and technology. It soon became clear how ‘siloed’ we all were in our thinking about food security.

The ‘West Africa team’ had a good understanding of semi-subsistence farming and transport related challenges faced by smallholders in bringing their produce to the road-side or local market, but there was little understanding of what happened afterwards. The ‘East Africa team’ had a deep understanding of limitations and opportunities relating to urban food security from the point where agricultural produce and fish entered the main market, but was limited in its understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by local producers, including those challenges that were transport related. We thus quickly agreed that to achieve urban food security – against the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation – an understanding of the whole value-chain is required, so that any policy interventions will not have a negative effect further up or down the chain.

It also became clear that with a better understanding and more communication between the various stakeholders – from traders to farmers and from city council to motorcycle taxi unions – there are considerable gains to be made. The rationale behind organising this workshop at a local/secondary city rather than at a national level was that any findings could be more easily translated into (local) policy, and it was clearly observed that there was indeed significant scope to do so. The limited reach of working at such a local level was offset by the willingness and potential to introduce evidence-based policy changes.

So where next? This activity has provided new connections and kick-started new ways of thinking. We are currently formulating a Statement of Intent with all the stakeholders involved, which will act as a discussion document, if not a template, for other African secondary cities in addressing the challenges of urban food security and the role of (motorcycle taxi) transport in connecting farmers with markets in this context.

To be continued…

This blog was written by Dr Krijn Peters, Swansea University.

The Impact Initiative blog posts are either from individual researchers or from major research programmes. Some of the blog posts are original source and are written by researchers and experts connected to the two research programmes jointly funded by ESRC and FCDO: the Joint Fund for Poverty Alleviation Research and the Raising Learning Outcomes in Education Systems Research Programme. Other blog posts are imported from related websites and programmes. 

The views expressed in these blogs reflect the opinions of each individual and may not represent the Institute of Development Studies, the University of Cambridge, ESRC or FCDO.


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