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 This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.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 This website has now been archived and will no longer be updated.

Governing Food Systems to Alleviate Poverty in Secondary Cities in Africa

Research Partners:

Show map

Principal investigators: Vanessa Watson. Lead Organisation: University of Cape Town

Co-investigators: Jane Battersby; Susan Marion Parnell; Warren Michael Smit; Jonathan Crush

Urban areas in sub-Saharan Africa are growing rapidly. While there has been considerable attention paid to the challenges of African mega-cities, the experiences of smaller urban areas have been relatively neglected. Secondary cities, with populations of less than half a million, are absorbing two-thirds of all urban population growth in Africa. This project focuses on three such cities to build a clearer picture of the dynamics of poverty in these kinds of urban spaces and to provide information and insights which can address poverty reduction. Poverty cannot be understood or addressed by focusing on poor individuals or households alone. Rather it needs to be understood as having many intersecting drivers operating at a range of scales, from the individual, to the neighbourhood, to the city and beyond. Nor can it be understood or addressed by focusing on governance, infrastructure or economic growth, alone. The challenge of this project is to understand the dynamic connections between poverty, governance and urban spaces. We argue that the study of food is a powerful lens to understand these connections. As Carolyn Steel writes, "In order to understand cities properly, we need to look at them through food". The project therefore asks the central question: What does the urban food system in three secondary cities in Africa reveal about the dynamics of urban poverty and its governance, and what are the lessons for generic poverty reduction? There are significant gaps in knowledge about African urban growth and urban poverty. This project therefore consolidates existing survey and census data to understand patterns and trends of urbanization and poverty in the three case study countries and cities. Because there are data gaps, we will also use remote sensing to generate new data on the spread of urban areas. This information provides the basis for general statements to be made about urban poverty, and for poverty reduction strategies generated in the project to be assessed against a broader representation of poverty. The project turns its focus to food as a way to understand the connections between poverty, governance and urban space. It will conduct a survey in each of three cities to assess how many households, and what kinds of households and individuals, are unable to get enough safe and nutritious food. Poor nutrition is an important indicator and driver of poverty. Most work on food poverty has focused on the household scale alone. This project argues that if food poverty, and poverty more generally, is to be addressed, it will be necessary to take a broader view and look at the food system. The food system in these cities is shifting rapidly as the supermarket sector increases and the flows of food become more global. This project assesses these changes by mapping the food retail environment, interviewing key people involved in the food system and analyses policy in order to test the impact of a changing food system on food poverty, and what appropriate governance responses might be. The project therefore scans the globe for useful precedents in addressing urban poverty through strategic planning of, and interventions in the urban food system. Throughout the project the focus will be on working with local governments, NGOs and civil society organisations to generate local solutions that are adaptable to multiple contexts. The outputs from this project are designed to have both practical and academic impacts. Policy impact will be generated by policy briefs and city reports that support the workshops to be held with municipal officials and policy makers. These will be translated into popular media resources to raise public awareness. Reports addressing urbanization, poverty and governance at a wider scale will be produced. These will be disseminated at major urban events and included in university curricula. Peer-reviewed academic publications will be produced in order to influence academic debates.

The African Centre for Cities has a deliberate strategy of making its academic research work useful for African urban development and for practitioners, activists and citizens on the continent. Key strategy elements include building and contributing to durable knowledge networks on the continent, writing of policy briefs, use of its dynamic website and online documentation, academic publishing and research-led teaching of African urban professionals at UCT. The programme of research will have impacts that are conceptual, instrumental and which build research capacity on the African continent. Conceptually, the research aims to reframe understandings of urban poverty and how it can be addressed in the particular context of Africa. The linking of poverty and the urban food system, in relation to instruments of governance, is a novel approach that can make an important contribution to poverty debates. Instrumentally, the research will directly address the question of policy and its implementation. The project will operationalize ACC networks to source 'good practice ideas' from elsewhere in Africa and the global South, and will assess the extent to which they might be appropriate in the case study cities. Various channels will then be used to maximise the dissemination of these findings. Finally, by leading the bid from an Africa-based research centre, capacity building on the continent will be promoted. The ACC has extensive links to centres and networks on the continent and is very well placed to tap into existing research capacity. The vehicles for achieving impact are: - Publications: peer-reviewed journal articles, journal special issues, edited book, policy briefs - Seminars and Workshops with local stakeholders (government, researchers, NGOs), project research teams, and with members of the African Urban Research Initiative; initial stakeholder seminars for each case context to trigger co-production - Web: use of the ACC website to disseminate findings - Media: press articles in South Africa and the three case countries - Educational: AAPS curriculum development 'toolkit' on urban food security; introduction of an urban food systems and poverty module in the ACC MPhil programme; provision of bursaries for postgraduate students Academic beneficiaries, standing to benefit from the research findings and new methodological and conceptual perspectives developed in this project, will be targeted through a publication strategy seeking to place papers in a range of disciplinary journals. The work will also be disseminated at major conferences. Students and academics from under-capacitated African universities will benefit through the production of teaching tools and publications that will develop capacity. These tools will be disseminated through the ACC's graduate teaching programme and through the AAPS curriculum development programme. The policy and decision making beneficiaries, including local officials from the case cities, will benefit from the production of policy briefs and city reports, and from the co-generation of interventive ideas and policy guidelines. The project will work with local officials to help them to understand the significance of the research findings, to expose them to good practice from elsewhere and to generate workable local governance responses. The project also intends to be of benefit to local governments outside of the case cities by publishing materials on good practice and disseminating these through ACC's networks and partner organizations. The final group of intended beneficiaries are poor urban groups. The solutions to food poverty do not lie at the governance scale alone, and there are points of intervention at the household and community scales. The project will produce information for the popular media to raise public awareness of food and nutrition insecurity, and will hold workshops with civil society organisations and NGOs.

Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
Project Status: 
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Lead Organisation Department: 
African Centre for Cities
Fund Start Date: 
November 1st, 2014
Fund End Date: 
December 31st, 2018
Fund Currency Code: 
Fund Value: