Urban governance and urban food systems in Africa: Examining the linkages

Urban governance can impact on urban food systems in four main ways: the provision of infrastructure –water, electricity, roads; the provision of support -advice, credit, tax incentives; the regulatory environment –land use planning, retail sites, health legislations; and finally, education and awareness raising about nutrition and diet.

Despite the increasing body of work on how to improve urban food systems, there has been little work on how these urban food systems are governed. In other words, how do formal and informal regulatory systems operate together and how they do impact on food production, food distribution, and food safety?

In a recent article published by Cities, Warren Smit aims at understanding these complex governance processes. He identifies key governance actors and studies how their competing agendas can potentially impact on food security in African cities. Smit notes that there is a lack of knowledge available on the governance of urban food systems in Africa.

Looking more closely at the governance of food retail for example, Smit highlights the importance of market associations and the extent to which they control the selling space. Market associations thus have the potential to impact on the accessibility of food, its affordability but also its quality.

Yet, market associations cannot be understood without relation to local governments, hence the importance of an approach focusing on the governance of urban food systems. In Kumasi, for example, the market association managed to oppose plans of the local government to raise market fees by 300% (King, 2006).

Further, there has been little research on the role of local governments and how those can facilitate or on the other hand constrain vending activities. In this regard, street vendors are rarely considered in local government plans, which could for instance involve designing streets with suitable spaces for them. Instead, they often face threats of evictions.

Besides the little knowledge on local governments’ role, Smit also argues that there has been little research on the impact of urban transports on food system, as well as on the impact of supermarkets and their supply chains on food security, especially for low-income households.

Smit calls for more research on the role of secondary cities, since most of the literature on “urban governance and urban food security largely focuses on the large primate cities, such as Accra, Lusaka and Maputo.” In his conclusion, he notes that: “We need to better understand existing urban governance processes and the competing interests of urban governance actors in order to be able to collaboratively design interventions to improve urban food security in Africa.”

Article available from Cities 58 (2016) 80–86.

Photo credit: IITA (flickr).


Publication Type Journal Article
Publisher Cities, The International Journal of Urban Policy and Planning
Year 2016
Author(s) Waren Smit
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