We don’t need big corporations to feed the world – small farmers supply Dar es Salaam with food

By Marc Wegerif. PhD Candidate, Rural Sociology Group Wageningen University, carrying out research on food provisioning in Dar es Salaam.

I am happy to share a recently published paper: “Exploring Sustainable Urban Food Provisioning: The Case of Eggs in Dar es Salaam”  Sustainability 2014, 6(6), 3747-3779; doi:10.3390/su6063747.

The paper examines food provisioning in Dar es Salaam through a focus on the egg trade and finds that there are existing, non-corporate, patterns of food provisioning that can sustainably meet the needs of eaters in this city of over 4million people. Below I explain why this is important.

Colourful market Dar es Salaam It is amazing how often I find programmes and policies that claim to be about ending hunger, but that end up reduced, in their implementation, to increasing agricultural productivity. Aside from farmers, little or no attention is given to the needs of eaters, especially urban eaters. Just as worrying is how often these agricultural programmes have these days become ‘value chain’ development programmes. Then I look at these ‘value chain’ interventions and find most are about linking farmers with large corporate distributors and retailers. This all tied in with the currently fashionable assumption that the ‘private sector’ (actually meaning large trans-national corporations) and their investment is the path to ending poverty. Corporate investment, enticed by promises of large profits that can be repatriated to anywhere in the world where the taxes are lower, has become the panacea for the end of hunger. Strange, I thought we called this trickle down (or even exploitation and imperialism) a few decades ago and had a critique that showed it did not work, certainly not for the majority. These days, even before Thomas Pikkety and his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, we all knew these corporations were centralizing more and more economic power and driving an accelerating inequality.

Despite knowing that there are serious problems with the industrial food system many policy makers are still turning to it, in ways mentioned above, as the solution to feeding the fast growing population of the increasingly stressed planet. It seems too many people see no alternative, especially when it comes to feeding large cities, especially the fast growing urban centres of the developing world where all the new population growth is going.

From recently spending some weeks in Europe, including four weeks at Wageningen University studying, I can see how dominant the small number of supermarket chains are in Europe and how with streets devoid of any shops you have to drive (or in the Netherlands cycle) to get to a supermarket if you need food. I missed having a shop in my street and being greeted by shopkeepers who know me where I live in Dar es Salaam, missed the man who delivers fresh vegetables by bicycle from urban agriculture plots and being able to call someone to bring fish caught that morning by artisanal fishermen. Living in Europe can feed the sense of the inevitability of supermarket domination.

Despite appearances from some western corners of the world and some of the assumptions development practitioners make and corporations push, the majority of people in the world are not getting the food they depend on from corporate farms or corporate retail chains. Many large cities like Dar es Salaam are fed by small farmers supplying the cities through a complex network of transporters, processors and markets.

My paper shows how these patterns of food provisioning better meet the needs of the majority of eaters, have the potential to grow to meet increasing demand and have many positive environmental and social benefits. There is more research to be done, but I believe this paper is important in showing that we do not need the corporations to feed the world, not even to feed our large and growing cities.

This entry was posted in Food and tagged , , , by Dirk Roep. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dirk Roep

I'm Assistant professor at the Rural Sociology Group of Wageningen University. Besides teaching and supervising thesis students, I'm involved in research on regenerative agriculture, food provisioning and place-based development with a particular focus on the transformative practices, joint learning and innovation and institutional reform.