Symbiotic chicken supplies – food provisioning in Dar es Salaam

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

Diagrams made by Jerryt Krombeen, a freelance designer and advisor working with own company ( on: design, urbanism, landscape architecture, and public space. Jerryt is completing his Masters at the Amsterdam Academy of Architecture ( ) and joined a group of students in a project on planning for food markets in Dar es Salaam.

By Jerryt Krombeen  (

By Jerryt Krombeen

It is 5am, still dark, I am at the Shikilango people’s market in Dar es Salaam, a variety of vehicles are arriving and stopping in the street next to the market, the clucking of chickens fills the air. Motorbikes with two large woven baskets on the back, tied on top of each other, park. The baskets carrying up to 50 chickens each are arranged on the ground. Small Suzuki pick-up trucks and other vehicles with wood and wire frames on the back arrive with hundreds of chickens, the various buyers crowding around them as the morning business picks up and the sun begins to light the sky. Some customers are buying directly from the vans and motorbikes. Some of the butchers, identifiable in their white overalls and boots, are also buying direct from the vehicles to fill orders they already have. I watch the scene while sitting on a large rock on the edge of the road. The man sitting next to me on the rock is selling plastic bags of different sizes and cigarettes to customers and traders. Most of the people with the vans and motorbikes also have a stall in the market or cooperate with someone who does. The chickens not sold directly in the morning are transferred to the market and sold there through the rest of the day.

Under a high roof that covers a raised concrete platform there are thousands of chickens in lines of cages four levels high. The alley ways left between the cages are busy with people selling and buying chickens, negotiating or just talking. There is an alley at a lower level between the platform and six white tiled chicken slaughtering and cleaning areas that run along two sides of the platform.

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Embedded in a crisis, IRSA (3)

The majority of our purchases, be it food or something else, are done through market relations which are increasingly void of the personal, of long-term social relations and social investment. Whereas early theories on the social embeddedness of markets (Polanyi and Granovetter) are popular again amongst academics nowadays, I wonder if we can actually really imagine how deep embeddedness could or should go in the face of abstract and almost anonymous transactions through which we procure everyday. How often are we in situations where the relationship is as important as the product acquired, maybe even unrelated to the product acquired? Our current routines and realities shape how we interpret literature and imagine the possible.

Efficient food procuring – a chore that needs to be done – does make it quite impossible for me to imagine a buyer – seller relation that goes beyond regularity and chitchat. Why would I invest more than knowing my local butcher by name and where he gets his meat and a comment on the weather while buying meat, my local veggiebox, eggs and cheese (yes we have an unusual butcher in town) on my way home from work?

My Spanish colleagues told me that they are in the midst of finding out how to come by in an economy and democracy that is imploding. No money to buy in the supermarket? Get yourself a network! my colleague Ignacio exclaimed referring to those who would previously looked down on his ‘anarchist’ ideas. And land. The first land occupations are occurring in Andalusia he told me, mimicking land rights claims of the Movimiento Sem Terra from Brasil.

“Unpacking the spatial fixes of the previous regime” is how Terry Marsden called this in his keynote. The re-orientation of property rights and regimes has not received enough attention from research in the last 20 years. But cutting through the established property rights concepts and practices is needed urgently he added. This counts as well for concepts of market relations it seems to me.

Food citizenship and the market, IRSA (2)

It was very stimulating the hear the speech of Boaventura de Sousa Santos last Monday also because we use his theories in some courses. He pointed to the hegemonic epistemologies of the West which render other knowledges invisible and/or insignificant. However, the current economic/financial crisis in Europe creates turbulence in conceived concepts. Who knows the West can learn from other epistemologies such as from indigenous people in the South to overcome the theoretical exhaustion, he provoked. Also Patricia Allen challenged us to “illuminate our epistemological frameworks and interrogate our ideology constructions” (such as ideas on the free market).

But what if concepts have such hegemonic power that they disappear into the background as taken for granted stepping stones in conversations, writings and analysis? While many of us are aware of and very critical about particular neo-liberal frameworks of the free market, the concept of ‘market’ itself is something we seldom think we can do without. The logic of our everyday lived experience of capitalist market relations is silently inside our analysis, even if we are talking about civic food networks where citizens take initiatives to form new food networks. Continue reading