Urban food security and consumption

2014 - ongoing

Low and irregular incomes are the root cause of urban food insecurity, but inadequate housing and basic infrastructure and limited access to services contribute to levels of malnutrition and food insecurity that are often as high if not higher than in rural areas.

Street vendors in Karachi (Photo: Fareena Chandra/IIED)

Street vendors in Karachi (Photo: Fareena Chandra/IIED)

A broad approach to food systems is needed encompassing all aspects of food production, storage, distribution and consumption, all of which will be affected by climate change and especially by the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Improving access to affordable food by the urban poor will require boosting their capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, and their access to secure incomes and to both formal and informal food markets. Living conditions, and the interconnections between rural and urban food security will also play their part.

What IIED is doing

Local priorities

Accra's Old Fadama and Nairobi's Mathare are both densely populated low-income settlements with severely inadequate infrastructure and housing. In both settlements, members of the federations of the urban poor, led by women's savings groups, began devising initiatives to alleviate food insecurity. They talked with their fellow residents, mapped the locations of street vendors and their exposure to things like open-air sewers, stagnant water and garbage dumps as well as how well they handled food.

Through meetings and exchange visits and working with local government, both federations were able to agree and act on the priorities: improving shelter options, building closer relationships with street food vendors to improve food, accessibility and safety.

Balloon mapping

A balloon, a camera and some interviews are helping researchers map a hidden aspect of food insecurity in an informal settlement in Nairobi. Read more about how IIED is working with Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a federation of Kenyan slum-dwellers' associations on this cheap and clever balloon mapping project: balloon mapping.

IIED is a partner with the University of Liverpool and others working on the Urban Zoo project in Nairobi looking at disease emergence in urban areas with a focus on looking at food systems within this.


Nourishing livelihoods: recognising and supporting food vendors in Nairobi's informal settlements, Grace Githiri, Regina Ngugi, Patrick Njoroge and Alice Sverdlik (2016), IIED Working paper

Dining with less danger: mapping food and environmental hazards in Mathare, Nairobi, Sohel Ahmed, Edwin Simiyu, Grace Githiri, Adrienne Acioly, Shadrack Mbaka, Irene Karanja and Leonard Kigen (2014), IIED Briefing paper

Urban poverty, food security and climate change, Cecilia Tacoli (2013), IIED Briefing paper

Urban poverty, food security and climate change, Cecilia Tacoli (2013), IIED Working paper

The role of local government in food security, Cecilia Tacoli, Hoang Xuan Thanh, Mensah Owusu, Leonard Kigen and Jon Padgham (2013), IIED Briefing paper

UNFPA Technical Briefing: Urbanization and food prices, Gordon McGranahan (2011), UNFPA and IIED Working paper

The food price crisis and urban food (in)security, Marc Cohen and James L. Garrett (2009), UNFPA and IIED Working paper

Is urbanization contributing to higher food prices?, Jesper Stage, Jorn Stage and Gordon McGranahan (2009), UNFPA and IIED Working paper

Additional resources

Reframing the debate on urbanisation, rural transformation and food security, Cecilia Tacoli and Bill Vorley (2015), IIED Briefing paper

Some realities of the urban poor and their food security situations: a case study of Berta Gibi and Gemechu Safar in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Degefa Tolossa (2010), Environment and Urbanization 22:179-198

Street food and income generation for poor households in Kinshasa, Guillaume Iyenda (2001), Environment and Urbanization 13:233-241

Is urbanization contributing to higher food prices?, Jesper Stage, Jørn Stage, and Gordon McGranahan (2010), Environment and Urbanization, vol. 22, 1: pp. 199-215.



Medical Research Council

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC)


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