Photograph courtesy of Bekah Vigil.
Improving the regional food sector in low-income countries like Malawi is vital to urban and rural food security and livelihoods, states a new research report by Michigan State University and the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Researchers worked with small- and medium-scale food retailers at nine traditional urban food markets in Lilongwe, Malawi, to identify how policies and investments might support Malawi’s regional food economy. These markets are an important source of food for urban residents and income for men and women across the country, both now and in the future, the report states.
“There has been surprisingly little research that examines how interventions and investments might be carried out and coordinated to support integrated development of the regional food economy and this regional supply chain,” the authors write.
“Better understanding retailer-producer-consumer connections and the challenges associated with moving food to the city can help to develop targeted strategies for reducing costs and barriers, which, in turn, can help to raise incomes of both retailers and farmers and improve urban and rural food security.”
Traditional neighborhood markets are diverse and cater to multiple socioeconomic populations, including the very poor, the research finds. They are critically important to urban food security as many people in regional areas must shop daily, buy food in small quantities, and lack access to motorized forms of transportation.
Market retailers rely on rural producers from across the country, sometimes traveling long distances to source produce from an individualized or minor source, particularly during periods of seasonal scarcity.
“Retailers are able to stock only limited quantities of produce because they have small amounts of capital to draw on, must be able to carry their produce in and out of markets, and/or because they have limited appropriate storage capacity,” the authors write. “Consequently, they are spending considerable time, energy, and capital restocking.”
Strengthening Malawi’s regional food supply chains by addressing these factors through policy and investment strategies is necessary to build more equitable and resilient food systems, the report states.