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Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) World Health Organisation (WHO)

Informal food distribution sector in Africa (street foods): Importance and challenges

Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO)

FAO/WHO Regional Conference on Food Safety for Africa
Harare, Zimbabwe

3-6 October 2005

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Street-vended foods are defined as those foods prepared on the street and ready to eat, or prepared at home and consumed on the street without further preparation1. Due to faltering economic development as a result of various factors, street food vending has become increasingly important in the economies of many African countries. The street food vending business is thought to contribute significant income inflows for households involved in selling these foods. Furthermore, street foods are a source of inexpensive, nutritious meals2.

The types of street foods sold vary greatly between countries (Table 1). However, most meals consist of the staple food served in various forms and in combination with side dishes such as stews, gravies and spices3. In addition, snacks such as dried meat, fish and cereal based ready to eat foods are also prepared and served. Street food vending is therefore a source of a wide range of foods that may be nutritionally important for various groups of the population.

There is a general perception that street-vended foods are unsafe, mainly because of the environment under which they are prepared and consumed, which exposes the food to numerous potential contaminants. Street food vendors usually take their products to their customers and therefore operate from such places as bus terminals, industrial sites, market places and other street corners where there are ready and numerous clientele. Unfortunately, these locations usually do not meet all food safety requirements. For example, large amounts of garbage accumulate and provide harbourage for insects and animal pests4. The utensils used are also of a nature that may lead to contamination, especially through leaching of toxic heavy metals or simply due to unsanitary exposure to the environment. Some studies, however, have shown that food prepared on the street can also be safe, thereby providing alternative outlets for consumers5. The business of street food vending, therefore, needs to be addressed carefully and in an innovative way in order to derive maximum benefits from it.

Table 1: Examples of street-vended foods in some African countries
Country Type of food
Ghana6,7,8 Fufu, kenkey, banku, waakye, akamu, jollof rice, moi-moi, agidi, koko, koose, boiled rice, gari, yam and plantain, fried fish, light soup, groundnut soup, okra soup, palm nut soup, tomato stew, nkontmre
Zambia9 Nshima, chicken/beef stew, fried vegetables, smoked sausages, buka buka fish, offals, (i.e. bovine stomach), vegetables (ifisashi - vegetable mixed with pounded groundnuts and beans)
Zimbabwe10 Sadza, chicken, beef stew, boiled/fried vegetables, roasted beef/chicken/sausage, offals, boiled beans
South Africa11 Maize porridge (pap), chicken/beef stew, gravy, salads
Kenya12 Sausages, meat, fish, eggs (boiled), French fries, cereals, coffee, tea, porridge, root tubers (yams, cassavas, sweet potatoes, arrow roots), maize cobs, pumpkin pieces, bananas, potatoes, peeled carrots, onions, garlic, whole milk, yoghurt, ice cream, mangoes, water melons, pineapples, pawpaws, beef stew, African sausage
Malawi13 Nsima, rice, sweet beer (beverage), meat, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables, frozen foods
Benin, Togo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Cфte d’Ivoire14 Cereal or tuber based porridges (fermented or not), buttered bread, coffee/tea, bean purees, cowpea/cereal mixtures, maize/groundnut mixtures, pasta, salads, "monyo", potato chips, peanuts, cashew-nuts, etc.

This paper highlights the current status of the issue of street food vending in Africa, including the socio-economic impact, the safety concerns and the strategies that are needed in order to address this growing phenomenon.

  1. Martins and Anelich, 2000.
  2. Mosupye and von Holy, 1999.
  3. Tomlins et al., 2004.
  4. Bryan et al., 1997.
  5. Mosupye and von Holy, 1999.
  6. Tomlinset al, 2004
  7. Ehiri et al., 2001.
  8. Mensah et al., 2002
  9. Graffham et al., 2005
  10. Graffham et al., 2005
  11. Kubheka et al., 2001
  12. Mwangi, 2005
  13. Masuku, 2005
  14. Nago, 2005

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