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In a unique interdisciplinary research project, Nicky Pouw (Amsterdam Institute for Social Sciences Research, AISSR) and Boris Jansen (Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, IBED) will study possibilities to strengthen the role of women as food entrepreneurs in the city slums of Kenya and Burkina Faso.

Natural and social sciences join hands to conduct research at the interfaces between geographical, ecological and societal factors at play in improving the food supply in this region, where the - mostly female - food entrepreneurs in the city slums play an important part. This four-year project is funded by NWO-WOTRO (Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research), has a total budget of €785,000, and will include the creation of three PhD-positions. The project will be conducted in cooperation with other academic partners (KIT and TU Dresden, Germany) as well as entrepreneurs, local community-based women groups, and Dutch, German, Kenyan and Burkinabé partners in government and NGO’s.

Rapid urbanization

Rapid urbanization has increased distances between the traditional food providers and consumers, affecting the different stages of the food chain, which in turn affects the nutritional and social-cultural value of the food products. Many urban poor use any available space to grow and sell food, while access to markets is a problem for farmers on the outskirts of the city. The majority of food entrepreneurs are female slum and peri-urban dwellers with low income. Their traditional role in food production, processing, marketing and family nutrition make women important but neglected actors in urban food chains. Often, they have very limited space and assets for food production, processing and marketing. Even when they do have access to land, this access may be contested and the quality of land is marginal and polluted. In combination with poverty, gender constraints and lack of access to finance, this leads to low investments in food added-value, a high wastage of food, and contaminated soils affecting food quality and nutrition of foods consumed by vulnerable groups.

Bridging the knowledge gap

This research project responds to the need for high-quality food for vulnerable groups in sub-Saharan African’s rapidly growing cities. Through a comparative analysis between Kisumu and Ouagadougou city slums, it will address the constraints faced by women as food producers on (peri-) urban plots, as food processors and as food traders, within diversified physical, environmental, social and policy contexts. It will build on already existing food security and business initiatives by women groups in Kisumu and Ouagadougou slums.

Within the project, three PhD-candidates will attempt to bridge these knowledge gaps:

  1. There is a general lack of an integrated understanding on soil quality in city slums in Sub-Sahara Africa; how this affects food quality and nutrition of vulnerable groups, and how soil (and water) and food contamination can be mitigated by means of sustainable soil management and improvement of technologies an practices.
  2. There is little understanding of how to women’s food entrepreneurship along the entire urban food chain can be strengthened. In particular, there is a need for innovative insights on merging indigenous and new knowledge on food processing and conservation. In addition, hybrid techniques for diminishing food waste and increasing the added-value of local food commodities will be designed and field-tested.  
  3. There is little documented experience with adopting inclusive business models for food security. In Burkina Faso, some experience has been built with the ‘warrantage’ business model. This business model focuses on storage of agricultural products at a municipality level, whilst including smallholders in need. However, a gender-perspective is lacking in these frameworks and there is a need for unravelling the relationship with food and nutrition security. 


For more information contact Boris Jansen