Building fairer food futures

Powerful images from Uganda and Indonesia highlight the importance of informal food vendors in the food systems of the rural and urban poor.

Katharine Mansell's picture
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16 October 2015

Katharine Mansell is IIED's media and external affairs manager

This car park area below the alun-alun of the Masjid Raya Mosque in Bandung is a 'green zone', where street vending is permitted by the Bandung authorities. But business is slow and the environment is poor (Photo: Kemal Jufri/Panos Pictures)

How and where people get their food is changing, driven by shifts in urbanisation, trade, and consumption. 

This change is especially marked in the food systems of the rural and urban poor. Families are unable to access nutritious food after long and demanding shifts and increasingly rely on informal food vendors to secure their daily meals. 

In planning for urban growth, policymakers can overlook the food system of poorer citizens, and are often hostile towards informal food vendors, who are seen as a threat to health, law and order, and flow of traffic. 

However this can change once you engage citizens themselves in planning.

Hivos, IIED and local partners are working with citizens in 'Food Labs' that allow community members and policymakers to discuss and innovate in the design of more inclusive and nutritious food systems.  

The organisations began work this year in two locations where street vending and urban growth struggle to coexist, but where urban authorities are open to new designs. 

A first set of powerful images from these locations will play a vital role in a seminar next week in the Netherlands. Entitled 'Future food seminar: from challenge to design', it will bring together a range of perspectives and thought-provoking ideas for the re-invention of global strategies for the design of our future food system.

The seminar has been organised in the context of Age of Wonderland, a social innovation program developed jointly by Hivos, Baltan Laboratories and Dutch Design Week.

Two different locations with a common story

Fort Portal in western Uganda is a small town with big potential. It is a rapidly urbanising, important commercial hub in an otherwise rural area of small-scale farms. How change is managed affects everyone.

Chris Byamukama, 27, is a food vendor and chairman of the Fort Portal Food Vendors Association. Take a look at a typical day for Chris... (Click on the photos to enlarge them)

Chris Byamukama, 27, is a food vendor. Chris and his wife Rose Biira, 24, have four children. Chris is the chairman of the Fort Portal Food Vendors Association (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures)After buying flour and cooking oil in the local shop next to his house, Chris prepares chapattis and sells them to people along the road (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures)

Chris employs two people at his chapatti stall on the main road of Fort Portal. With the profit he can sustain his family and rent his home (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures)Chris’ working day starts around 4pm and lasts until 10pm (Photo: Sven Torfinn/Panos Pictures)
With 2.5 million inhabitants, Bandung in West Java is a major city. Informal street vendors are vital, providing both food and employment.

One such street vendor is Ato who, with his wife Wanti, prepares traditional West Javanese snacks to sell at the Tegalega market. Here's their story... (Click on the photos to enlarge them)

Ato, 51, is a street food vendor. He shops for raw materials at a traditional market in Bandung (Photo: Kemal Jufri/Panos Pictures)Preparing traditional West Javanese snacks to sell at the Tegalega market in Bandung is a shared burden for Ato and his wife Wanti, 40. Local legislation means this couple can only sell their products from 5am to 11am (Photo: Kemal Jufri/Panos Pictures)

Food vending provides a livelihood for Ato, wife Wanti and their four-year-old son (Photo: Kemal Jufri/Panos Pictures)Ato prepares his vending pushcart outside their modest rented home in Bandung. He will leave early to pick a spot in the morning market. Wanti will follow him later to manage the sales (Photo: Kemal Jufri/Panos Pictures)
The Hivos and IIED 'Food Labs' initiative will grow to include more locations over the coming months, across Africa and Asia. 

We hope this will be the beginning of change, the chance for people to build their own fairer food future.

Katharine Mansell ( is IIED's media and external affairs manager.

Click on the images below and scroll through the photo gallery to find out more about the street vendor stories in Fort Portal and Bandung.

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