Informal Food Deserts and Household Food Insecurity in Windhoek, Namibia
This article (PDF), published in the journal Sustainability, focuses on the relationship between informality and food deserts in African cities. Informal settlements in rapidly-growing African cities are urban and peri-urban spaces with high rates of formal unemployment, poverty, poor health outcomes, limited service provision, and chronic food insecurity. Traditional concepts of food deserts developed to describe North American and European cities do not accurately capture the realities of food inaccessibility in Africa’s urban informal food deserts. This paper focuses on a case study of informal settlements in the Namibian capital, Windhoek. Using various standard measures, the paper reveals that the informal settlements are spaces of extremely high food insecurity. They are not, however, food deprived. The proximity of supermarkets and open markets, and a vibrant informal food sector, all make food available. However, as is shown in the paper, supermarket patronage by households in the city’s food deserts is targeted at monthly bulk purchase of key staples. Other healthier foods are available but are unaffordable for the majority. In addition to the supermarkets, there are numerous formal and informal food outlets both within and near the informal settlements. However, urban agriculture is unviable, leaving households reliant on occasional transfers of food from the rural north to diversify their diet. The high levels of food insecurity in Windhoek’s informal settlement food deserts documented here are therefore not a function of the lack or physical inaccessibility of food. Rather, they are due to economic inaccessibility and the inability of most households to secure sufficient income to meet their basic needs, and to purchase food in sufficient quantity and of sufficient diversity to ensure a balanced and nutritious diet for all household members.