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The political economy of urban food security in Sub-Saharan Africa


  • Maxwell, Daniel G.


Sub-Saharan African cities in the late 1990s face a daunting set of problems including rapid growth, increasing poverty, deteriorating infrastructure, and inadequate capacity for service provision. However, even as a renewed debate is shaping up around issues of urban development, there is little attention given to the question of urban food security and nutrition. Whereas in the 1970s and 1980s, urban food problems in Africa commanded political attention, the nature of urban food insecurity in the 1990s is such that it has tended to lose political importance. This is largely because in the 1970s, the problem was one of outright food shortages and rapid price changes that affected large portions of the urban population simultaneously. The impact of structural adjustment, continued rapid growth, and an increase in urban poverty make food insecurity in the 1990s primarily a problem of access by the urban poor. Under circumstances where the urban poor spend a very large portion of their total income on food, urban poverty rapidly translates into food insecurity. The lack of formal safety nets, and the shifting of responsibility for coping with food insecurity away from the state towards the individual and household level has tended to atomize and muffle any political response to this new urban food insecurity. This paper briefly reviews urban food insecurity and generates a set of empirical questions for an analysis of food and livelihood security in contemporary urban Sub-Saharan Africa, and then examines historical and contemporary evidence from Kampala, Uganda, and Accra, Ghana, to suggest some tentative conclusions.

Suggested Citation

  • Maxwell, Daniel G., 1998. "The political economy of urban food security in Sub-Saharan Africa," FCND discussion papers 41, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  • Handle: RePEc:fpr:fcnddp:41

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    1. repec:ilo:ilowps:241938 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Maxwell, Daniel G., 1995. "Alternative food security strategy: A household analysis of urban agriculture in Kampala," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 23(10), pages 1669-1681, October.
    3. Sarris, Alexander H, 1993. "Household Welfare during Crisis and Adjustment in Ghana," Journal of African Economies, Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), vol. 2(2), pages 195-237, October.
    4. Ruel, Marie T. & Garrett, James L. & Morris, Saul Sutkover & Maxwell, Daniel G. & Oshaug, Arne & Engle, Patrice L. & Menon, Purnima & Slack, Alison T. & Haddad, Lawrence James, 1998. "Urban challenges to food and nutrition security," FCND discussion papers 51, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    5. Philip Amis & Carole Rakodi, 1994. "Urban poverty: Issues for research and policy," Journal of International Development, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 6(5), pages 627-634, September.
    6. Alderman, Harold & Shively, Gerald, 1996. "Economic reform and food prices: Evidence from markets in Ghana," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 24(3), pages 521-534, March.
    7. Sahn, David E. & Dorosh, Paul & Younger, Stephen, 1996. "Exchange rate, fiscal and agricultural policies in Africa: Does adjustment hurt the poor?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 24(4), pages 719-747, April.
    8. Bigsten, Arne & Kayizzi-Mugerwa, Steve, 1992. "Adaptation and distress in the urban economy: A study of Kampala households," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(10), pages 1423-1441, October.
    9. Jamal V., 1985. "Structural adjustment and food security in Uganda," ILO Working Papers 992419383402676, International Labour Organization.
    10. Demery, Lionel & Squire, Lyn, 1996. "Macroeconomic Adjustment and Poverty in Africa: An Emerging Picture," World Bank Research Observer, World Bank Group, vol. 11(1), pages 39-59, February.
    11. Chew, David C. E., 1990. "Internal adjustments to falling civil service salaries: Insights from Uganda," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 18(7), pages 1003-1014, July.
    12. Naylor, Rosamond L. & Falcon, Walter P., 1995. "Is the locus of poverty changing?," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(6), pages 501-518, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Haddad, Lawrence James & Ruel, Marie T. & Garrett, James L., 1999. "Are urban poverty and undernutrition growing?," FCND discussion papers 63, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    2. Girma Gezimu Gebre, 2012. "Determinants of Food Insecurity among Households in Addis Ababa City, Ethiopia," Interdisciplinary Description of Complex Systems - scientific journal, Croatian Interdisciplinary Society Provider Homepage:, vol. 10(2), pages 159-173.
    3. repec:zna:indecs:v:10:y:2012:i:1:p:159-173 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Gutner, Tammi, 1999. "The political economy of Food subsidy reform in Egypt," FCND briefs 1, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).


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