In Leisure

The Street Food Economy of Africa

African economies need to embrace street food as is done in Asian economies, that have turned it into an international tourism attraction. In Malaysia, for example, annual street food sales amount to US$2.2 billion. Africa needs to embrace its own Street Food Economy. 


A FAO report titled “Lessons from Asia” details the opportunity. 


Urban population growth has stimulated a rise in the number of street food vendors in many cities throughout the world, the FAO report detailed. Migration from rural areas to urban centres has created a daily need among many working people to eat outside the home. Demand for relatively inexpensive, ready-to-eat food has increased as people, especially women, have less time to prepare meals.


In some parts of Europe and North America Street foods, which originated in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, have become an integral part of the local food scene. At the same time, one cannot ignore the tremendous expansion of the major fast-food companies. While consumers in industrialized countries are increasingly fascinated by "traditional" or "ethnic" foods, many in developing countries seem to be succumbing to the "hamburger assault".


Defining street foods and fast foods

The term "street foods" describes a wide range of ready-to-eat foods and beverages sold and sometimes prepared in public places, notably streets. Like fast foods, the final preparation of street foods occurs when the customer orders the meal which can be consumed where it is purchased or taken away. Street foods and fast foods are low in cost compared with restaurant meals and offer an attractive alternative to home-cooked food. Despite these similarities, street food and fast-food enterprises differ in variety, environment, marketing techniques and ownership.


Street foods often reflect traditional local cultures and exist in an endless variety. There is much diversity in the raw materials as well as in the preparation of street food beverages, snacks, and meals. Vendors' stalls are usually located outdoors or under a roof which is easily accessible from the street. They have low-cost seating facilities which are sometimes rudimentary. Their marketing success depends exclusively on location and word-of-mouth promotion. 


Street food businesses are usually owned and operated by individuals or families but benefits from their trade extend throughout the local economy. For instance, vendors buy their fresh food locally, thus linking their enterprises directly with small-scale farms and market gardens.


By contrast, fast food outlets specialize in fewer foods which are usually prepared by frying. Hamburgers, chicken, chips, and pizza often predominate. These enterprises, which are usually indoors, invest heavily in seating, air conditioning and bright decor. Marketing strategies are almost exclusively dependent on advertising, sponsorship and special offers which aim to create brand loyalty. Owners usually have a franchise arrangement with a transnational company which also controls the provision of raw materials, the menu, and the mode of preparation. Profits from sales generated by foreign-controlled fast food chains often leave the country.


Street Foods' Role in the Economy

Street food micro-industries are vital for the economic planning and development of many towns. The contribution of street food vendors to the economies of developing countries has been vastly underestimated and neglected. However, statistics for some places do exist. In the Indonesian city of Bogor annual sales of street foods amount to US$67 million. If one computes the average daily sales of the 100 000 (by conservative estimate) stalls in Malaysia, annual street food sales amount to US$2.2 billion. This is a relatively significant figure considering that most of the earnings are generated locally and thereby promote economic self-sufficiency.


The significance of the street food industry has often been ignored because it is considered part of the informal sector. Previously, the informal sector was thought to symbolize a lack of economic development that would and should disappear with modernization. Until more permanent jobs could be provided by the modern sector, the former was expected to absorb unskilled workers who migrated to the city from rural areas.


However, this phenomenon has lasted longer and may be less transitional in nature than previously anticipated. The informal sector appears to be growing more rapidly than the formal sector in the urban areas of many countries. Because of the rapid rise in urban populations and increasing awareness of the limited employment generated by large-scale industries, planners are beginning to acknowledge the importance of the informal sector.


Street Foods Create Employment

Each street food enterprise is generally small, requires relatively simple skills, basic facilities, and small amounts of capital, yet they are very numerous and have considerable potential for generating income and employment. Bogor, with a population of 250 000, has 18000 street food enterprises, nearly one for every 14 people. Roughly 26 percent of workers active in the informal sector in Bogor are directly employed as street food vendors. Similarly, the International Labour Organisation has found that street vendors comprise 29 percent of the active urban labour force in Central America.


Some of those who, because of economic and social changes or individual characteristics, have difficulty obtaining jobs in the formal sector find work in the street food industry. The street food operation often involves entire families in the procurement of raw materials, preparation and cooking as well as the sale of food. Worldwide, women play a very large role in the street food industry. Surveys have found women to be involved in 90 percent of enterprises in the Philippines, 53 percent in Senegal and 40 percent in Indonesia.


Street food sellers are attracted to this occupation because of the possibility of earning relatively high incomes. In Southeast Asia, the average earnings of a vendor may be three to ten times more than the minimum wage and they are often comparable to the wages of skilled labourers employed in the formal sector. In Malaysia, net incomes varying, from US$4 to $36 (with an average of $16 per day) are derived from daily sales ranging in value from $10 to $120.


The relatively low capital expenditures of street food businesses are also attractive for certain types of sellers. Furthermore, vendors can choose their work hours, they have few constraints on their movements and are self-employed. Despite the benefits of street food trade, vendors may have to work long hours under adverse conditions and the risks are borne exclusively by the seller. Vendors can face problems with local officials and may also have to deal with criminals who try to extort "protection money" from them. In. addition, their profession is often considered to be of low status.


Street Foods and Consumers

Customers from various economic strata benefit from nutritious, low-cost meals. In Africa and Asia, urban households spend 15 to 50 percent of their food budgets on street foods. Many people in Asia prefer to make frequent small purchases at convenient locations. Those with little or no income depend almost exclusively on food supplied by street food vendors. Street foods are a bargain for customers when the demands of time and costs of food, fuel, cooking equipment and transportation are considered.


The consumer's limited purchasing power and competition by fellow hawkers lead to relatively low mark-ups (averaging 40 percent) on street foods. Vendors can often provide items at lower prices than other retailers since they have lower rent and capital equipment expenses. Because ingredients are bought in large quantities and at the cheapest markets, the cost of a single serving is quite competitive with home cooking and often less expensive because vendors cater for numerous consumers. Street foods can be an excellent value for consumers if they have easy access to stalls; there is fair competition; overheads are kept low; sanitary conditions are acceptable; and the nutritional value of meals is high.


Availability and accessibility rather than individual income or stage of national development seem to determine street food consumption patterns. The purchase of street foods is not confined to poor households nor are their higher levels of consumption in low-income countries. For the low-income worker, street foods and snacks are essential. In many countries, workers as well as students have their first meal of the day from street food vendors. Although in-depth nutritional studies related to street foods have not yet been completed, it is believed that many low-income families would be worse off if there were no street food vendors to serve fast, inexpensive foods.


Consumers who are attracted by convenience and low prices may overlook aspects of hygiene or sanitation. In some cases, these customers lack an understanding of proper food-handling practices and the potential for foodborne diseases. A joint Netherlands/Indonesia research project on street foods (1988-1992) reports that chemical analyses have shown in street foods to have positive and negative aspects. It was reported that the average energy content of street foods ranges from five to 679 calories per 100 grams. 


It is estimated that the recommended daily energy intake can be met by consuming street foods which cost approximately US$1. Several foods such as boiled and fried peanuts, fried tempeh and fried tofu are good sources of protein and fat as are foods of animal origin such as chicken barbecue, mutton barbecue, fried fish and other local meat and fish dishes. If such foods are complemented by others, one can testify as to the good nutritional value and quality of street foods.


A total dietary study among 37 male and ten female students, ranging in age from 18 to 24 years, was conducted in Bogor. The economic levels of the participants' households varied but all students had diets consisting largely of street food. Using diary recordings, total daily food consumption data were collected for a 14-day period. Sixty-three percent of the students' monthly expenditures were allocated to street foods. The study found that street foods constituted the largest part of total energy intake (78 percent), accounting for 82 and 79 percent, respectively, of total protein and iron intake. These data may indicate that street foods play a major role in the overall diet for students in Indonesia.


The report also discussed the use of additives such as the unauthorized colouring agent’s rhodamine B and methanal yellow which are still widely used by street food producers in Indonesia. Similarly, prohibited synthetic sweeteners are frequently used to adulterate drinks sold on the street. Contamination of street foods is another problem: there were reports of lead contamination (1,0 - 9,63 ppm), for instance, while 17 percent of street foods containing peanuts were found to be contaminated with aflatoxins at levels above 30 ppb, the safety margin set by FAO/WHO guidelines. Pesticide residues above authorized levels were also detected in street foods, particularly in vegetable-based products. It should be noted that this is not a problem for street foods exclusively; home-cooked meals are likely to contain the same concentrations of pesticide residues.


The health risk of food is not only determined by the concentration of various additives and contaminants in a food product, but also by the cumulative daily intake of a certain contaminant or additive throughout a consumer's diet. Although some street foods have been found to be contaminated and serious illnesses have been related to them, in general very few cases of food poisoning have been found. A survey involving 135 street foods in Iloilo, the Philippines found that only one item caused diarrhoea among the study participants. It may be that illnesses occur but are not reported to medical authorities. It has also been suggested that individuals develop immunities to foodborne diseases, although detailed studies are needed to confirm immunity development.


It was also reported that drinks sold by stationary vendors are generally better than those sold by ambulatory vendors. Similarly, the microbiological quality of drinks sold in wealthier socio-economic areas is higher than those sold in crowded slums. Microbiological quality is directly related to the quality of the water available to vendors to prepare drinks. Access to a safe water supply goes a long way toward promoting food safety while the location in which street foods are prepared and sold significantly affects their safety.


Snacks which are fried or baked during preparation are safe foods since they are usually consumed without delay. Exceptions are snacks with a high-water content such as asinan and rujaks Both Indonesian foods present high risks because of contamination by pathogenic bacteria. Foods served hot, such as noodles, meat balls, soto6 and so on are safe foods, while cold meals such as rice and vegetable dishes mixed are classed as "high risk" foods from a microbiological perspective. Most meals which contain peanut sauce or coconut milk are considered to pose especially high risks.


Source: FAO

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