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Here’s What It Takes to Make Africa’s Informal Food Markets Safer

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Despite their weak negotiating position, Africa’s informal businesses – which are primarily woman-owned – contribute an estimated 50% of GDP on the continent. In addition, they create six in 10 jobs in their respective economies. However they are still viewed as a collection of tax-evading free-loaders. Although they face food safety challenges because they lack refrigeration units, and stalls are, in general, primitive structures, informal food markets are not necessarily always unsafe. In an effort to stop the spread of Covid-19, African governments have been implementing social distancing measures, especially in local markets, where many buy their daily fruit and vegetables. Market traders, experts, and informal trading associations say it is causing problems for the urban poor and limiting their access to food.

However, solutions to the challenges that informal food markets face are not always straightforward. Models which enforce bans and increased regulation often don’t fit. They marginalise a large sector of society, and push informality to its extremes, potentially amplifying the food safety problem. Fortunately, years of research on informal food markets have shown alternative approaches to reduce risks in informal markets.

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