How the Urban Poor Define and Measure Food Insecurity and Nutrition

Lead Research Organisation: International Institute for Env and Dev
Department Name: Human Settlements Group

Abstract

Urbanisation in low-income nations presents both opportunities and immense challenges. As urban centres grow rapidly, inadequate housing and the lack of basic infrastructure and services affect a large and growing proportion of their population. There is also a growing body of evidence on urban poverty and its links with environmental hazards. There is, however, limited knowledge of how these challenges affect the ways in which poor urban residents gain access to food and secure healthy and nutritious diets. There is also limited understanding of how different forms of conflict/fragility affect food security and nutrition of the urban poor.

Poor communities usually have little voice but enormous and in-depth knowledge of their contexts, and of the priorities for action. And while local governments in low-income nations have a key role in reducing poverty and increasing environmental sustainability, they are typically under-resourced and unable to gather sufficient, timely and reliable data on rapidly changing contexts where urban growth and the erosion of natural resources overlap and can lead to conflict.

Working with poor community organisations led by women in cities in Cambodia and Nepal, this project lets the poor themselves define and measure food security and nutrition using methods and tools that include the use of innovative but affordable technology. The collection of data and their analysis provides the groundwork for a dialogue that brings together grassroots organisations of the urban poor, local governments and other stakeholders. This, in turn, sets the basis for the co-production of solutions that respond to the needs of local low-income communities. At the same time, the knowledge developed informs global debates on policy that addresses the intersection of poverty, environmental sustainability and institutional fragility that can lead to conflict.

Planned Impact

Grassroots organisations of the urban poor in Cambodia and Nepal will increase their capacity to gather and analyse data, and in so doing ensure that their voices are heard and influence the co-production of knowledge and innovative actions that respond to their needs.
Other Asian grassroots organisations that are members of the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights will benefit from exchanges with the focus countries partners; this will provide the basis for developing a large-scale proposal.
Local governments and other local stakeholders in the focus countries will benefit from detailed and reliable information enabling them to fill a considerable gap that has negative impacts on their effectiveness.
National governments in the focus countries and in the region will acquire knowledge essential to the achievement of the SDGs.
Academic researchers in the UK and in Asia will have access to new knowledge and will be exposed to innovative theoretical and methodological approaches to food security and nutrition.
Stakeholders in global policy debates - international and donor agencies, national governments...) will benefit from a more detailed understanding of the issue that opens the way to innovative and more effective interventions.
Local beneficiaries will be engaged through meetings and discussions at the city and country level, and dissemination through social media (blogs), interviews and briefing papers.
Regional grassroots organisations will benefit from participating in networks supported by ACHR, where learning exchanges are a key activity.
Academic researchers will be reached through publications (working papers and articles in peer-reviewed journals), and participation in conferences and seminars.
Stakeholders in global policy debates will be reached through publications (briefing papers) and presentation in global fora.

Publications

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Boonyabancha S (2019) How the urban poor define and measure food security in Cambodia and Nepal in Environment and Urbanization

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Tacoli C (2017) Food (In)Security in Rapidly Urbanising, Low-Income Contexts. in International journal of environmental research and public health

 
Description The overall aim of this project is to bring in the views and voices of the urban poor on how they access and utilise food in four cities in Nepal and Cambodia. They reported alarmingly high levels of hunger, although with great variations and fluctuations within and between households. The most important finding from the research is that urban food and nutrition security is about much more than just food.
Inadequate incomes, compounded by reliance on low-paid, insecure jobs in the informal sector, are a key reason for food insecurity, but not the only one. The research found huge levels of indebtedness of the urban poor in both Cambodia and Nepal. Everyone owes money to someone, and poor people, especially poor women, are remarkably able to use different lenders to make sure they can put food on the table. Local corner shops, often run by neighbourhood residents, offer short-term credit to their local customers, typically with repayment to up to one week. This is absolutely crucial to the short-term survival of urban poor households, but it is generally overlooked. Micro-finance institutions do not come out well of this research: repossession of assets and housing are not uncommon, whereas loan sharks, despite their bad reputation, appear to be more accommodating, probably because it is not in their interest to lose their clients. But they can charge as much as 240% interest. Perhaps not surprisingly, some women pass on their debts to their daughters and daughters-in-law (note that men rarely seem to be directly affected by debt). Managing indebtedness is a more realistic option than trying to eliminate it. With this in mind, community savings groups have been found to play a critical role in both Nepal and Cambodia.
The second important finding is that in the vast majority of cases low-income women living in urban slums have a very good idea of what constitutes good nutrition. If they cannot feed their families well it is rather because of lack of money, lack of time (to earn money AND look after the family AND prepare food), inadequate housing (including places where to safely store and cook food) and inadequate basic infrastructure (including clean water to wash food and cooking utensils). This suggests that nutrition campaigns based only on education tend to miss the point.
These findings are highly relevant to the SDGs, especially Goals 2 (zero hunger) and 11 (sustainable cities and communities) as well as to the New Urban Agenda.
Exploitation Route We identify two strands of impact of the research. The first is the contribution to the growing body of research on urban poverty in the Global South, and the second is engaging with the equally growing interest in and debates on urban food insecurity. Such interest is both academic and non-academic. For example, urban food security and nutrition is increasingly taken up by the World Committee on Food Security and by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. A more nuanced understanding of urban consumers that recognizes their heterogeneity is an essential first step towards appropriate policies and interventions. These, in turn, are likely to be more effective and inclusive when they are context-specific and include low-income groups and local authorities (both of which are included in the research).
Interest from the FAO is demonstrated by their Bangladesh office replicating the study in Dhaka. The findings from the Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia case studies were presented during a joint (IIED, ACHR and FAO) networking event at the tenth World Economic Forum.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.iied.org/how-urban-poor-define-measure-food-insecurity
 
Description The research is conducted in close association with grassroots organisations of the urban poor in Cambodia and Nepal. In both countries these organisations' work is primarily focused on savings groups and housing, hence food and nutrition security has somehow represented a 'new' topic of work. In both countries, a key finding is the huge level of indebtedness of the urban poor, and how this is directly related to food costs, low and insecure incomes, and high health costs where frequent illness is the result of both inadequate nutrition, inadequate access to basic services and infrastructure and exposure to environmental hazards. This has stimulated a re-thinking of the role of savings groups beyond housing, and the organisation of exchange visits at the regional level (involving Cambodia and Nepal as the research focus countries as well as Thailand as the base of the research partner organisation, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights) to develop small food-related actions at the neighborhood and city levels to explore opportunities and strengthen a food-related regional network of grassroots organisations. In both countries, fieldwork included meetings with municipal authorities. In Cambodia, the newly elected local governments were keen to hear about the key findings of the research - although it is unclear whether and how these will be used. In Nepal, the national umbrella of women's savings cooperatives was involved in the research and has also expressed the intention to pursue food-related initiatives. Why is this important? there is sufficient evidence that co-production, especially but not only in the context of growing urban poverty in the Global South, can provide more effective and inclusive solutions to long-standing challenges. As grassroots organisations, based on the knowledge acquired through the research, begin to elaborate context-specific actions and dialogue with local governments, it is important to continue to support shared learning and networking to ensure that these results are scaled-up to engage with city-wide food systems. Since the publication of the research findings in an article in the journal Environment and Urbanization, we have been approached by the UN Food and Agriculture regional office in Bangladesh with the aim to replicate the study in low-income settlements in Dhaka. Four case studies have been completed and we have organised a joint networking event at the tenth World Urban Forum held in Dubai in February 2020. We intend to continue working in this expanded partnership as we see great potential in including an international organisation such as the FAO.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description ACHR and partners 
Organisation Asian Coalition for Housing Rights
Country Thailand 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution IIED's research teams' main contribution to the project is the overall intellectual input and connection to global knowledge and debates on urban food security and nutrition. We provide overall management and financial support, but mainly we learn from our partners, and help consolidate and disseminate new knowledge.
Collaborator Contribution The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) is the main partner and coordinates all fieldwork, workshops and meetings. In this it is supported by Lumanti in Nepal and CDF in Cambodia. The other partners are federations of grassroots organisations of the urban poor, and they conduct focus group discussions, participate in regional and national workshops and developed and administered the questionnaire surveys. The supporting partners (ACHR, Lumanti and CFD) helped with the analysis of the data and in drafting the reports.
Impact Outcomes include two regional workshops, fieldwork in four locations (the capital city and a secondary city in both Cambodia and Nepal), national workshops to develop the questionnaire surveys and to present final findings, one article in a peer-reviewed journal https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247819863246.
Start Year 2017
 
Description ACHR and partners 
Organisation LUMANTI Support Group for Shelter
Country Nepal 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution IIED's research teams' main contribution to the project is the overall intellectual input and connection to global knowledge and debates on urban food security and nutrition. We provide overall management and financial support, but mainly we learn from our partners, and help consolidate and disseminate new knowledge.
Collaborator Contribution The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) is the main partner and coordinates all fieldwork, workshops and meetings. In this it is supported by Lumanti in Nepal and CDF in Cambodia. The other partners are federations of grassroots organisations of the urban poor, and they conduct focus group discussions, participate in regional and national workshops and developed and administered the questionnaire surveys. The supporting partners (ACHR, Lumanti and CFD) helped with the analysis of the data and in drafting the reports.
Impact Outcomes include two regional workshops, fieldwork in four locations (the capital city and a secondary city in both Cambodia and Nepal), national workshops to develop the questionnaire surveys and to present final findings, one article in a peer-reviewed journal https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247819863246.
Start Year 2017
 
Description ACHR and partners 
Organisation Nepal Mahila Ekata Samaj
Country Nepal 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution IIED's research teams' main contribution to the project is the overall intellectual input and connection to global knowledge and debates on urban food security and nutrition. We provide overall management and financial support, but mainly we learn from our partners, and help consolidate and disseminate new knowledge.
Collaborator Contribution The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) is the main partner and coordinates all fieldwork, workshops and meetings. In this it is supported by Lumanti in Nepal and CDF in Cambodia. The other partners are federations of grassroots organisations of the urban poor, and they conduct focus group discussions, participate in regional and national workshops and developed and administered the questionnaire surveys. The supporting partners (ACHR, Lumanti and CFD) helped with the analysis of the data and in drafting the reports.
Impact Outcomes include two regional workshops, fieldwork in four locations (the capital city and a secondary city in both Cambodia and Nepal), national workshops to develop the questionnaire surveys and to present final findings, one article in a peer-reviewed journal https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247819863246.
Start Year 2017
 
Description ACHR and partners 
Organisation The Urban Poor Empowerment Society
Country Nepal 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution IIED's research teams' main contribution to the project is the overall intellectual input and connection to global knowledge and debates on urban food security and nutrition. We provide overall management and financial support, but mainly we learn from our partners, and help consolidate and disseminate new knowledge.
Collaborator Contribution The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) is the main partner and coordinates all fieldwork, workshops and meetings. In this it is supported by Lumanti in Nepal and CDF in Cambodia. The other partners are federations of grassroots organisations of the urban poor, and they conduct focus group discussions, participate in regional and national workshops and developed and administered the questionnaire surveys. The supporting partners (ACHR, Lumanti and CFD) helped with the analysis of the data and in drafting the reports.
Impact Outcomes include two regional workshops, fieldwork in four locations (the capital city and a secondary city in both Cambodia and Nepal), national workshops to develop the questionnaire surveys and to present final findings, one article in a peer-reviewed journal https://doi.org/10.1177/0956247819863246.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Networking event at the tenth World Urban Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The event was jointly organised by IIED, ACHR (partners in the original project) and FAO Bangladesh. In keeping with the nature of the study - how the urban poor define and measure food insecurity - the panelists were community members from Nepal and Bangladesh. The panelists reported benefiting from participating in the WUF as this expanded their views and made them feel part of a wider network of the urban poor who can make change happen.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.iied.org/urban-poor-community-voices-take-stage-world-urban-forum
 
Description Regional workshops in Bangkok 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact These two regional workshops marked the inception of the project and the discussion of its findings. They were attended by a larger group of participants and hosted by Thailand's Community Organisations Development Institute (CODI). They included field visits to the Green Community Healthy Food Production projects in Thailand, which supported shared learning and stimulated new actions in the project study locations.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2019