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Urban Food Security in Gaborone, Botswana

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Title: Urban Food Security in Gaborone, Botswana
Author: Legwegoh, Alexander
Department: Department of Geography
Program: Geography
Advisor: Hovorka, Alice
Abstract: Life in urban Africa is often mired in crisis, thus researchers and practitioners usually pay attention to the multiple urban development challenges and sometimes interpret the activities and actions of urban dwellers as their means to survive in these cities. Urban food security research has remerged in recent years as a major development agenda in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), especially following the food price crisis of 2007/08, which translated into violent protest in many African cities. There is increased recognition that the issue of urban food insecurity encompasses more than just an availability crisis, yet there is limited attention paid to the multiscalar and multifaceted political-economic, social-cultural and environmental factors that drive food insecurity in cities. This research examines the multifaceted factors that shape food insecurity among urban dwellers in Gaborone, Botswana, by assessing household food access and choice/consumption patterns. Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, like many African cities, has experienced rapid urban growth since independence, however, with low subsistence agricultural production, Botswana depends largely on South Africa for food imports. Using in-depth analysis and research techniques, including participant observation, food diaries and discussions with 40 households, this study examines urban dwellers’ complex food experiences. The data from Gaborone show that changing urban food system, food prices, income status and people’s lifestyle influences urban residents’ ability to access appropriate foods. The research highlights the poor quality of urban diets in Gaborone among the survey population. The high consumption recorded of processed foods; sugars and oils are major contributory factors to the so-called ‘double burden’ of disease, where food insecurity and malnutrition coexist with obesity, a situation that is increasingly prevalent in low-income societies. Drawing on an easy-to-use analytical tool, the Household Dietary Diversity Score, while combining it with a political ecology approach to provide more contexts, this study highlights the political-economic, socio-cultural and ecological factors that drive urban dietary diversity. The research, therefore, contributes to the methodological debate around measures of food access, while providing empirical details on the case of urban food insecurity in Botswana. Further inquiries on the factors influencing people’s food choices and consumption patterns reveals that multiple interacting factors, including cost, convenience, commercials, culture and class influence the decision around which foodstuff households consume and that food consumption patterns within Gaborone are fluid, dynamic and hybridized. Thus, food consumption in SSA matters in its own right and by illustrating that consumption patterns in Gaborone are heterogeneous and fluid this research helps us better understand and contest the idea that globally food consumption patterns are becoming increasingly homogeneous and predictable. By providing a conceptually holistic and methodologically in-depth assessment of food experiences in Gaborone, this research calls for increased attention towards urban dwellers' agency and the complexity, dynamism and hybridity of urban processes in SSA cities
Date: 2012-06
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