Large Food Markets in Growing Cities

An analysis of the role of the Kariakoo Wholesale Market in Dar es Salaam and the Empress Market in Karachi

Issue 49 & 50
Text | David Ansell and Kenneth Lynch
Visuals | As mentioned

The urban areas of most developing countries have experienced very rapid and concentrated growth, creating an ever growing demand for food. The food supply systems grow in scale along with the city and become increasingly complex, such that it could be argued that an adequate and reliable food supply for the growing cities of Africa and Asia is one of the key urban problems today (Drakakis-Smith, 1991). Paddison et al (1990) suggest that the development and viability of cities in developing countries depends on the availability of sufficient food supplies for their population.

Despite the importance of urban food supply systems in the developing world, detailed empirical studies of the spatial structuring of retailing within cities are sparse and little attention has been given to the urban market. Dewar & Watson (1990) said they were ‘unable to find any literature’ dealing with market systems and their management. Although research has been carried out on rural markets (see Bromley 1974; 1979), studies of urban markets usually form a small part of general city reports and there have been a limited number of detailed studies of specific markets. For example Temple (1969) emphasized the importance of city planning regulations on the location of urban retail markets in Kampala, Boekholt & van der Veen (1986) focused on the population distribution and behaviour of the consumers as affecting demand strucutures, and therefore the location, of markets in Mysore. Finally, Mascarenhas and Mbilinyi, writing about the wholesale market chains of first oranges (Mascarenhas & Mbilinyi, 1971), and then bananas (Mbilinyi & Mascarenhas, 1973) focused in particular on the links between wholesale markets and the rural production areas in the case of single commodities, oranges and bananas. This is in marked contrast to literature on housing, ‘which is voluminous’ (Drakakis-Smith, 1991). The most significant recent publication relating to urban markets was the collection of essays edited by Guyer (1987) on African urban food systems. Guyer argues in her introduction that more attention is needed on urban food systems.

There are a number of reasons why there should be a greater research effort in this field by geographers. Food retailing and consumption occupy central positions within developing societies. These activities provide basic needs, a source of employment, and a vehicle for expressing social needs (such as a means for maintaining ethnic group solidarity or the need to maintain social stability over, for example, food shortages, as witnessed in Sudan in 1985). There should be a greater awareness of the spatial structure of retailing within the cities of the developing world, emphasising the distinctive social and institutional environments in which retailing occurs. Land markets, planning controls and social controls produce very different environments within the city. Global forces interact with local forces through markets, the supply of inputs, as well as the general economic and political circumstances, producing spatially distinctive patterns.

In relation to the retailing activities, Paddison et al, (1990) give a list of key research foci which they feel might be potentially fruitful for geographers to explore. They identify four areas of concern: structure of the retail trade; provisioning the city/rural areas; consumer behaviour; the state, public policy-making and retailing. Clearly, many of these topics are not the exclusive concern of the geographer. Food systems are the subject of study in such diverse disciplines as agriculture, anthropology, economics, geography, marketing, medicine, sociology and, doubtless, more besides. However in calling for an overall framework for the study of urban food distribution systems in Asia and Africa, Drakakis-Smith (1991) suggests that geographers are well placed to investigate the broad issues involved, since they ‘must focus on the social, cultural and political factors which affect the system.’

This paper draws on research undertaken in two major cities in the developing world. First an integrated approach is taken to identify and analyse the role of a wholesale market in an African urban food system. Secondly, the internal structure of one specific market in Karachi, Pakistan, is described and the changes found are examined. The discussion of these two cases will then be compared in the final discussion.

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