This thesis is a sociological analysis of the agri-food system that feeds most of the over four and a half million residents of the fast-growing city of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. It is based on qualitative research that has generated a picture of the food system that supplies the important foods for the majority of residents of the city. The research took an actor orientated approach and started from urban eaters and then followed the food back through retailers, processors and transporters to the primary producers. Methodological lessons are derived from this process in particular the elaboration of the ‘ride-along’ as a research method. Foods followed include maize, rice, potatoes, green vegetables, eggs and milk. Other foods such as beef and chicken have also been touched on especially in relation to marketing and slaughtering operations.
Instead of dismissing what has been found as ‘informal’ or trying to fit it into structuralist paradigms, from orthodox economic or political economy perspectives, I have applied a grounded theory approach in seeking to understand the core ordering principles and rationality of this system that has shown a remarkable resilience over many years. Of particular interest, especially when looking at the functioning of market places and how new actors enter into the food system, is that more important to the food system than competition are various forms of collaboration.
This study comes at a time when global food production and distribution is dominated by powerful transnational corporations through an agro-industrial food system that is widely critiqued for its negative environmental and social impacts. Many argue that this industrial food system is unsustainable, yet its expansion can seem inevitable and alternatives are seen by many as incapable of feeding the world’s growing and increasingly urban population. ‘Value chain’ interventions have become popular among ‘development’ practitioners and policy makers seeking to integrate more producers into the global industrial food system rather than challenging that food system.
What I have found, and present in this thesis, is a ‘symbiotic food system’ made up of multitudes of small-scale and interdependent actors that produce the food and get it to urban eaters at a city feeding scale. They do this without any vertically - or horizontally -integrated corporate structures nor with government planning and organization of the food system. This food system responds well to the needs of urban eaters, especially those in poverty, and to the interests and circumstances of small scale food producers. It is a food system that outperforms value chain interventions in returns to producers and value to eaters and has social, economic and environmental advantages when compared to the agro-industrial and corporate dominated system. This challenges assumptions that corporate food chains are necessary, or desirable, to feed cities sustainably. The symbiotic food system that feeds Dar es Salaam is not perfect, but it is working and I believe worthy of further research and interventions to create a more enabling environment for such foods systems to flourish in Tanzania and elsewhere.