From “Informal” to “Local”: The Role of Data in Legitimizing and Supporting the Local Food Economy in Malawi


  • Stephanie White Michigan State University
  • Jessica Kampanje-Phiri Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR)



City-Region Food Systems, Malawi, Lilongwe, Informality, Food Exchange, Retail Markets


Local and regional food economies throughout Africa are critical to rural and urban food security and are common sources of income for men and women. Despite their importance, local agrifood systems are often described as “informal,” a framing that obscures their value and implies chaos, inefficiency, and backward­ness. Consequently, the importance of local food economies in relation to food security and livelihood is largely unexplored.

City-Region Food SystemsAs critical nodes in regional food networks that link rural producers to city residents, urban retail markets offer important opportunities for legitimizing and strengthening regional food systems. Better understanding these markets through research is key to developing policies and interventions that address urban factors of food insecurity, such as the condition of infrastructure, municipal policies that govern the use of space, and consumer proximity to markets. This type of research can also inform how local and regional agrifood networks, institutions, and practices can be strengthened in the service of local agrifood economies in both rural and urban contexts.

Our presentation and paper highlight significant findings from a collaborative research project conducted by Michigan State University and Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the goal of which is to better describe and understand urban food exchange in Lilongwe, particularly in relation to sustainable livelihoods and food security. Findings from this work should inform municipal planning processes and other efforts to address urban food insecurity in Lilongwe.


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Author Biographies

Stephanie White, Michigan State University

Assistant Professor, Department of Community Sustainability; Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Jessica Kampanje-Phiri, Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR)

Lecturer of Social Work and a Deputy Head for the Department of Human Ecology

Logo for the Place-Based Food Systems conference



How to Cite

White, S., & Kampanje-Phiri, J. (2019). From “Informal” to “Local”: The Role of Data in Legitimizing and Supporting the Local Food Economy in Malawi. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 9(A), 251–252.