"Putting food on my table and clothes on my back" : street trading as a food and livelihood security coping strategy in Raisethorpe, Pietermaritzburg.
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It is widely accepted that street trading is a survivalist activity that yields low profits. Few, if any, studies investigate how much profit is earned; intra-household allocation; and contribution of this income towards households needs. Therefore, a glaring omission in street trading literature is a critical evaluation of the contribution of street trading to household food and livelihood security. A major strength and original contribution of this study to the wider context is the analysis of street trading as a household food and livelihood security coping strategy. This study investigated whether street traders had sufficient food for household consumption; whether street trading reduced vulnerability to hunger; and determined how income from street trading was spent by households. Seven innovative participatory tools applied through a unique research design, were used to elicit business; household and demographic information. Five fruit and vegetable vendors; three clothing and cosmetics; two food; one telephone service; and one video vendor participated. Street traders were categorised into four food security groups according to increasing Coping Strategy Index scores. These were: two traders in a seemingly food secure group; five in the relatively food secure group; four in the relatively food insecure group; and one in the food insecure group. The use of innovative participatory research tools led to several findings. Types of goods sold did not determine profitability, but profitability determined household food security. As household income decreased, Coping Strategy Index scores increased. This finding implied sufficient access to food for household consumption was determined primarily by income levels ranging from R250 to R10 000 per month. Low income traders used severe coping strategies and were more food insecure than other traders. The middle income traders used intermediate coping strategies while the high income group used less severe strategies or did not apply food security coping strategies such as eating less preferred foods. This study found that child dependents and unemployed household members increased household food insecurity. Risk sharing networks among street traders played a key role in accessing cash for food and the sustainability of the micro-enterprises. Social grants reduced household food insecurity and provided a cash safety net for economic activity. Assets reduced hunger and provided crisis security. The study has shown that street trading supplemented low income levels for pensioners and low income earners. Street trading was a primary livelihood strategy for people who had no access to income from pensions or other/formal employment. The study concluded that income from street trading was vital to improve access to food for household consumption. Street traders who had established customers; and access to material and social assets consumed a greater variety of foods than street traders who were fairly new, lacked access to loans (through family and friends) and owned few or no material assets. All participating street traders began trading as a coping strategy to increase household cash. Their trading evolved into an adaptive or permanent livelihood strategy. Households used a mix of food related coping strategies and street trading was an adaptive strategy, rather than a coping strategy to access sufficient food for household consumption. Participating street traders were survivalists as street trading provided a daily net for subsistence. Although street trading income was barely sufficient to sustain households, it provided much needed income to pay school fees; rent; water and electricity. Street trading is therefore critical to household welfare for participating street traders; but infrastructure and resource constraints trapped street traders in survivalist enterprises and exacerbated their vulnerability to food and livelihood security. This study fills a gap in understanding of street trading behaviour in Raisethorpe. This is the first study to apply participatory research methods to comprehensively explore street trader coping strategies and the first study to attempt to link street trading, livelihood security and food security. It is recommended that municipalities adopt a developmental approach to street trading that includes trading sites with secure tenure and infrastructure such as shelter; tables; water and sanitation. Policy reform in terms of issuing trading permits and developing regulations for renting trading sites is imperative. Since this study found that profitability determined household food security, business advice and skills training should be provided for all street traders to promote business sustainability and profitability. A final recommendation is that street trading be recognised as a survivalist strategy that requires further investigation and policy measures to improve income and ensure food security for vulnerable groups.
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