Urban Forum

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 477–498 | Cite as

Characterisation, Challenges and Resilience of Small-Scale Food Retailers in Kingston, Jamaica

  • Robert KinlockeEmail author
  • Elizabeth Thomas-Hope


Small-scale food enterprises occupy a critical space in the food system of Kingston, Jamaica. While they serve the entire population, poor urban households are disproportionately reliant on small-scale food retailers. The nodes and networks of retailers play an important role in the value and commodity chain by providing access to comparatively cheap food but are often impacted by economic vagaries and state-level regulation amongst other factors which potentially challenge the sustainability of the trade. These issues are potentially offset by a highly dynamic system where entry into the trade is maintained by the high levels of unemployment and limited alternatives, even in the informal sector. While the challenges are the likely result of state-level deficiencies, it is possible that these problems are both alleviated and exacerbated by various strategies used to claim space and negotiate food-based livelihoods in the city. This research attempts to fill a conspicuous gap in the literature by examining the pathology of the urban food system as it relates to the characterisation, challenges and experiences of small-scale food retailers. The results are based on a combination of questionnaire surveys and interviews with small-scale food retailers in the city. They reveal the existence of gender- and age-based differences in education, profits earned and motivations for entry. Additionally, these vendors face a range of challenges including deficiencies in state support. While many of their challenges are partly compensated by reliance on inwardly focussed networks, statistical characterisation may provide vital insight into opportunities for policy interventions which specifically target this marginalised group.


Neoliberalism Informality Small-scale retailers Food system 


Funding Information

The survey discussed in this paper was funded by the Hungry Cities Partnership with support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) International Partnerships for Sustainable Societies (IPaSS) Program. The writing of the paper was made possible by a grant from the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Advanced Scholars program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Balsillie School of International AffairsWaterlooCanada
  2. 2.University of the West IndiesMonaJamaica

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