The Enabling Environment for Informal Food Traders in Nigeria’s Secondary Cities


Informal vendors are a critical source of food security for urban residents in African cities. However, the livelihoods of these traders, and the governance constraints they encounter, are not well-understood outside of the region’s capital and primate cities. This study focuses on two distinct secondary cities in Nigeria, Calabar in the South-South geopolitical zone of the country and Minna in the Middle Belt region. Interviews were collected with local and state officials in each city on the legal, institutional, and oversight functions they provide within the informal food sector. This was complemented with a survey of approximately 1097 traders across the two cities to assess their demographic profile, contributions to food security, key challenges they face for profitability, engagement with government actors, and degree of access to services in the markets. The analysis highlights two main findings. First, informal traders report less harassment by government actors than has been observed in larger Nigerian cities. At the same time, however, the enabling environment is characterized by benign neglect whereby government-mandated oversight functions are not comprehensively implemented and service delivery gaps remain a major hindrance to food safety. Second, there are important differences in the needs of traders across cities, suggesting that policies focused on food safety and improving the livelihoods of this constituency more broadly need to be properly nuanced even at the subnational level.

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  1. 1.

    See (accessed September 25, 2018)

  2. 2.

    Interview with the Honorable State House Assembly Member, Yala, Cross River

  3. 3.

    At the time of writing, 1 USD = 363 Nigerian Naira

  4. 4.

    Interview with the Revenue Officer, Calabar

  5. 5.

    Interview with the Environmental Health Officer, Ministry of Health, Calabar

  6. 6.

    Interview with the Road Traffic Officer, Dept. of Public Transformation, Calabar

  7. 7.

    Interview with the Revenue Officer, Chanchaga LGA

  8. 8.

    Interview with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Planning, and Statistics Directorate

  9. 9.

    Interview with the Ministry of Livestock, Meat, and Fish, Directorate of Veterinary Public Health

  10. 10.

    Interview with the General Manager of NISEPA

  11. 11.

    Interview with the Ministry of Health and Human Services, Department of Food and Nutrition

  12. 12.

    Interview with the Chairman of Food Sellers Association, Minna Central Market

  13. 13.

    Interview with the Secretary of CATUA

  14. 14.

    In more densely populated markets, every fifth food trader was targeted.

  15. 15.

    The African Union defines “youth” as ranging from 15 to 35.

  16. 16.

    Values do not total to 100% since respondents may purchase food from more than one source.

  17. 17.

    Interview with the Revenue Officer, Chanchaga LGA, April 2018

  18. 18.

    Interviews with the Revenue Officers in Chanchaga LGA and Calabar Municipality, April 2018


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The authors are grateful for funding for this research from the USAID Nigerian Agricultural Productivity Project (NAPP) and from CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). They also thank the CLEEN Foundation and NoiPolls Nigeria for their implementation of the surveys with informal traders in Calabar and Minna. Mekamu Kedir provided excellent research assistance by developing maps of the survey locations. All errors remain those of the authors alone.

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Resnick, D., Sivasubramanian, B., Idiong, I.C. et al. The Enabling Environment for Informal Food Traders in Nigeria’s Secondary Cities. Urban Forum 30, 385–405 (2019).

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  • Informal economy
  • Nigeria
  • Secondary cities
  • Street vending
  • Urban food security