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Department of Anthropology

Academic Staff

Publication details for Professor Gina Porter

Porter, G. (2005). From periodic markets to supermarkets: what hope for equitable and sustainable food markets in Africa? Journal of Sustainable Development 2(2): 2-8.

Author(s) from Durham


This study considered informal food trading through traditional periodic markets in West Africa, and examined the emergence of the supermarket and its current and potential role in food supply patterns in the region. Periodic markets currently form a vital component in the supply chain linking rural producers to urban consumers across much of western and central Africa. Vigorous traditional periodic market systems performing bulking, wholesale and retail functions have existed from pre-colonial times, interlinking the whole region. Despite the continuity of the rural periodic market tradition in West Africa, individual regional market systems have seen aspects of both continuity and substantial change since the late 1980s. Some markets decline and may ultimately die, while new markets emerge and, if conditions prove conducive, will flourish. Meanwhile, larger roadside and peri-urban markets may even become so successful that they are transformed from periodic to daily markets. Rapid expansion of urban populations is putting increasing pressures on Africa’s traditional food supply systems. Although traditional systems based on bulking through periodic markets seem to work remarkably effectively, a new competitor may be emerging with potential implications for actors throughout the food distribution system in West Africa: the supermarket. In Kenya supermarket development has already impacted significantly on the horticultural products trade. Zambia has already been colonised by the South African food retailer Shoprite (a chain which targets the poor). Some important implications of supermarket expansion in African food retailing to local urban mass markets for local farmers are suggested.