Chicken jollof. Urban consumers eat more meat, fruit and vegetables than rural ones do. (Photo/ Flickr/ Joan Nova)

The Garden, Or The Vegetables? The Irony Of Urban/Rural Food Consumption In West Africa

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AS West African cities grow, diets are changing, as this data from the African Economic Outlook – published by the African Development Bank (AfDB) –shows.

City dwellers eat more fruits and vegetables, meat and fish than those living in the rural areas, while consumption of cereals and pulses is lower.

It’s counter-intuitive; you might expect a rural diet to be richer in fresh produce, as farms are closer – one might even be growing some vegetables and keeping a few animals in the backyard.

But it suggests rural households – many of which don’t have access to refrigeration – are selling their fresh, perishable produce to towns as a source of income, and then buying back cereals and pulses, which can last longer, and are therefore comparatively cheaper.

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And the data shows that contrary to what you might expect, the data shows that African urban middle class does not consume a higher share of imported food out of its total consumption than the urban poor.

If anything, because wealthier households eat more meat, fruit and vegetables, they are bigger consumers of local produce than poor households.

Though Asian exporters dominate Africa’s grain markets such as wheat and rice, urban consumers consume locally available meat and fresh fruits, boosting rural economies.

The research shows that selling meat and dairy products to towns and cities can increase rural farmers’ income five to 10 times per hectare compared to grains.


All income groups show higher demand for convenience, reflected in the expansion of street food and stronger demand for processed and pre-prepared foods. Processed foods represent 41% of food budgets for urban households, compared to 36% for rural households.

The West African food economy was estimated at $178 billion in 2010. This represents 36% of regional gross domestic product (GDP), making it the largest sector of the West African economy.

In many countries, the domestic food market is becoming more attractive for farmers than traditional export cash crops. The non-agricultural post-harvest activities of the food economy, such as processing, logistics and retail, are also developing quickly.

The Sahel and West Africa Club estimates that, today, these activities account for 40% of the sector’s value added and will continue to expand with more urbanisation.

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