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Transforming nutrition and informal food vending in Nairobi's informal settlements

We will empower women sellers of produce in Nairobi's slums and increase nutritious food access through open maps and motorbike delivery.

Photo of Erica Hagen
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Map Kibera Trust

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Rutgers University (Department of Urban-Global Public Health at Rutgers’ School of Public Health); GroundTruth Initiative (international development and technology consulting firm); Bitange Ndemo (Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi’s Business School, former Permanent Secretary in the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communication).

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kibera, Mukuru, Mathare and Kangemi (informal settlements in Nairobi)

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Map Kibera Trust is based in and has grown out of the slum of Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya. It is uniquely part of the community. For over a decade, Map Kibera has worked with youth from the slum to map their own community and to use information and maps to advocate for what community members want, from better health, to water and sanitation improvements, to safety during elections, to better schools. The data that Map Kibera produces is almost entirely open data, so that others can also use it to improve the slums. Map Kibera works with OpenStreetMap, a global project that allows anyone to map the world and edit the map as things change. Map Kibera also covers news in the slum with its Kibera News Network Youtube-based video news station. The team is not only up to date on all the current happenings but also known and trusted in Kibera, enabling them to build relationships with the target food vendors.

In addition to being embedded deeply into Kibera, Map Kibera has also worked extensively training mappers in other slums in Nairobi, such as Mukuru, Mathare, and Kangemi. Map Mathare has mapped sanitation extensively, and Kangemi mappers recently mapped all of their schools. Mukuru mappers have mapped water points and households. 

In 2019, Map Kibera and Rutgers University partnered to map food vendors in three villages of Kibera and Mukuru (see map images). This mapping collected data aiming to find out what exact foods are being sold and where, as well as barriers to nutrition in these slums. Our Vision is based on the data collected as well as relationships formed with the vendors. We also have relationships with key players in the business and government communities in Kenya.Team member Prof. Bitange Ndemo has investigated how slum vendors are impeded from receiving a fair price for their supply due to layers of middlemen, and the opportunities for using Blockchain to improve their income. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

More than 60% of the Kenyan urban population lives in informal settlements. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, houses some of the largest slums in Africa, with over two million people living within them. 

Kibera, Mukuru, Mathare and Kangemi are among the largest informal settlements in Nairobi. Kibera alone has at least 400,000 residents. Combined we estimate a conservative population of around 1.2 million in these slums. The settlements are characterized by inadequate access to safe water, little or no sanitation, poor structural quality of housing, overcrowding and insecure land tenure. These settlements are also vulnerable to climate shocks. Periods of heavy rains create obstacles for people to move around the community as many of the roads quickly wash out, which can disrupt food access, and landslides are not uncommon. Although some slum dwellers have been living in these settlements for multiple generations, many have recently migrated from rural areas as a changing climate affects their ability to survive as subsistence farmers. These people come to Nairobi in search of opportunities for a better life for themselves and their children. 

The people living in these settings are ethnically diverse and speak many different languages. Many of them experience extreme poverty and are unemployed. For those who are employed, it is often in the informal economy where their incomes fluctuate from day to day affecting their ability to meet basic needs. Over 80% of the people living in Kibera are food insecure. Although our previous mapping of Kibera and Mukuru have shown that a wide range of foods are available within these settings, a lack of affordability constrains food choices. Dietary diversity tends to be low, with staple foods (e.g., ugali) accounting for the majority of energy intake. We found average dietary diversity scores to be 3 (out of a possible 10) among a sample of women living in Kibera, meaning that women were unlikely to be meeting their nutrient needs. The high levels of food insecurity and low dietary diversity contribute to high burdens of various forms of malnutrition among the people living in these settings, particularly women and children. Based on our previous work in Nairobi informal settlements, people want to eat healthily and have knowledge about healthy diets; however, their food choices are currently constrained by the lack of affordability and concerns over the safety of many nutritious foods.

Despite the challenging living conditions faced by Nairobi slum dwellers, there is a resiliency among the people that provides hope for a better future. As a testament to their resiliency, in March 2019 one of the markets adjacent to Kibera was burnt down. Less than 24 hours later, the market was being rebuilt by members of the community, many of whom were vendors at the market who had suffered losses in the fire.    

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)


What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

As we know, slums are growing across the world. By some estimates, as many as 3 billion people may live in informal settlements in the year 2050. Addressing their food future now is an imperative, given that poor diets are leading to poor nutrition and overall health among slum populations now and it is expected that the burdens of malnutrition will continue to rise in the future. 

The food systems of Nairobi slums are characterized by a large number of mostly informal vendors that sell different foods at street stalls within the community (see accompanying map). While the foods vendors sell are often nutritious, the price is usually higher, and quality often lower, than markets outside the slums. Moreover, the vendors that sell fresh foods, most of whom live within the slums, often travel long distances to other markets in Nairobi to purchase the foods that they later sell within the community, which is impeded during heavy rains. It is also unsafe for women to travel to these markets, which they must do in the early hours of the morning before sunrise. The costs they incur for transportation and morning childcare are also an impediment. All of these costs could be prevented if they could receive their goods directly or nearby. However, to date this has not been possible because there is no internal delivery system into the slums. Nobody knows exactly where these vendors are, what they need, and how much. Nor do traditional transporters deliver into the notoriously dangerous and confusing slum terrain, or even to their outskirts. Transportation of goods is entirely up to the vendor. Meanwhile, they must purchase only what they can sell each day due to unavailability of cold storage and credit.

Long food supply chains with many middlemen result in food loss/waste along the chain, reduced profits and large time commitments for vendors to access the foods they will later sell, and higher prices for the consumer. It was found in a recent investigation by one of our partners that a melon bought from a farmer may go through 7 middlemen before it reaches the vendor in Kibera. It was further found that the price of the fruit during these transactions goes from 50 shillings per melon to a sale price of 400 shillings per melon, an increase of 800%. In interviews, the vendors talked about trying to source directly from farms outside of Nairobi to minimize the middlemen, and also mentioned concern over quality of produce. They wanted more transparency over how and where the food was grown. Buyers also had concerns over lack of transparency of the source of the food, and its safety.

Without multiple actions across the Kibera food system, it is anticipated that by 2050 the population will face even larger burdens of multiple forms of malnutrition, with lasting intergenerational effects. Environmental variability and climate shocks will continue to increase, putting further pressure on the availability, affordability and appeal of nutritious foods. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

We will empower primarily female fresh food vendors in Nairobi slums with a new food delivery and supply tracking system introducing transparency and efficiencies in the supply chain, easy access to produce supply on a daily basis, and waste minimization through cold storage. Our unique strengths include a strong community-trusted grassroots organization, specializing in open map data, as well as nutrition and food system experts. We will leverage local relationships and data to improve nutrition. 

By partnering with a motorbike delivery service, utilizing a blockchain supply chain database, and creating a navigation and ordering application for delivery into informal settlements, we will increase vendor income as well as reduce prices for fresh produce in the slums. Our study of vendors in only a subsection of two slums, Kibera and Mukuru, counted nearly 1200 small food vendors, around 30% of which are fresh produce vendors, most of whom are women.

We co-created this vision of the food system in Nairobi’s informal settlements with a multi-stakeholder group of local food supply chain actors, community mappers, food systems researchers, entrepreneurs, and policy advisors. Our vision streamlines food supply chains of culturally appropriate nutritious foods leading to less food waste, higher profits for vendors, business opportunities for members of the community and ultimately lower priced, higher quality food for consumers. We will gain efficiencies within supply chains by cutting out middlemen, and we’ll optimize traditional vendors selling nutritious foods within Kibera by creating a motorbike delivery network and fruit and vegetable distribution system that is based on real time data and community-created maps.

The new vision hinges on opportunities that have yet to be leveraged in open data and community-based mapping, blockchain and motorbike delivery, small lines of credit and cold storage. It pulls together a number of existing businesses and innovations, with a strong local community technology organization as the hub. Lead organization Map Kibera has been deeply embedded in the slum community (including several slums outside Kibera) for 10 years, and has built relationships and trust within the community at large. The trust between vendor and distributor is key to the success of the vision, and it will be bolstered by both relationships and the transparency offered by blockchain technology.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Informal settlements are filled with small food vendors who are the backbone of the food system for some of the most food insecure people in the world. By revolutionizing distribution for those vendors, we will improve the diets and nutrition for a massive number of vulnerable people while also shifting the profits into the hands of small informal vendors and their customers in slums. Key to this vision is harnessing the power of community mapping, local networks, and open data. 

Consumers in Nairobi slums will have access to affordable nutritious foods that are safe – people trust their food sources. They incorporate these foods into their diets in a way that promotes dietary diversity, good nutrition and overall health and wellbeing. 

Local vendors, who are women that live in the slums themselves, no longer needing to spend hours of their days acquiring foods outside of Kibera to later sell within the community, now face lower incidences of violence, since it is risky to venture out solo as a female in the pre-dawn hours. Their income has increased substantially, and several have established larger businesses and more permanent shops, which is facilitated by their increased access to credit. Cold storage boxes have enabled them to buy goods in larger bulk. Due to their increased income, their children have gone on to a better education and careers and have helped invest in the slum communities, creating more permanent infrastructure and influencing policies that benefit and suit the needs of slumdwellers. The informal sector has been integrated more seamlessly with the formal sector allowing for benefits to reach the neediest. Slumdweller lives have been transformed.

More broadly, the livelihoods of food vendors will be improved and employment opportunities within the slum will be created. The food supply will be transparent, networks between farmers producing food in a sustainable way and vendors in Nairobi will be established, and food waste will be reduced. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Integral to our vision is a systems approach to revolutionizing the distribution of food within Nairobi’s slums. Our vision addresses food system drivers, supply chains and the food environment as well as diets and nutrition. Through the uptake of blockchain and navigation system technologies we will increase the traceability of the food system within Nairobi’s slums as well as increase supply chain efficiency. By streamlining the supply chain between farmers and retailers, food prices will decrease making nutritious foods (that have been produced in a sustainable way) more affordable for slum dwellers. Our previous work has shown that food affordability and prices are the main driver of food choices. By increasing the affordability of fresh produce, it will lead to increased consumption and improved dietary quality. Culturally, African indigenous vegetables are an important part of the diet and can make a significant contribution to nutrient intakes. However, these vegetables tend to be expensive, particularly in the slums. By reducing their price, slum dwellers will be able to purchase them more frequently. 

Alongside reductions in food prices for consumers, vendors -- most of whom are women -- will increase their profits. They will be able to purchase the food that they sell at a lower price from the farmers and they will have increased access to credit which will allow them to invest in the infrastructure, etc. they need to ensure their business flourishes. By increasing their access to cold storage food and clean water, produce will be stored safely improving food safety and reducing food waste. Vendors will also spend less time and energy walking to the wholesale market to purchase the produce they sell. This will reduce their exposure to unsafe conditions while also increasing the time they have available to spend in other activities including caring for children which can have an added benefit on diet and nutrition outcomes. 

Our vision increases the affordability of nutritious foods in Nairobi’s slums but will also lead to a safer food supply. In addition to vendors having access to cold storage and clean water, farmers participating in the distribution system will meet specific sustainable production standards. Our previous work indicated that women living in Kibera and Mukuru were concerned about the safety of the produce they purchased within the slums. In particular, they were concerned about pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables. By partnering with farmers that are producing food in a sustainable way, and ensuring that the supply chain between farmer and retailer is transparent, the safety and trustworthiness of the food supply will be increased. At the same time, the environmental footprint of agricultural production will be reduced. 

The backbone of this vision is our network of food vendors. The ultimate power of the network is that these vendors are citizens who not only improve their livelihoods but will be better able to push for what they need from the government. Map Kibera has been working for years with slumdweller citizens in Nairobi in order to bring data to bear on a variety of issues in the slums, such as education, sanitation, safety and health. Our vision is that the combined power of the informal vendor network and the maps and data about them will impact policies that are most relevant for the vendors. Map Kibera’s methodology of using citizen-generated data and open maps for action will help support food vendors to advocate for things like improved roads and drainage, clean water, improved personal safety, healthier farming policies, etc. 

Our vision is rooted in the needs of the community. We have spent many years in Kibera as well as working in other slums in Nairobi. Our vision is informed by the quantitative and qualitative data we have collected in Kibera and Mukuru where we mapped the local food systems and spoke to women, including vendors, about what influences the food choices they make. Through this work we identified the need to address the affordability of nutritious foods, the incomes and time use of vendors, as well as the safety and efficiency of the food supply. 

Our vision for the food systems of Nairobi’s slums has transformative potential. It will increase sustainable agricultural production, streamline supply chains leading to increased profits for farmers and vendors, increase the affordability and safety of nutritious foods, empower women vendors by improving their livelihoods and ultimately improve diets and nutrition.


The Practical Components of our Vision:

To realize our vision, we will work to build a system-altering process of food delivery that revolutionizes produce supplies to some of the most vulnerable communities, and then scale its reach to cover all informal settlements in Nairobi. 

This vision consists of the following practical components:

1. Data and maps of food vendors and their locations created and maintained by the project lead, Map Kibera Trust, using OpenStreetMap. Vendor network created by face-to-face interactions with hundreds of food vendors in 3-4 major slum communities in Nairobi. 

We have already collected data through a participatory community mapping process on food vendors in portions of Kibera and Mukuru, collecting data on nearly 1200 vendors. This picture has shown us that the food sellers are mainly female residents of the slums, and slumdwellers overwhelmingly purchase their food from these small kiosks inside the slum. In order to impact the nutrition of residents of the informal settlements, we must transform these critical food vendors. Geo-locating and then building a network, both virtual and in-person, of these vendors will be the first step to integrating them with advances in food supply chain technology. 

Our mapping process is unique. We work directly with slum resident youth to map their communities in an open data format using OpenStreetMap. The Map Kibera Trust has pioneered this method of data collection which is not only highly accurate, but also engages citizens in the process. By interacting with their community members, in this case the food vendors, they are the first point of contact and help build the trusted network which is required for the success of our vision. 

2. Motorbike supply delivery system to vendors inside the slums with Go Beba. Navigation system built with MapBox using our community-collected open data from OpenStreetMap.

The most efficient way to transport goods into the slums is often via motorbike. Cars cannot traverse the challenging narrow pathways. A motorbike delivery system will be developed with our partners to not only facilitate these deliveries, but also employ residents of the slum as delivery drivers. Rather than rely on outsiders, this creates further trusted relationships within the settlements as well as employment opportunities. 

Navigation support and order placing will be developed in conjunction with the maps created, the delivery company, and with iteration taking input from all system users: the bike drivers, the vendors, and the suppliers. The system will be designed to interface with existing supply chains as well. Ongoing data intake will demonstrate the quantity and type of foods being requested throughout the city by vendors. 

3. Blockchain-based transparent supply tracking platform. 

We will work with partners to utilize existing systems as much as possible, allowing farmers who are already part of existing transparent supply chains (such as Twiga) to become suppliers in the slum delivery system. We will also make use of our own platform to track produce all the way through to final vendor using blockchain. Connecting vendors with verified suppliers with health and safety checks, in a transparent system, will build trust in food safety. 

4. Supports to Vendors 

Vendors will have access to micro-credit, allowing them to purchase in larger quantities, and cold storage options. The company FreshBox is one example of a local cold storage option which could help vendors avoid waste. 

We will work with vendors through a Human-Centered Design process to create a system that works for them, and ensure that they have what they need to succeed. Through this process we will also design an ordering and tracking process that is most suited to the technology they have in hand (often basic phones) and yet interfaces with the larger order and delivery platform. 

5. Real-Time Data

Our vision is based on accurate, detailed geo-data around food in Nairobi. Economic and financial details, supply chain, and nutritional impacts will be tracked in real time by the team in order to make adjustments along the way and optimize the supply and delivery system. We focus as much as possible on creating open data (with individual privacy protections), so that our data becomes useful for other innovators and policy makers alike. Using OpenStreetMap as a base, we will map and track food and nutrition in the slums of Nairobi like never before. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Prize partners

Attachments (1)


Summary of research and mapping of nutrition and food vendors in Kenyan slums conducted by the applicant.


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Photo of Archiebold Manasseh

nice project! the use of analytics to sort a social problem, all the best!

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