Living Off-Grid Food and Infrastructure Collaboration Working Paper 1: Concepts and Assumptions

Jane Battersby, Mercy Brown-Luthango, Issahaka Fuseini, Herry Gulabani, Gareth Haysom, Ben Jackson, Vrashali Khandelwal, Hayley MacGregor, Sudeshna Mitra, Nicholas Nisbett, Iromi Perera, Dolf Te Lintelo, Jodie Thorpe, Percy Toriro  | 2023


This working paper is the product of the Living Off-Grid Food and Infrastructure Collaboration. It is designed to bring together our thinking on how infrastructure can shape the food and nutritional security of urban marginalised populations. Infrastructure assemblages include the material (physical and technological), as well as the political and systemic factors that ‘govern’ how infrastructure is developed and used. Urban food systems are made up of public and private actors, and market and governance processes that shape the cost and availability of food in different urban contexts. At the intersection of urban food systems and infrastructure assemblages lies the food and nutrition security of urban dwellers. The framing of contemporary debates and policy priorities with respect to both nutrition and infrastructure are heavily conditioned by presumptions – in favour of formality and griddedness, for example, or of the need to raise agricultural productivity – which fail to reflect the reality of marginalised communities in Southern cities. For these communities, their experience is one of hybridity, with formal and informal infrastructures and economies central to their lives and livelihoods. These hybrid arrangements are imbued with power structures and sociopolitical dynamics that are context specific and further condition communities’ experiences. Together, these are the factors that condition or shape the possibilities for individuals and households pursuing different food strategies. However, there is a failure to reflect this reality in the conceptualisation of infrastructure challenges, leading to unworkable solutions and policies that end up perpetuating problems. There is an urgent need to reframe problematic assumptions, starting first and foremost from the entry point of urban informal settlements in the global South. By taking food as a lens in this process, we illuminate these contexts, and how they relate to hybrid infrastructure arrangements and potential alternatives. This reformulation is vital at this critical juncture, when Southern cities need infrastructure development that meets the needs of rapidly changing demographics without locking cities and nations into unsustainable pathways.