Mapping for food safety 1/4

(1 of 4) Cross Posted from IIED blog www.iied.org/mapping-for-food-safety by Paolo Cravero

Mappers launch an air balloon in Mathare, Nairobi. Photo: Sohel Ahmed, DPU, UCL.

Mappers launch an air balloon in Mathare, Nairobi. Photo: Sohel Ahmed, DPU, UCL.

How and why communities in Nairobi’s informal settlements are creating and using maps to ensure their food and the people who sell it are safe

A red balloon more than a metre in diameter rises above tin roofs in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s biggest informal settlements. As the balloon’s handler walks through the narrow alleyways, a camera dangling from the balloon snaps a photo every second. This eye in the sky is helping the community identify and deal with threats to their daily food supplies.

The balloon is just one part of a mapping project led by community members and Muungano wa Wanavijiji, a federation of Kenyan slum-dwellers’ associations with support from partners in the Urban Zoo project. By creating the first maps to show food kiosks, mobile street vendors and hazards such as rubbish dumps and open sewers, the project is helping ensure that both food and the people who sell it are safe.

Here we describe how and why Muungano used this approach in Mathare and four more of Nairobi’s informal settlements. (1)

(1) Ahmed, S. et al. 2015. Cooking up a storm: community-led mapping and advocacy with food vendors in Nairobi’s informal settlements. IIED Working Paper.Githiri, G., Ngugi, R., Njoroge, P. & Sverdlik, A. 2015. Nourishing Livelihoods: recognising and supporting food vendors in Nairobi’s informal settlements. IIED Working Paper.

Why maps matter

Surveying an aerial map of food safety threats in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi Kenya (photo: Sohel Ahmed, DPU, UCL).

Surveying an aerial map of food safety threats in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi Kenya (photo: Sohel Ahmed, DPU, UCL).

Informal settlements play key roles in city economies and are home to millions of people worldwide. In Nairobi, for instance, nearly two-thirds of the population lives one of 175 informal settlements. But governments and their official maps, surveys and censuses tend to ignore such places.

As a result, residents of informal settlements officially do not exist. Their lack of official documentation deprives them of basic services such as piped water, sewers, sanitation, health care, waste collection and schooling. It means they cannot open a bank account, register to vote and exercise all the rights of full-fledged citizens.

Maps can shed light on the undocumented and the challenges they face. They can provide a platform for action and advocacy that addresses these challenges. But maps and mapping processes are political. They describe not only geographic boundaries but also what is within these boundaries. A map’s shape and content will therefore depend on who does the mapping.

Community cartography

Local communities rarely have opportunities to define their needs in processes that influence policy. As a result, development programmes are often ill–suited to local needs as they are based on top-down assumptions and misunderstandings rather than local realities. These issues can however be overcome with “methods of organization, mobilization, teaching and learning that build on what the poor themselves know and understand”. (2)

(2) Livengood, A. & Kunte, K. 2012. Enabling participatory planning with GIS: a case study of settlement mapping in Cuttack, India. Environment and Urbanization 24: 77-97.

Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI), a network of organisations of the urban poor in 33 countries, has championed this approach through ‘enumeration’, a process by which organised “urban poor communities count themselves, document the lands they occupy and identify alternative lands for housing when needed”. (3)

(3) Patel, S., Baptist, C. & D'Cruz, C. 2012. Knowledge is power – informal communities assert their right to the city through SDI and community-led enumerations. Environment and Urbanization 24: 13-26.

This approach to mapping is a technical as well as a political process. It both creates knowledge and provides a basis from which communities can engage local authorities in policy dialogues.

Through community-led mapping processes, local people can collaborate to define their geographical and social boundaries as well as their needs and challenges. By coming together and deciding how they want to describe their space and what story they want to tell, communities can develop a sense of self-empowerment—a feeling that something can be done to address the problems they face. As Muungano’s experience shows, the ways in which data are collected, analysed and reported are crucial to achieving sustainable results.

Local knowledge and local goals shape the stories community-led map can tell. "Community-led mapping is something done by the people [rather than] something done to the people." - Dr. Muki Haklay, Co-Director of Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS), University College London