Trading Places: Urban Food Security

For the Africa Food Security Urban network (AFSUN) CMFD produced a ten-part radio documentaries and drama series to chronicle the complex issues of how cities in Southern Africa feed themselves. The series communicates AFSUN research, while giving a space for real stories, experiences, and solutions to be shared. The 15-minute drama is available in English, Portuguese, Zulu, Xhosa, Nyanja, Shona.

While the global food agenda often focuses on rural agricultural development when it comes to discussions on food security, Southern Africa is one of the fastest urbanizing regions in the world – more people are living in cities, yet the concept of urban food security is largely left off the table. Significant research was conducted by AFSUN into issues of urban food security, and the drama a 10-part series communicate this information, while also providing a space for real stories, experiences, and solutions to be shared.


Faced with a move that seems to be out of their hands, traders at a busy city market are confronted with the troubling prospect of no food on their tables. Elizabeth is a street side food trader with a flair for cooking, a big heart, and a source of strength from an unseen source. She together with her friend Esther, worry most about how to feed their kids at home. Like many, Elizabeth has a story, but hers is kept in her pocket where reference is just a pat of a pocket away. An unlikely friendship emerges with Grace, a young, snobbish university student, and the two discover they have more in common than they could have thought. When trouble lurking just ahead finally hits home, there's one more move from Grace with a genius plan up her sleeve.


The aim of the drama is to

  • Raise awareness about urban food security as an issue – both policy makers and general public.
  • Demonstrate the complexity of urban food insecurity and portray the human aspect of insecurity.
  • Encourage dialogue and discussion on urban food security issues and solutions
  • Encourage media to seek further information about urban food security.


To complement the radio documentaries/ drama, a presenters guide was developed to assist radio presenters to talk about the ideas raised through the two productions. The guide provides tips on how to use both the drama and documentaries to raise awareness and encourage dialogue.


Grace - A 23-year old university student studying business management, though she dreams of being a world class chef with her own television show. She's warm, friendly, a little naïve and easily led by others, not one to stand up for things. She's afraid of what her father will say if she pursues her dreams, and she lets her friends talk her into refusing to pay Elise after a meal, even though she feels a little guilty. Grace knows there is poverty, but has never thought about people actually having to survive on too little food. She steals from Elise, and is sentenced to community work helping her cook ?? The two share their love of cooking and become friends.

Elise- Elise is the same age as Grace. She is from Zambia, has two children, age 3 and 1. She came to South Africa with her then husband, but he left her when she was pregnant with the 2nd child. She grew up in a home where there was never enough to eat, her older sister died of AIDS because she used to go with men (not a sex worker, but rather situation of multiple concurrent older men) and she is determined not to go this road, and not to leave her children alone or hungry, though she understands why her sister had little choice in what she did. Max likes her, but after her husband left, she doesn't want to trust anyone again.

Esther - An older woman originally from Malawi, she has been in the country for a long time and is married to a local. She sells vegetables and produce beside Grace. Her children are different ages, her husband works but her sales are also needed to keep the family going, especially because they have extended family living with them. She cares for her grandchildren because the parents passed away. Much of her food she purchases, but in summer she also supplements from her garden, which her older children help her to tend. The younger children in her house benefit from a school feeding scheme, but if the market closes, she worries what she will do with them when they get home and there is no food. For her education is more important than anything, and she worries about keeping them in school and ding well.

Max- From Zimbabwe, is a trader/ transporter? He is in love with Elise. He comes to eat at her stall all of the time. Is a hard worker. Sometimes his only meal is at Elise's place as he reduces his own meals to be able to send money back to his family in Zim.

Mr/ Officer Nyathi - Police officer/ security guard or some authority. Very corrupt, he is always harassing the traders. He leads the raid on the traders a day early

Grace's Father - Businessman/ City councilor with a narrow vision of community and economic development. In his mind anyone who works hard enough should be fine, there is no excuse for people to go hungry because there is plenty of food if people just are willing to work for it. He tells his daughter that now you can see food on shelves everywhere, its not like when he was young.

Latest Productions