Emerging food retailers and the development of hybrid food retail institutions in Ugandan produce supply chains

Onzere, Sheila
Major Professor
Robert E. MAZUR
Committee Member
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Changing institutional arrangements are central to the nascent transformation of food retail in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA). These emergent arrangements are reshaping the power relations, roles, and livelihood outcomes for actors in the region's food systems.

This study examines processes of institutional change within fruit and vegetable supply chains that are stemming from the expanding geographical scope of global private food standards, and from policy and demographic shifts in Uganda. First, the study examines the mechanisms through which global private food standards influence procurement strategies of emerging food retail operators (supermarkets, hotels, fast food restaurants and cafés) and how suppliers are responding to these institutional changes. Second, the dynamics of long-term change within market-oriented producer organizations linked to emerging food retailers are analyzed.

Dissertation fieldwork involved 12 months of qualitative research in Uganda. During the first phase, data on the influence of global private food standards on procurement strategies were collected through in-depth interviews with 14 large format food operators in Kampala and 25 produce suppliers to these retailers. Additional data were collected through participant observation in a supermarket and fast food restaurant for a period of one month. The second phase analyzed institutional change at the farmer level, based on a case study of the Nyabyumba Farmers Association, a small scale producers' group in Kabale district that supplies an international emerging food retailer in Kampala. Seven focus groups and 40 household interviews were conducted with members of the association.

Three mechanisms through which global private food standards are transferred to the local level are identified: 1) direct embedding of retailers within international quality assurance schemes; 2) articulation of standards mimicking private food standards but lacking the requisite administrative and technical enforcement mechanisms; and 3) identification with global food systems but complete reliance on local informal institutional arrangements. Suppliers have responded to emergent hybrid institutional arrangements either by increasing the scale of operation or by carving out supply niches for knowledge intensive crops.

At the producer level, transformations in the market and local institutional environment increased the perceived cost in time and effort spent on those association activities geared towards supplying the emerging food retailer. In addition, different levels of technical knowledge and skills resulted in significant modifications in the motivation and consistency of participation in association activities and the decision making structure.

The findings have implications for the likely impacts of retail transformation processes on the roles of global processes in the transformation of food systems in ESA, the responsibility of government and non-governmental actors in assuring market access for small scale producers and food security for urban populations as well as the conditions under which women are likely to benefit from market oriented collective action.