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How can rural migrants help us make sense of urbanizing foodways?

Published on
November 10, 2021

Urbanization is changing our relationship with food at a global scale. In booming regions of Southeast Asia, where changes occur particularly fast, understanding the dynamics at play has become critical for achieving food security and sustainability. Researchers from the Environmental Policy group (ENP) at Wageningen University and WorldFish argue that rural migrants in these geographies might hold some of the keys to understanding these complex dynamics.

A booming metropolis in Southeast Asia

Whereas global societies are becoming increasingly urban, the pace of change in developing regions is unprecedented. In Southeast Asia, urban populations have increased fivefold from 1970 to 2020.

Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar, is one of the many fast-emerging metropolis in the region that is illustrative of the transformations taking place. Like other large cities in this geography, Yangon is experiencing large inflows of migrants from its surrounding rural areas. These dynamics render the understanding of migrants’ food practices central to the comprehension of urban foodways.

Adopting a fisheye lens on urbanizing foodways

This new study “Consumption practices in transition: Rural-urban migration and the food fish system in Myanmar” proposes to analyze changing urban foodways from the perspective of a single commodity. ‘Fish’ is chosen for its cultural significance and its important contribution to food and nutrition security in the region. It is also proposed by the authors as a privileged lens onto urbanization given that the sector is undergoing a major transition from wild to farmed fish, under the influence of the growing demand in urban centres.

The analysis of how rural migrants reconfigure their fish consumption practices in the city points to subtle and diverse dynamics where the socio-cultural dimension is of utmost importance. Drawing from these findings, the authors call for an urgent need to better document rapid food transitions in developing regions. The study also echoes other studies from ENP that have advocated for a better integration of the socio-cultural specificities surrounding food transitions in Southeast Asia to address associated food security and sustainability challenges.

More to come!

This article is part of a broader PhD project that aims at articulating a food systems perspective on the transition from wild to farmed fish in Myanmar. More results and academic outputs are expected in the coming months so stay tuned!

Photo credits: Xavier Tezzo

Photo description: Migrant in Yangon shopping in the early morning