Research background, objectives, and hypotheses
A diversity of foods is available to enhance people’s food security in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), through not only agricultural production and trade but also harvest of wild plants and animals in the nature (FAO/PAR 2010, Assogbadjo et al. 2011). However, this diversity is underutilized today (Dansi et al. 2008) due to the transformations of food systems that are taking place worldwide (Gómez et al., 2013). These transformations evolved from the first to the second food régime, leading to the increasing abandonment of traditional foods and their replacement with introduced/manufactured foods as a result of increased dependence on modern food businesses for food procurement (Atkins and Bowler, 2001). Such a change is being linked with the increasing occurrence in Africa of some food-related non-transmittable diseases (Abegunde et al. 2007). In many African countries, modernizing food habits go with the belief that “foreign is better” (Nzenza 2014). Although that belief is not the sole reason, policies that have silently pushed for such change in food habits over decades have finally created that belief. This is particularly true in Benin where the cotton-biased agricultural policy and investment can be blamed, as it has made food procurement largely dependent on imports, mostly for rice, vegetal oil, and meat and dairy products. For example, the import dependency rateFootnote 1 for rice increased from 34.8% in 1999–2005 to 46.5% in 2005–2013 (FAO/ECOWAS 2015). The annual growth rate of vegetal oil imports (about 18%) is highest among all agricultural products in West Africa, followed by meat, drinks, fruits, and legumes (Hollinger and Staatz 2015). The growing rice imports in Benin could be explained also by the low competitiveness of local rice (Adegbola and Singbo 2005). Indeed, the preference attributes of imported rice—especially cleanness, whiteness, and flavor mostly accruing from industrial processing—are not favorable to local rice (Arinloye 2006). Some macroeconomic variables are overarching explanatory factors. For example, the agricultural sector contribution to GDP decreased from 34% in 1995 to 29.9% in 2008 (MAEP 2010), while high labor prices, climate change, and non-availability of specific fertilizers have made most annual traditional crops become expensive and non-accessible to the poor. As a result, most of these crops have become “underutilized and neglected crops” due to their very low productivity and poor marketing systems (Adegbola et al. 2016, Dansi et al. 2003).
Therefore, with increased availability of introduced foods in markets, poor people substitute a diversity of traditional foods with a limited number of introduced foods (Bellon 2010).
The opposite trend is also being observed as an expression of the third food régime, where consumer resistance and reaction to processed, manufactured, and fast food is growing (Dawson and Burt 1998, Atkins and Bowler 2001). The third food régime goes with a renewed recognition of the value of traditional foods and the need to restore them in the diets of people not only in the Western countries but also in the developing countries (Bowler 1992). Unlike before the 1980s when fruits and vegetables were present mostly in supermarkets and a few open selling points of Cotonou City (Benin), these foods can be observed today everywhere in urban areas. Yet, they remain expensive and non-accessible to the common citizens. They include a mix of imported fresh foodstuffs and a few imported seed-based locally produced foods. Traditional foods have not yet found enough their way in urban markets. Benin can be considered in the early stage of a country’s food system transformation due to its low income, large share of rural population, high reliance by farmers on their own production, and high incidence of undernourishment (Gómez et al. 2013).
Hence, there is a re-evaluation of the value of traditional/local foods. There is increasing research on the value of these foods (especially, e.g., African leafy vegetables in Kenya and Benin), and the need to maintain or reintroduce them in food systems (see, e.g., Achigan Dako et al., 2006, Dansi et al. 2008, Dansi et al. 2003, Dossou-Aminon 2014). For example, “Glassoman” (Crassocephalum spp.), a wild indigenous leafy legume, is rich in proteins and was widely consumed in forest zones of Benin. “Egusi” (Citrullus lanatus, Cucumeropsis manii, Lagenaria spp.), an ancient garden crop, and palm oil (obtained from processing fruits of oil palm—Elaeis guineensis) are rich in vitamins (especially vitamin A) and lipids. Egusi is rich in fat and vitamins A, B1, B2, C, and alpha-tocopherol, a component of vitamin E. It is composed of nearly 50% healthy fats and 30% protein.Footnote 2 Other traditional foods have medicinal values.Footnote 3 Among them in Benin, “Tchayo” (Ocimum gratissimum) is widely recognized to prevent ulcer. In the context of above-mentioned transformations, markets are playing increasing important role, yet their integration with domestic food production areas seems still limited, as well as their positive impact on peoples’ diets.
One aspect that has not been addressed by previous food marketing and food policy research in Benin is how the markets function for traditional foods versus introduced foods.Footnote 4 There is a growing feeling that traditional foods are disappearing from diets of urban and rural people due to their decreasing availability resulting from growing urbanization, climate change, and poorly functioning markets (Friedmann and McMichael 1989, Atkins and Bowler 2001, Honfoga et al. 2005). An important way of appraising this market functioning is to assess market integration. This paper examines the differential market integration for traditional foods vs. introduced foods and how this affects food consumption patterns. It draws from findings of the research project entitled “the effects of market integration on the nutritional contributions of traditional foods to the well-being of the rural poor in Africa,” which was implemented from 2010 to 2012 by Bioversity International in collaboration with partner research organizations in Benin (West Africa) and Kenya (East Africa). The first objective of the project was “to assess the relative nutritional benefits and related health outcomes of a diversity of locally produced traditional foods vs. introduced foods among the rural poor with varying degrees of market integration” (Bellon 2010). The market study component analyzes the effects of market integration on the consumption of traditional foods, in order to advise on appropriate policies that would foster greater availability of those foods and adequate changes in food consumption patterns. Regarding food diversity, findings by Bellon et al. (2016) using the project’s database in Benin conclude that “on-farm and market diversities had a significant positive effect on mothers’ dietary diversity, and that there is a positive relationship between on-farm diversity and dietary diversity among mothers. Production for self-consumption and food purchases complement rather than replace each other in their contribution to dietary diversity and thus dietary quality.” These findings imply that dietary diversity/quality is indifferent from a particular food source, be it self-production or market. Enough light was not shed on the issue of disappearance of traditional foods from the diets of people, nor has market integration been clearly referred to.
This paper aims to enlighten on the status of market integration, and to know the extent to which it influences direct food substitution dynamics in the diets of rural people in Southern Benin. Rather than the source of procurement only (home/self-production vs. market), the issue at stake here is more about food type (traditional vs. introduced)Footnote 5 and how market integration affects its presence in the diets overtime.
Relying on empirical data from the abovementioned market study, this paper aims to understand if market integration really plays a role in food habits in Southern Benin.
The following hypotheses are tested:
Introduced foods show higher levels of market integration than traditional foods
Low levels of market integration among traditional foods contribute to their disappearance in the diets (food consumption frequency and diet composition).
The first hypothesis accrues from the observation that introduced foods are traded widely by merchants who move across all types of markets to make such “new foods” available to consumers (Lutz, 1994). Ascending trade flows of introduced foods from Cotonou to rural markets are faster and more regular than the downward flows of traditional foods which are mostly crude and seasonal. The second hypothesis has its theoretical ground in the relation between food availability, food market dynamics, and food consumption patterns (Smith and Haddad 2001; Honfoga and van den Boom 2003). Its practical justification pertains to several reasons. One is the second food régime earlier mentioned (Friedmann and McMichael 1989). Another reason is the growing imported dependency of Benin, most imported foods being the “introduced foods.” However, besides market integration of introduced foods, the limited availability of traditional foods in the markets also explains the disappearance of these foods in the diets in Benin. It is linked to climate change, low availability of farm labor for women who mostly grow traditional foods, and changes in production systems towards monocropping of high-value export crops (cotton, pineapple, cashew nuts, soya beans).
Traditional foods vs. introduced foods
Traditional foods are said to be secular indigenous foods that are as old as the culture of people who eat them. The notion of ethnic foods (Cook et al. 1999) goes with them. They are core to ancient, endogenous food habits which were described in terms of the kind of customary and ritualized behavior that underpins the reproduction of a stable society together (Lupton 1996). Indeed, traditional foods played a major role in traditions of different cultures and regions for thousands of years including foods that have been consumed locally and regionally for an extended period (Centre of Research Excellence in Nutrition and Metabolism 2016). Traditional food refers to foods and dishes that are consumed over the long-term duration of civilization and have been passed through generations (Saunders 2010); traditional foods and dishes are traditional in nature, and may have a historic precedent in a national dish, regional cuisine or local cuisine (Kristbergsson and Oliveira 2016). Certain values and norms in eating patterns are symbolic of broader structures in society as a whole and may not be well perceived by outsiders (Goody 1982). On the contrary, introduced foods are quite new and are brought from outside the community or culture. Their introduction into food habits is quite recent, dating back to only a few decades, whereas traditional foods are being consumed by native peoples, since the very beginning of their settling in the area many centuries ago.
While traditional foods are mostly locally produced, introduced ones are mostly imported (Popkin 2003). Quite often, introduced foods are manufactured and more industrially processed than traditional foods. However, the frontier between the concepts of traditional and introduced foods is not neat. For example, some non-indigenous foods such as parboiled rice and wheat flour have been introduced into endogenous food habits long ago (since colonization times in Africa) and may be considered as traditional foods although they were mostly imported and consumed by middle- or high-income people. Likewise, “vegetal oil” is considered an introduced food, but it is a “mix” of several types of industrially processed vegetal oils and locally produced groundnut oil, which makes it also closer to a traditional food. Today, they are present in all households.
Substitution of traditional foods for introduced foods
The growing view that traditional foods are disappearing (Nzenza 2014) and are being replaced by introduced foods in the diets witnesses the perceived effects of the second food régime in the USA and Europe, where large industrial capitals began to dominate both sides of the agro-food chain and farm products became inputs to manufactured foods rather than products for final end use (Friedmann and McMichael 1989, p.103; Green and Griffith 2002; Honfoga et al. 2002). In SSA, environmental disasters (e.g., droughts, floods), forest destruction for agriculture, decreasing soil fertility, and crop failure due to diseases are important threats to traditional foods (Dossou-Aminon et al. 2014). At the heart of economic reasons is the second food regime, which is also present in SSA because of changing cropping and food systems where farmers are abandoning traditional foods for a few selected food and cash crops demanded by multinational food and fiber industries. Indeed, the diversion of farm labor to the production and processing of crops most demanded by Western countries’ markets is also a reason of the disappearance of traditional foods. The increasing dependence of newly independent post-colonial states on imported food grains, such as wheat, from developed countries to feed their burgeoning populations was—and is still being—paid for by the greater production of industrial crops (e.g., cotton) and high-value tropical and temperate food crops, with damaging consequences for traditional, subsistence-oriented agricultural systems (Atkins and Bowler 2001, p.27). In general, weak food distribution system and decreasing income or growing poverty are the main drivers of perverse food substitution, unbalanced diets, and malnutrition in those countries (Atkins and Bowler, 2001, p.118; UNDP-Benin 2011, p.66 & 73).
Meanings and applications of the concept of market integration
Market integration means the strength of trading networks that link different market outlets, i.e., market-sheds (Bellon 2010). The term market-shed is used to give the sense of a system or network of market flows within a given area (e.g., it is not just a zone with some markets located in it, but rather, it is a trading network with links between market outlets) (Anderson et al. 2010). The related market integration based on travel time is sensed from the observation that good infrastructure favors transportation and speed of trade flows from production centers to assembly and consumer markets, thereby enabling integration within a market-shed (Fafchamps and Gabre-Madhin 2006). Baulch (1997, p. 477) gives the importance of assessing market integration by linking spatial integration of markets, transmission of price signals from urban food deficit to rural food surplus areas, price volatility, specialization of agricultural producers according to long-term comparative advantage, and gains from trade. Therefore, market integration depends on and expresses the nature of physical and economic linkages (particularly market information) that exist between various production-consumption zones for a selected tradable product. The dynamics are reflected by price movements.
Therefore, two markets are said to be integrated for a given commodity if prices move together, i.e., price movements tend to behave similarly, reflecting the cost of transferring the product between two regions (Rashid and Minot 2010, Hossain and Verbeke 2010). World Food Programme (2001) made this definition more explicit as it affirmed that when markets are integrated, two conditions exist: (a) price are correlated, i.e., they move in tandem with one another, but at different levels that are determined by transaction costs (necessary yet insufficient condition of market integration); (b) commodities flow between markets, i.e., markets are integrated through trade, which triggers price transmission from one market to another (necessary and sufficient condition of market integration). However, the statistical interpretation of price correlation coefficients is problematic in a context where numerically low price correlations prevail despite other evidence that suggests competitive and rational behavior by a large number of market actors (Delgado 1986). Market integration is influenced by the type of markets (urban, semi-urban and rural). It is product-specific, and price dynamics is a core to assessing it more accurately (Chamberlin and Jayne 2013). Indeed, transaction costs are dynamic and vary by time, space, and product.
Delgado (1986) affirmed that “the yardstick of integration of a pair of village markets within a given season is that the price spread between them stays approximately constant, subject to random variation either way, over the weeks in the season in question.” Lutz (1994) observed that spatial and temporal arbitrage are simultaneously taken into account by price co-integration models, the level of statistical significance of which is used to conclude whether the markets are integrated or not. The use of co-integration models is recommended to assess market integration for the sake of accuracy, considering the need to separate seasonal, trend, and stochastic variations in price time series or to jointly consider them. The critical question is “how do prices on two spatially separated markets adjust in the long and in the short run?” To answer this question, Ravallion (1986) developed an autoregressive distributed lag (ADL) model with the aim of assessing both the long-run and short-run adjustment process. A “dynamic” structure was developed to take account of the sluggishness of price adaptations. A distinction is made between short-run integration, defined as restrictive target of instantaneous adjustment corresponding to the market efficiency hypothesis (Malkiel 1987), and long-run integration, defined as a less restrictive target of price integration in the long run (Lutz 1994).