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Mapping and assessing fresh-food markets in the Dhaka metropolitan area

Submitted by Nitya Jacob 24th December 2022 6:59
kandha batata in Dhaka

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In the 1970s and 1980s, when many of its public fresh markets were constructed, the population of Dhaka was between 1 and 3.2 million. The population grew rapidly to over 20 million by 2020 due to urban migration spurred by Bangladesh’s burgeoning economic growth. However, despite the surging growth of the city, little attention was given to building new markets in expanding neighbourhoods, or upgrading those of older neighbourhoods, to keep up with the dynamics of the city.

As a result, markets have become overburdened by high levels of demand, with services and physical conditions deteriorating, space becoming more cramped, and market management often unable to contend with the expectations of consumers for improved hygiene and food safety. In addition, due to the high density and the high value of urban land, it is difficult to find sizeable plots for building new large markets and, consequently, older communities are likely to have better access to fresh-food markets than the newly developed residential areas. These are some of the critical planning issues that have to be considered in trying to ensure the supply of fresh, affordable and safe food to a metropolitan area, not only in Dhaka but in any country.

Fresh-food markets are the most popular places for consumers to buy groceries in the Dhaka Metropolitan Area (DMA). Known as ‘Katcha Bazar’, these markets are some of the busiest and most vibrant places in the whole of this crowded and populous city, offering residents and businesses a wide variety of food such as milk, poultry, vegetables, fruits, beef and fish, and even dry goods such as rice and grains. Such markets play a key role in the supply of affordable food, making them a critical part of the supply chain and the overall food system, with around 85 percent of Dhaka’s inhabitants buying food from these markets.

Given the wide variety of fresh produce available, and at affordable prices, these markets are the go-to choice for all socioeconomic groups, and often the only affordable source of food for the poor. Fresh-food markets can be categorized into four broad types – city level, medium sized, neighbourhood level and temporary markets – based on their geographic location, size and structure type. However, little data about their location, their accessibility, age, conditions, ownership, operating mechanisms, governance and planning have been collected and made available. Due to this lack of information, markets have not received the attention they deserve. Without accurate information, such as maps and a comprehensive database, the national and local governments, development agencies and the private sector are unable to understand the needs of markets, and then respond to these needs with effective initiatives and policies.

In 2020, FAO’s Dhaka Food System (DFS) project launched a city-wide assessment of Dhaka’s fresh-food markets. The assessment covered all 386 markets that serve the metropolitan area’s four city corporations: Dhaka North, Dhaka South, Gazipur and Narayanganj City Corporation.

Mapping was conducted using a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to locate each market accurately in a geo-referenced database (using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)). As the  assessment was to include private as well as public markets, the existence and location of many  markets was identified by asking local residents since city corporations were not always aware of them. Data were also collected on a range of topics, including basic services available (water supply, electricity, sanitation, ventilation and lighting), market management arrangements and food safety practices using a digital survey administered by the data collection team. These data provide a much-needed insight into the markets and the challenges they face.

Main findings that are relevant for planning

Unequal access to fresh markets

A comparison between the population densities and the density of the markets shows that the clustering of markets does not depend on the population densities. There are many high-density areas in Dhaka that do not fall within a fifteen-minute walk of a market. In other words, these areas are under-served by fresh-food markets. In these under-served communities, many, especially the poor, are left with the only option of buying food from mobile vendors. This significantly reduces their access to fresh, diverse and affordable food. In the long run, this lack of access can affect the health and nutrition of the poor.

Lack of good practices jeopardise food safety

Food safety is a major concern for consumers all over the country. Although markets generally have separate spaces allocated for each food group, vendors often ignore this and it is not uncommon to find a vegetable seller between fish and meat vendors, and vice versa. Indeed, more than one-third of the markets do not maintain a separation of food categories inside the market. This puts food safety at risk and significantly increases the likelihood of cross-contamination.

Another frequently observed risky practice is of meat vendors slaughtering birds or animals in front of their own stalls. Only 6 percent of the markets have a slaughterhouse or a designated space for slaughtering. The number of slaughterhouses in the city is simply not adequate to meet the demand of all the fresh-food markets. In addition, vendors are reluctant to use slaughterhouses as they are often poorly functioning or too far from the markets. This practice of slaughtering in the open is not only harmful for the environment but also increases the likelihood of cross-contamination and can compromise meat quality.

Inadequate basic services hamper operations

Fresh-food markets need a set of basic services to be available in order to be able to operate satisfactorily. The assessment collected data on the availability of the five most important basic services: water supply, electricity, sanitation, ventilation and lighting. Apart from sanitation, all these basic services are available in more than 80 percent of the markets although this is not to say that these services are necessarily of a satisfactory standard. The adequacy of a safe water supply, disputes between vendors and market committees over payment of electricity bills, lack of natural light and poor airflows inside the markets are all issues of concern. Having services available means little unless they are well maintained and equally available to all vendors and customers.

More than 40 percent of the markets do not have toilets. This is alarming as toilet and handwashing facilities are necessary for the personal hygiene of vendors and customers. In addition, only 7 percent of markets have gender-segregated toilets, which can significantly reduce the opportunity for women to shop.


Dhaka's population is projected to rise to 27 million by 2040, continuing to add pressure to the existing market infrastructure, and posing significant challenges to ensuring the supply of and access to safe, nutritious and healthy food for its citizens. This population trend makes the need for functional, hygienic and sufficient fresh-food markets more acute. In addressing food system issues, the spatial analysis of market locations, to enable the identification of areas of the city with low levels of access to fresh food, and informed planning and construction of new or upgraded markets, as well as the use of a market database to regularly monitor market performance, are important tools.

John Taylor is an urban planner and Chief Technical Advisor for FAO's Dhaka Food System Project. From Urban Agriculture Magazine 38.