Living Off-Grid Food and Infrastructure Collaboration

This research is designed to help improve the lives of the poorest residents of cities in Africa and Asia by focusing on how they are meeting their basic needs and accessing infrastructure, particularly when they are living ‘off-grid’.

The research is led by a consortium including experts in urban research from Africa and Asia, brought together by the Institute of Development Studies.

We will focus on five cities which represent different types of urban environment: Tamale, Ghana, Mossel Bay, South Africa, Epworth, Zimbabwe, Bangalore, India and Colombo, Sri Lanka. They were chosen because, while planning and infrastructure design and provision is improving for some parts of these cities, such provision is not expanding fast enough to keep up with urban growth and provision is not evenly distributed for all.

We focus on five main types of infrastructure – water, sanitation, energy, transport and communications. In most poor neighbourhoods people meet their needs in a variety of ways – informal access to formal grids such as illegal energy hook ups; ‘off-grid’ forms such as latrines or bore-wells; hybrid forms such as reliance on water trucks when urban supplies run dry; or local vehicles providing ‘last-mile’ connections to public transport. A particular concern in these cities is whether such critical infrastructure is sufficiently robust and stable to weather the multitude of human/political and environmental shocks and stresses facing cities, ranging from droughts and floods to political and financial crises which can literally ‘turn off the lights’.

In order to gain a better understanding of these systemic urban issues and how they are affecting the poorest and most marginalised, we focus our research on one key way of measuring whether basic needs are being met – whether people have stable access and availability of sufficient, diverse and nutritious diets – their ‘Food and Nutrition Security’. This provides us with a way of researching how these various infrastructures combine at multiple levels, in order to achieve a more ‘systemic’ understanding of infrastructure provision and the implications for people’s lives. This has been little researched to date, but is critically important to understand for urban planners and infrastructure providers.

Explore a range of outputs and insights from the work of the Living Off Grid Food & Infrastructure Collaboration.

Project details

start date
1 April 2020
end date
30 September 2023


About this project

Programmes and centres
Food Equity Centre


Recent work


Making ends meet in Sri Lanka – urban poor families in crisis in Colombo

The economic and political crisis in Sri Lanka has affected almost every home in the country in some way, and for the working-class poor of the capital Colombo, the effect has been devastating. Whether they recover from it, and the long-term implications of it cannot even be comprehended. "We...

14 October 2022