Productive uses of energy in the street food sector

In Senegal, South Africa, and Rwanda, the street food sector is one of the few industries that employs more women than men—on average, 63% of businesses in the industry are owned by women. This means that targeting the street food industry with energy access projects has an outsized impact on women.

This study looks at the effect the work is having on women’s lives, and how access to modern energy sources could impact the industry. These are the main findings:

Empowering work

The street food sector is an empowering one; workers in the industry exhibited high self confidence and decision making power, and felt appreciated by their partners and family. 75% of both male and female respondents working in the street food sector identified themselves as the main breadwinner in their household.

Effective subsidies

Household energy subsidies can help women start street food businesses. 37% of the street food workers polled were encouraged to start in the sector thanks to household energy subsidies, and used these subsidies in their work. Of the business owners that agreed their business relies on energy subsidies for survival, 83% were women and 17% were men.

Increasing business and safety

The addition of modern energy services was desired by most entrepreneurs to increase their business by gaining new customers. Safety was also a primary concern amongst polled workers. Electric lights can keep street food sector entrepreneurs safe while working at night and which helps extend business hours and increases sales.

Formalising the street food sector was also shown to be a useful way to increase the use of modern energy products. As street food sector entrepreneurs registered and formalised their businesses the use of modern energy products also increased.

Increasing the use of modern energy services in the street food sector can help it grow. If this is done while being careful not to introduce new gender imbalances, it can also help develop the social and economic empowerment of women operating street food enterprises.

Recommendations from the report

  • From the health benefits of cleaner cooking methods to the improved safety of electric lighting at night, leverage issues of health and safety to increase the attention of policymakers on the street food sector.
  • Promote bottom-up energy initiatives, either from local governments or the business owners themselves. Entrepreneurs have shown to be willing to pay for services, as long as they see clear, immediate benefits.
  • Keep business uses in mind when constructing home energy subsidies, and give workers in the street food sector better access to microcredit.


Read the full report here.