Ghana as the frontrunner
The capital of Accra has been selected as a starting case, as Ghana is one of the African frontrunners in the field of food environments research and policy development. In Ghana over 40% of current adult deaths are attributable to nutrition-related non-communicable diseases. Professionals working within various dimensions of the food system indicated that (international) intermediary interventions to connect and catalyse cooperation between them would be very helpful to improve Ghanaian urban food environments.
The Netherlands Food Partnership has taken the role to facilitate the development of the coalition by constantly further identifying relevant partners and cooperation opportunities and facilitating connections and multi-sectoral exchanges, leading vision, framework and action plan development, establishing public will and shared measurement practices, and co-creating mutually complementary actions to improve Ghanaian urban diets. These actions will possibly be expanded to other African cities in the future.
Transformative potential of reasoning from consumer perspectives within a system approach
Food environments are seen as the range of dimensions that can enable or restrict healthy dietary choices. These dimensions include aspects like food availability, affordability, desirability, marketing and regulation, and urban infrastructure. Healthy dietary choices could make significant differences in African cities, where problems of undernutrition persist and where the prevalence of obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases is rising. These choices not only have the potential to save lives, but also allow the health costs associated with unhealthy diets (estimated to reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030) to be almost entirely offset.
The reasons why food environments prevent people from consuming healthy diets are multiple and cut across issues and sectors both directly and indirectly related to food value chains. While interventions have mainly focused on production, food availability does not immediately lead to (healthier) purchase and consumption. Consumers’ consumption choices are determined by deficiencies at a broader city/region scale beyond household level.
The question we must therefore ask ourselves is how to combine local needs, policies and scientific insights into joint practical solutions that put the urban consumer central with the aim to make their diets more nutritious. Solutions lie with a sustainable transformation of food systems and the food environment. This general question is the foundation the Ghana Urban Food Environment Collective Impact Coalition works from. The coalition aims to develop joint solutions through four action tracks, each led by one Ghanaian and one Dutch member.
In the long run, the coalition envisions traditional markets in Accra to be a popular place to work, visit, and most importantly, to be the primary source of food and drinks that are healthy, nutritious and safe to consume. This will be a big step forward in making healthy diets available to all. If successful, the work will expand to other African cities.