Urban Food Environments

Putting consumers center stage and reasoning from their needs, knowledge, desires and opportunities has the potential to improve nutrition outcomes and contribute to SDG2. A diverse range of Dutch and Ghanaian stakeholders from Public health campaigners to large food companies, informal market women, urban planners, sustainable fruit & vegetable producers and government regulators are joining forces to enable urban consumers to make healthier food choices. At the intersection of the diverse dimensions of the food environment they are active in, they jointly explore development of a Collective Impact Coalition from a food systems approach.

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. Netherlands Food Partnership plays a role in identifying relevant partners and cooperation opportunities and facilitating connections, multi-sectoral exchanges, framework and action plan development and co-creation for mutually complementary actions to improve these Ghanaian urban food environments.

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 by providing opportunities or constraints that influence people's decisions about what to eat. These dimensions include food availability, prices, accessibility, affordability, desirability, convenience, marketing and regulation, vendor & product properties and urban infrastructure. Healthy dietary choices could make significant differences in African countries, in particular cities, where problems of undernutrition persist and where the prevalence of obesity and nutrition-related non-communicable diseases is rising. These choices have not only 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.​

It is becoming increasingly clear that healthy diets are essential to reaching climate and environmental goals. Yet, 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 in fact determined by several infrastructural deficiencies at a broader city/region scale beyond household level.

Solutions thus lie with a sustainable transformation of food systems, including interventions along the entire food supply chain, in the political economy that shapes the larger context of trade, public expenditure and investment policies, and definitely in the food environment. In order to address these challenges, it has become clear that for healthier African food environments, seeing their system nature, it is required that public-private engagement and multi-stakeholder dialogues and activities achieve significant progress.

Nutritious diets for urban consumers

The question at the centre of this: 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?

As the starting point Netherlands Food Partnership composed a 'scene setter' document. It gives a brief overview from literature on the transformative potential of (African) (urban) food environments contributing to SDG2. Based on current bottlenecks from this literature and exploratory talks with coalition members, five potential coalition challenges have been identified. Two of them being: How can needs of informal urban market actors be included in policies for the improvement of urban food environments?; How can food sensitive and inclusive city planning and governance (of policies, infrastructure and services) be supported? All five potential challenges are listed in the 'scene setter' document.

Scene setter document

Exploring Dutch-Ghanaian coalition

After the exploratory talks, the first online coalition meeting took place in October 2019 with +30 stakeholders from Ghana and The Netherlands. These ranged from food and nutrition experts​, ​to urban planners, government officials​, ​as well as actors from the field of marketing, labelling and education, ​and representatives of consumers, producers and retailers, also from the informal sector. The meeting (meeting report can be found here) was set up to explore the added value of a Dutch-Ghanaian coalition on food environments.

Participants underscored that: The coalition is timely and needed, as is early engagement of relevant players.

Read the meeting report

Four domains for joined activities

Based on all input of the various partners so far, a framework for the coalition work in 2021 has been developed, focusing on:

  1. Urban Consumer;
  2. Trading and Purchasing Environment;
  3. Healthy Food Availability;
  4. Enabling Environment.

In each of these domains, which contain more specific dimensions of the food environment, action groups are being further developed. These action groups will pick up leverage points and develop concrete action plans within a wider food systems perspective, drawing from their experiences and existing knowledge. They will jointly work on combining local needs, policies and scientific insights to develop, pilot and scale-up practical sustainable solutions, putting the Ghanaian urban consumer center stage with the aim to make its diets more nutritious. Depending on its further development and results, the coalition work might later be expanded to other countries.

View the Framework

The Collective Impact Coalition is in the explorative phase and open to all parties active in or related to (the improvement of) urban food environments. Anyone interested in more information about or interested in joining this Collective Impact coalition is invited to connect with Netherlands Food Partnership.

Sign up to the newsletter of Netherlands Food Partnership to stay updated via email. You can select 'Urban food environments' as your topic of interest.

Photo credits: Accra, by Virgyl Sowah, Accra, by Kevin Tucker and Kumasi, by Reuben Hayfron, all photos on Unsplash


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Vanessa Nigten

Netherlands Food Partnership