Urban Food Environments

Putting consumers centre 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 have formed the Ghana Urban Food Environment Collective Impact Coalition.

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. 

Four domains for joined activities

Reasoning from a food systems perspective a framework for the coalition work in 2021 has been developed, focusing on four spheres:

  • Urban Consumer;
  • Trading and Purchasing Environment;
  • Healthy Food Availability;
  • Enabling Environment.

Based on their experiences and existing knowledge, the coalition formed four multi-stakeholder Action Groups, each focussing on one of these spheres. All Groups appointed a Ghanaian and a Dutch co-lead. To start, based on their current work, Action Group members have developed an action plan within their sub-domain with first leverage points their group will address to improve food environments. As of November 2021, these plans are put into action!

View the Framework

Developing a joint vision

To help the coalition develop a shared vision of the future food environment in Accra from a food systems perspective, Action Group co-leads wrote a visioning story. This allows the Action Groups to align their actions toward a shared goal. It also ensures that actions complement each other and have a larger impact than when actions are conducted separately.

The story gives insight into many varying aspects that influence the behaviour of consumers (and food vendors) in different ways in Accra. It shows the need to tackle these interrelated aspects in a deliberate way, defining most urgent and most leveraging actions and mapping synergies and trade-offs. Therefore the coalition aims to jointly develop transition pathways to achieve healthier consumer food environments and prioritise and sharpen their actions from there.

Read the visioning story

The Collective Impact Coalition is in constant development and is open to growth, and 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.

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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