Ghana Urban Food Environment Coalition Advocates for a Healthier Food Environment in Ghana

On Wednesday 25th May 2022, the Ghana Urban Food Environment (GUFE) coalition marked the end of their first year of activities with a public event, held at the Ghana Innovation Hub in Accra.

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Download the End of Phase 1 Event Report

Half of Ghana’s population are currently living in urban areas and face imminent food and nutrition security challenges. These exist but are not limited to food availability, safety, quality, and affordability. Diets are changing with cheap, unhealthy packaged foods replacing more expensive, fresh, healthy, and safe options. On this basis, the Ghanaian Urban Food Environments (GUFE) collective impact coalition came as a stitch in time, with little attention paid to the urban dweller's food environment to enable them to make healthy dietary choices. The Ghanaian-Dutch multi-stakeholder coalition aims to shape and improve the environment in Accra, by connecting activities within the total food system, with a particular focus on nutrition outcomes.

The aim of the event was to update relevant stakeholders, invited guests and the general public on the GUFE program, its year’s activities and the programme's impact so far. The event was also designed to inform the general public on the importance of healthy and safe food environments. Specifically for the purpose of the continuation of the GUFE coalition, the event aimed to draw in key partners who will connect with the coalition and support its continuation. Amongst the key stakeholders in attendance were the Netherlands Embassy in Accra, Ministry for Food and Agriculture (Planting for Food and Jobs), Solidaridad, and the Netherlands Africa Business and Culture Council, among others.

Speaking to the attendees and to Joy News TV, Vanessa Nigten shared NFP’s agenda on Food Environments and their cooperation in Ghana. Vanessa mentioned “the Netherlands is keen on guiding its partners with knowledge and expertise on Food Environments, to achieve urgent changes that contribute to sustainable food systems and nutrition security in order to reach SDG2 (Zero Hunger) by 2030.” Vanessa also described the role of NFP, which is to connect and support initiatives by Dutch companies, organisations, and other partners cooperating in low and middle-income countries in order to improve impact in these countries. “In Ghana, where obesity and non-communicable diseases are highly prevalent, improvements of (urban) food environments are high on the academic and governmental agenda, this in combination with many siloed Ghanaian-Dutch activities in the food system, made Ghana a high potential case to conduct these connecting for impact activities.”

See 9.00sec - 12.25sec for report from GUFE event

Dr. Kinsgsley Preko from the University of Cape Coast is GUFE coalition president and shared his insights on the activities of the coalition action groups that work across various parts of the food system during the past year, from consumer behaviour to safe healthy supply. In addition, Dr Preko also provided an update on the strategy to move towards more merged joint coalition activities, focused on traditional market upgrading. Dr Preko’s presentation challenged both governments and private sector players to be significant stakeholders and actors in achieving a healthier urban food environment in Ghana. He explained “this should be centred around the upgrading of key market infrastructures (such as sanitation, waste management, drainage, and storage systems, physical access), whilst engaging with local government and market leaders to enhance and sustain the organisation of markets organisation and revenue collection. This is, in order to assure better access for urban dwellers to fresh safe healthy foods.” Dr Preko continued by explaining, “the continuous consumer sensitisation on healthier food choices for example via home gardening was key in achieving the aims of the coalition to improve intake of healthy diets.” He further emphasised, “there is a need to generate more evidence on the current situation, processes, and outcomes and use that data to further advocate for healthier food choices, improve the food value chain, and ensure proper hygiene and safety standards with the relevant key stakeholders.”

Joining from Canada via Zoom, Professor Amos Laar, (Principal Investigator of Ghana HD4HL Project and important coalition partner from the inception phase of the coalition work, gave a very insightful presentation on the future opportunities to jointly contribute towards the improvement of GUFE. He identified ample opportunities for the coalition to continue and link with the national nutrient profiling model that is central in the Healthy Diets for Healthy lives project. This open transparent system for classifying foods as healthy or unhealthy and for informing policy will be developed, implemented and monitored by means of a framework presented by Professor Laar. This consisted of a contextual analysis, agreement amongst key stakeholders, establishment of a task team, evidence based development as well as implementation. Relevant GUFE member organisations working within the domain of ensuring a positive food environment, can jointly play key roles in this process. Professor Laar asked coalition members to rally their respective expertise, to generate evidence and contribute to the actions needed for change.

Speaking on behalf of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Mr Derrick Badu Boateng (Senior Agricultural Officer) stated that the coalition's vision to improve healthy and safe food is directly linked to the national Planting for Food and Jobs programme. Mr. Boateng went on to explain, “the doors of government are open for initiatives that support the structural transformation of the Ghanaian economy, this includes the creation of employment opportunities related to securing food security and food systems transformation.”

The event brought together approximately 40 in-person guests at the Ghana Innovation Hub, together with 25 online participants. Each of the participants showed an interest and openness in joining and continuing coalition activities. In particular, this is with a specific focus on the upgrading of markets in which activities throughout the whole food system physically come together. In the afternoon an open space session was facilitated in which participants could exchange ideas and jointly decide on concrete plans for the second phase of the coalition. Participants defined three major topics on which to focus their discussions: consumption, marketing and production, with enabling environment and job creation unanimously chosen as cross-cutting themes. Ideas were developed around urban farming and (young) consumer sensitisation, food treatment and safe food supply, with ample opportunities to generate jobs in order to realise this. One of the clear conclusions was that across each of these spheres, the national and local government actors are key and that their engaged involvement in foreseen coalition activities should be given highest priority.

In order to realise this, the GUFE Coalition will be reformed during the final stages of phase one, to allow the coalition to take on a more progressive and sustainable approach to self-sustenance. In the shared agenda between Ghana and the Netherlands from Aid-to-Trade, the coalition will seek to emphasise private sector-led and related job creation activities. As such, this will include opportunities which continue to create an impact in the urban food environment from a food systems perspective. Now that NFP will be stepping away, joint back-bone support will continue to be delivered by MDF and GNBCC to synergise the programmes and align them with their own related themes and those of closely related organisations. The combined energy of the knowledgeable and relevant actors provides a promising and solid foundation for continued joint contribution to healthier Ghanaian urban food environments, and to reach SDG2 in 2030.

Author: Joana Chemel, MDF West-Africa