Ghana Urban Food Environments | Theory of Change

Multiple aligned pathways to synergised outcomes for healthy consumption in Accra | Theory of Change for the Collective Impact Coalition for Ghanaian Urban Food Environments.

Market-in-Accra - Credit Citi newsroom

Photo Credit - Tom Cockrem

Written by Katherine Pittore, Centrefor Development Innovation, Wageningen University Research

Ensuring adequate food for growing urban centres remains a critical challenge. Achieving SDG2, ending hunger, as well as SDG11, creating sustainable cities and communities, requires solutions to the many challenges facing rapidly urbanising cities across Africa. An increasing urban population, driven in large part by increasing rural-urban migration, means that more mouths need to be fed by a small number of (rural) farmers. Issues affecting food quality are seen across the food system. Producers, to increase yields, often rely on chemical pesticides and fertilisers and often lack the knowledge on the correct application of these, raising concerns about pesticide residues. Markets often lack adequate sanitation facilities such as running water, creating challenges for informal vendors to ensure food safety. Consumers on low incomes often choose foods which are more filling, such as rice, over nutrient dense, but low calorie options such as vegetables.

The Collective Impact Coalition for Ghanaian Urban Food Environments was established to find joint solutions to these issues by addressing them from a food systems perspective. The coalition is supported by the Netherlands Food Partnership, MDF Ghana and the Ghana Netherlands Business and Culture Council and consists of (young) food entrepreneurs, urban planners, farmers, chefs, nutrition workers, government officials, food journalists, academics and many others from Ghana and the Netherlands. Starting in the capital, Accra, the coalition hopes to find effective solutions to the many challenges facing the urban food system in realising healthy meals for all. To better understand how the coalition’s efforts are supporting their goals, the group recently came together to develop a theory of change for the coalition.

A Theory of Change to support alignment of the coalitions work

A theory of change (ToC) attempts to explain how, and why, activities undertaken as part of a project are thought to lead to the desired change. Starting by explaining the problem, the theory of change attempts to describe the activities that will be carried out by the project, the outputs that will be generated by these activities, and the changes in actors’ behaviour as result of these outputs (often called the outcomes). Assumptions about relationships and assumed behaviour changes are made explicit, and ideally based on evidence of what works from other contexts. These insights can be taken into consideration by the groups while further shaping their action plans. Indicators for how progress towards the desired end result will be measured, are also considered.

The Collective Impact Coalition for Ghanaian Urban Food Environments works through four Action Groups. Experts from a wide range of backgrounds jointly build and implement various activities, focussing on most pressing leverage points. Since the themes of the Action Groups are quite broad, each group has chosen one specific issue to focus on as a starting point.

  • Action group 1 focuses on urban consumers, and specifically on stimulating people, especially youth, to get involved in urban farming as a way to increase (awareness of) access to, and consumption of, nutritious diets.
  • Action group 2 works on improving the trading and purchasing environment, starting with market upgrading activities in a number of large markets in Accra.
  • Action group 3 supports increased availability of healthy food, focusing on improving capacities of small scale processors to produce safe foods.
  • Action group 4 supports initiatives to make Ghana’s food environment one in which the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.

The coalition was provided with a small amount of seed funding from the Netherlands Food Partnership to get activities started and demonstrate a proof of concept. However, as the first set of activities is about to end, the coalition wishes to develop a theory of change to show how the coalition envisions that its actions contribute to a food system which delivers healthy and sustainable diets for Accra. Additionally, the theory of change can support improvement and evaluation of the coalition’s work, making the links between the activities and eventual outcomes more explicit. While the theory of change presents each action group separately, one of the critical ways that the partnership adds value is by working to address challenges and bottlenecks across the food system, and thus synergies and collaboration between the activities of the members were also considered.

Please find a pdf of the ToC here.

Pathways of the Action Groups

Action Group 1 seeks to work directly with consumers to address poor eating habits and challenges urban consumers face in accessing healthy foods. Through support to creating urban farms, to generating discussions on social media around healthy diets, to running workshops on urban farming, to stimulating dialogues and discussions by community leaders, they seek to change perceptions around urban gardening and the importance of food culture and healthy eating. Research carried out by the University of Ghana seeks to track changes in diets as a result of the Action Group activities, as well as to better understand the consumption patterns of Accra’s youth, in order to steer the upcoming Action Group activities. Critical assumptions of the Group include that people have time for and interest in farming, and that they are able to effectively address misconceptions related to costs associated with farming and people have confidence in their abilities to farm. Progress towards achieving their goals will be measured, in the short term, by research activities looking at changes in diets of the participants, and in the longer term through large scale surveys looking at diets, such as the ones that are run by the Ministry of Health. Because much of the work of the Action Groups focuses on networking and changing ideas and perceptions, they are also interested to find or develop more innovative metrics for measuring these changes.

Action Group 2 prioritised activities around upgrading of traditional markets, working with market stakeholders, such as vendors, transporters, managers and governors to understand how food flows through the markets, and how the markets are governed. Facilitating discussions between stakeholders to create a better designed market which is able to meet the needs of all stakeholders (consumers, retailers, those in charge) as well as increased trust between the vendors and the authorities. Specific training will also be provided to other stakeholders. Vendors will be supported in obtaining safe and environmentally appropriate packaging for their products. Farmers will receive training on stock management and food storage practices to reduce post-harvest losses, and consumers will be educated on the benefits of nutritious, healthy and safe food. A common vision for the market and increased levels of trust between stakeholders should lead to concrete improvements to market design and infrastructure, creating an improved market experience for all stakeholders. These improvements, combined with training, can improve overall food quality and reduce wastage in markets, particularly of perishable foods. Critical assumptions include that the cost of the market upgrading does not get passed on to the consumers, and that all stakeholders are willing to engage in the process, which has not always been the case so far. Progress towards achieving these goals can be measured, in the short term, by changes to market infrastructure, such as access to electricity or fresh water, or through improved service delivery, for example rubbish collection and in the longer term by increased purchase of healthy foods.

Action Group 3 focuses on improving local processing capacities, investigating food safety issues, providing training, awareness raising about the importance of food safety, and the development of standards and certification requirements. Through these actions, they hope consumers are empowered to demand for increased access to foods they are confident are safe, and that the changes in awareness of retailers will lead to changes in the overall food value chain and creation of improved infrastructure such as cold chains. Companies who participate in the training should also demonstrate improved food quality. There are a number of key assumptions; from the consumer side there is an assumption that they are able and are willing to pay for improved quality, and on the side of the producer, that they are motivated to improve practices (e.g. attend trainings) but also that they can recover the costs of the new practices, which is linked to consumer willingness to pay. The number of traders with certification (target 40%), demonstrated increases in knowledge as a result of the training, and companies demonstrating increased attention to food safety issues would allow for measuring the progress of this action group in the shorter term, and in the longer term safer food should be easily available in the market.

Action Group 4 works on supporting the enabling environment around consumption of nutritious foods, trying to make the healthy choice the easy choice for consumers. The critical policy area they are seeking to address is around developing a five point nutrient profiling system, which will allow consumers to quickly and easily decide about the relative nutritional value of a certain food. Ghana currently plans to develop its own unique nutrient profiling system, drawing on examples from other countries. The work of Action Group 4 supports national actions by providing background information to potential members of the committees who will be developing the nutrient profile, providing in-person training focusing on the gaps of existing profile systems and the benefits of a 5 point nutrient profiling as a means of creating awareness. The system could be monitored by looking at changes in knowledge of stakeholders (researchers, health actors and policy makers) who participate in the training and the development and implementation of Ghana’s nutrient profile in the long term. Development of such a system will require education and training of both policy makers, researchers and consumers, in how to apply, use and understand the new system. The development of a nutrient profiling system assumes that people have the capacity and motivation to change dietary practices, that education around the system translated into changed purchasing practices, and that the nutrient profiling system can be effectively enforced.

Coherence and cross-fertilisation

Links between the Action Groups are also important, and bring value to the idea of having a coalition working together, rather than only in separate Groups. Group 1, working directly with urban consumers, can support with education about food safety for consumer and the importance purchasing certified foods (link to Group 3), or engage consumers around the new nutrient profiling systems (Group 4), or facilitate discussions about the importance of healthy eating, and the fact that healthy food is not as expensive as it appears when one weighs the costs associated with poor health outcomes. Group 3, working on the issue of safe food handling, could also support the market renewal efforts of Group 2 by training food service providers on food safety issues, as well as consumers, about the value of certification to increase willingness to pay for foods which have been certified. Group 2, working on market upgrading should link to the work of Group 3 to ensure markets are upgraded in a way that provides safer foods, and Group 1, to ensure that the markets also meet consumer preferences and that these preferences are brought forward in the discussion around market upgrading. The new nutrient profiling system (Group 4) will be most effective if it takes consumer needs and preferences (Group 1) into account, and that systems are developed which are responsive to the needs of both larger and smaller scale processors (group 3).

Stimulating increased collaboration between the various Action Groups creates an effective coalition that is working to stimulate positive change across the food system. While the coalition has only been active for one year, it is hoped that they will be able to continue for many more. The theory of change can support the coalition to think about how the activities of the various groups can support each other, and stimulate thinking and networking between these two groups and monitor their collective action and progress towards achieving a healthy and sustainable food system to support all of Accra’s citizens.

Find out more about the Coalition here!