Quick Scans | A knowledge base for healthier diets in Accra
The Ghanaian Urban Food Environments Impact Coalition has also conducted and produced a series of five 'quick scans', which focus on the different factors that influence consumers’ food choices, whilst analysing the steps that can be taken to promote healthy diets in urban areas.
Population growth combined with rapid urbanisation presents huge challenges in providing enough food to the global urban population. Towards 2050, food demand in West and East Africa is expected to more than double, and increase two to four times faster in certain urban areas than in rural areas. At the same time, obesity and diet-related diseases such as diabetes are on the rise, especially for city dwellers who can so easily access unhealthy fast food. For securing the health of the global urban population, consumers should be enabled to make healthier food choices. Yet, this foreseen healthy consumption is about more than just filling stomachs: what people eat should also be nutritious. The question is thus: how could these nutritious diets be promoted in urban areas? Recently, The Broker has tried to answer this question through the development of ‘Quick Scans’. These Quick Scans serve as a knowledge base for the Netherlands Food Partnership Ghana Urban Food Environment Collective Impact Coalition. This Ghanaian-Dutch multistakeholder initiative aims to make healthy diets available to all in the city of Accra, Ghana, working from a broader food systems perspective.
Collectively Improving Food Environments in Ghana
The Ghana Urban Food Environment Collective Impact Coalition focuses on improving food environments. Food environments consist of everything present in a person’s daily life that can influence how and what we eat: from cheaper food being presented at the bottom shelves of supermarkets to television commercials encouraging children to buy unhealthy food. If all the little things present in a person’s daily life together cause that person to make healthy food choices, it reduces malnutrition and diet-related disease - which is why food environments are so important.
The Broker, with input from the Netherlands Food Partnership and Wageningen University & Research, produced five Quick Scans, one of which is focused on the general food environment in Accra, while the other four focus on sub-themes identified by the coalition as crucial to improving urban food environments: the urban consumer; trading and purchasing environment; healthy food availability; and an enabling environment for healthier food environments. The Scans each present a short overview of current knowledge and inspiring examples on how to improve these spheres. You can download the pdf file containing all five Quick Scans here.
Accra’s food environment does not necessarily provide convenient and affordable food that is also healthy to its consumers. This is in part due to an abundance of street food stalls that offer ready-to-eat meals and the rise of fast food franchises. These venues, though not generally the most healthy options, allow consumers to consume food on-the-go that is both within their budget and allows for extra time to be spent on earning income, rather than food preparation. However, we identified several leverage points that can enable consumers to make healthier dietary decisions, four of which we explain here:
- There is growing awareness in Accra about the importance of healthy eating. But fear of immediate health consequences such as the risk of food poisoning from eating raw fruit and vegetables often outweigh fear of the longer-term consequences of consuming (safer) fast food on a daily basis. On top of this, fast food and ready-to-eat street food is so easily accessible and integrated in urban culture, one can understand there is little incentive to change unhealthy eating habits. Social and behavioural change interventions, for example through local radio stations or by educating children at school, can increase the growing awareness of long-term health risks and inspire people to make healthier food choices. Such interventions can also be used to enhance food safety, for example by encouraging food vendors to use gloves when handling raw fruit and vegetables.
- The urban consumer in Accra generally prefers to shop in traditional markets, which offer a great variety of healthy food – greater in fact, than supermarkets. Improving physical and working conditions of the trading and purchasing environment leverages this behaviour and can also improve the safety of food that is sold. In addition, informal food stalls within or around markets that provide ready-to-eat meals can bolster the nutritional value of meals by using healthy safe ingredients in their preparation.
- The availability of food that is both safe and healthy starts at farm-level. Providing farmers and processors with knowledge and training is a tried and tested way forward that can lead to official food safety certification. But safe and healthy produce also requires material investment, for example in good storage facilities to prevent perishable foods from spoiling. This can increase fruit and vegetable yields and contribute to the safety of food sold both formally and informally.
- For all the above to be implemented successfully, an enabling environment is needed. Farmers, traders, and anyone else willing to improve urban diets must have access to finance to allow for investment in things like traditional market upgrading. Arguably even more important however, (local) government must empower urban consumers to make healthy dietary decisions, for example by developing and promoting food-based dietary guidelines and implementing good labelling practices.
It’s all very well to say what should be done, but the big question is how it should be done. To answer this, the Quick Scans include examples of interventions in similar environments, including lessons learnt and recommendations for smart strategies that could be followed in Accra. The Quick Scans also provide options for potential future partnerships with other initiatives. This offers opportunities for the coalition to base their current and future actions on tried and tested methods. You can find a summary of this for each Quick Scan here.
The coalition has sprung into action, organising food safety training for food processors, providing urban farming demonstrations, facilitating traditional market improvement plans by vendors and managers, discussing food-based dietary guidelines with the government, and more. The knowledge base provided through the Quick Scans is helping to make impact as we speak. We cannot wait to see what else the coalition has in store!
Netherlands Food Partnershipvnigten@nlfoodpartnership.com