The importance of healthy diets cannot be overstated, with the World Health Organisation (WHO), indicating that consuming a healthy diet throughout the life-course helps to prevent malnutrition in all its forms as well as a range of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and conditions.
Despite its importance, the increasing production of processed foods, rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles have led to a shift in dietary patterns, with people now consuming more foods high in energy, fats, free sugars and salt/sodium.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that health costs associated with unhealthy diets will reach US$ 1.3 trillion a year in 2030 if nothing changes.
Back in Ghana, recent analysis covering the period 1980-2015 reveals a 500 per cent increase in prevalence of adult obesity, with over 40 per cent of current adult deaths in the country attributable to NCDs.
This therefore calls for the need for something urgently to be done and it is for this reason that the Netherlands Food Partnership (NFP), together with MDF Ghana and the Ghana Netherlands Business and Culture Council (GNBCC), is championing a programme to promote the consumption of healthy foods, particularly in the urban areas of the country.
The NFP as a backbone organisation is doing this by facilitating the set up and delivering some seed money to the Ghanaian Urban Food Environments Collective Impact Coalition.
The coalition is made up of Ghanaian and Dutch food entrepreneurs, urban planners, farmers, chefs, nutritionists, youth leaders, government officials, food journalists, representatives of market vendors, academics, among others.
To achieve their target, the coalition has set up four action groups that each started working on most pressing leverage points for improving the total urban food environment jointly.
They include; the Urban Consumer action group; Trading and Purchasing Environment action group; Healthy Food Availability action group; and Enabling Environment action group.
The Urban Consumer group, which is the first action group seeks promote healthy diets through the development of urban farms.
Within this concept, workshops have been organised for young urbanites about urban and organic farming, with training and guidance materials provided on how to start urban farming themselves.
The Group has also created an online and offline platform, to have food experts and chefs informing consumers about healthy food production, preparation and storage, with a particular focus on the nutritional requirements and attractiveness of food.
Commenting on the initiative, Knowledge Broker at the NFP, Vanessa Nigten, said this represented the first action phase of the group, with the second action phase, expected to focus on maintaining and enlarging the youth community they developed around the urban farm.
Trading and purchasing environment
This group is focused on the various food supply networks that run from farms to Accra markets, as well as within the market areas itself, all while working at the improvement of the conditions within the traditional market in Accra.
The group, together with their research team, embarked on a stakeholder consultation at Agbogbloshie and Domi markets with market leaders, environmental and sanitation officers, transportation unions, NGOs, security personnel and local government representants.
During the discussion they jointly explored the food value chain and how to improve the market atmosphere and sanitation.
Ms Vanessa Nigten, said this was to help the group in deciding on the best model to use for improvement of traditional markets in Accra to make them more attractive to vendors and buyers to market healthy products.
Going forward, she said this group was expected to continue their exchanges for planning development, whilst also including more local government actors in the discussions.
Healthy food availability
The Healthy Food Availability Group organised various food safety training for farmers and processors of fruits and vegetables for the Accra market.
During the training, producers were equipped and educated on food safety methods and precaution, in order to improve the quality of the food they produce, white avoiding food contamination and unsanitary production facilities.
A representative of MDF Ghana, Cecilia Gyimah Akuley, said as a follow up, there would be tailor made trainings for all participants on site. She said the training would focus on more advanced safety food improvement.
She noted that the farmers and processors would also be assisted to develop a sustainability plan for the continuation of their food safety improvement activities.
This Action Group has been working on a joint viable strategy for enhancing public and private food policy, with a view to establishing an improved supply of healthy, diverse meals in Ghana and its cities through.
The Group uses a methodology from Choices International, a global platform which co-creates and supports national initiatives for healthier food choices by means of a science-based set of criteria.
Ms Gyimah Akuley said the Group had organised three workshops on the Choices International methodology. International 5-level nutrient profiling model, the plan is to develop unique nutrient profiling system to suit Ghana taking clues from existing profiles.
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.
As part of the Group activities, policy makers, researchers and consumers, Ghanaian government officials and other stakeholders would be introduced to the process to adapt the Choices