Scientists have called for policy interventions to prevent high levels of fruits and vegetables losses in Ghanaian markets.
Nutrition experts and collaborators say this is crucial for improving availability, access and consumption of fruits and vegetables, which can contribute to preventing overweight and obesity.
The team of scientists were attending a consultative workshop and meeting as part of the Researching the Obesogenic Food Environment (ROFE), a project implemented in South Africa and Ghana.
Overweight and obesity, which are on the rise in Ghana are important risk factors for high blood pressure, diabetes, cancers and other non-communicable diseases.
An important driver of overweight and obesity is consumption of highly processed energy-dense foods, which are becoming common, due to the changing food environment to one that is more obesogenic.
Meanwhile, fruits and vegetables, which are protective against obesity, are less available and consumed, and affected by post-harvest losses.
Researching Obesogenic Food Environments (ROFE) is a 3-year joint study between Ghana and South Africa.
Khayelitsha and Mount Frere in South Africa, as well as Ahodwo and Ejuratia in Ghana, were selected for the study.
The project, funded by the International Development Research Centre, seeks to understand the changing nature of food marketed in poor communities in both countries.
The first phase assessed food intake and decision making. The second phase focused on value chain analysis of selected healthy and obesogenic foods.
The third phase analyzed governance and political economy and identifies policy opportunities to improve the healthiness of the local food market are among the objectives.
Preliminary findings suggest Ghana’s environment is flooded with foods that increase the risk of obesity and associated complications, including imported chicken, Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, and biscuits. It also emerged that unhealthy foods are more patronized by the youth, women and the low income.
The consultative workshop, which is part of phase 3 of the project, brought together stakeholders across Academia, Government, Civil Society Organisations, Developmental Partners and the Media to deliberate potential policy levers available to improve the healthfulness of the local food environment.
Researchers embarked on a learning journey, visiting Darko Farms in Kumasi, food warehouses, vendors and market centres.
Learning journeys are a way of exposing a group of people, who are united in their interest in a particular issue (food environment), but diverse in their positions and perspectives to the current realities, experiences, and stories of the people most directly affected by the issue.
This exposure is an entry into a deeper understanding of working with the food environment and into a deeper engagement with one another about how to address these realities.
Principal Investigator of the ROFE Ghana team, Dr Reginald Adjetey Annan, said the learning journey was necessary to equip stakeholders with the tool to better address identified problems.
The workshop participants observed high levels of fruits and vegetable losses, including oranges, pineapples and watermelon at the open market visited in Kumasi. Traders bemoan the losses, which are due to exposure to the sun, lack of storage facilities and improper handling.
Dr Charles Apprey, a ROFE team member suggested the need for cold storage facilities for fruits and vegetables, as observed in other countries, including South Africa. This enables regulation of ripening and prevents spoilage.
Prof. Aryeetey, a participant of the workshop observes non-segmentation of the market has done little to encourage fresh food consumption.“The same vendors selling processed foods sell the fresh ones and mostly the processed products are cheaper and appealing and they have no option than to purchase,”
He advocates subsidies for fresh produce vendors to encourage consumption.
Kamil Mohammed of the Policy Analysis Unit of Ministry of Food and Agriculture urges urban farmers to make fresh foods available for local consumption.
“This can make food readily available to the local market so people can get easy access to healthful food,” he identified.
Mr Mohammed also encouraged proper food handling to enhance patronage, saying, “We need to have proper standards.”
President of Ghana Nutrition Association, Dr Kingsley Pereko, noted the country’s food regulations have failed to match the changing food environment.
“The older existing laws have not really previewed some of these happenings we’re looking at. Food regulations are much focused on processed foods coming into the country,” he decried.