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Experts to discuss systems approach to attaining food security in Ghana

In recognition of the increasing pressure under which the global food system has fallen, the international community devoted Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end hunger, achieve food security, improve food nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

President-Nana-Akuffo-Addo-Ghana
President Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo of Ghana

What prompted this decision was not just about people sleeping on empty stomachs for a night or two, or farmers experiencing crop failure occasionally. It was about the on-going dynamics driving them, and which have turned these seemingly part of ordinary life incidences, into the “new normal” of life requiring urgent attention. The changing climate, ravaging pests, pressure on land and water resources are making life more and more tough for farmers. Then, is the challenge of meeting the food needs of a rapidly rising population, with a growing middle class that is no longer satisfied with basic traditional foods but is craving for more sophisticated meals.

Now, the scenario is no longer two or three people sleeping without food for one night, but thousands of people going without food for many days and nights. Statistics compiled by the Washington DC-based Earth Policy Institute say 27% of families in Nigeria experience foodless days. While in India and Peru, 24% and 14% of families are experiencing foodless days respectively.

But the problem is not just about going foodless, it also has to do with the nutritional contents of the food eaten. The lack of or insufficient nutrients in consumed food is known to be creating severe health issues of malnutrition especially for children and women. Thus, attaining food and nutritional security is a major 21st Century issue.

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Ghana is said to be experiencing the double burden of malnutrition, with high prevalence of under nutrition and overweight/obesity. National statistics indicate that almost a fifth of the population of Ghanaian children under five years are stunted – a condition in which a child’s intellectual and physical growth are impaired. Again, more than half of Ghanaian children between six to 59 months are anaemic. The prevalence of overweight and obesity is much higher among Ghanaian women than men with almost half of the population women suffering from the disease, compared to less than one-fifth in men.

Therefore, the National Nutrition Policy (NNP) has the goal to increase the coverage of high-impact nutrition-specific interventions that will ensure optimal nutrition of Ghanaians throughout their lifecycle. The mainly health sector driven interventions include the Essential Nutrition Actions (ENA) integrated maternal and child care programme.

All around the world governments, institutions, organisations and academia are rising to the challenge to arrest this pandemic problem in line with SDG 2. It is focused on getting sustainable solutions to end hunger in all of its forms by 2030 (just 11 years from now) and to achieve food security. The aim is to ensure that everyone everywhere has enough good quality food to lead a healthy life. And to attain this goal will require better access to food and the widespread promotion of agriculture.

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Some scientists and researchers are of the view that countries could get long term maximum impacts solutions to the complex food and nutrition challenges by tackling issues at the food systems level.

 In line with this thinking, experts working to improve food and nutritional security in Ghana will dialogue with Dutch international multi-stakeholder Research Groups of the Global Challenges Programme (GCP). The aim is to deepen knowledge on food systems and develop recommendations on how to improve joint strategies for future proof Ghanaian transitional food systems.

The theme for this meeting is: “Future Food Systems for Ghanaian Food Security.” It will take place in Accra on Thursday, January 17, 2019. It is being organised by the NWO-WOTRO Science for Global Development and the Food and Business Knowledge Platform ((F&BKP), based in The Netherlands.

Panelists will try to answer how Ghanaian consumers can sustainably access enough variety of quality food in accordance with their dietary and health needs. They will highlight practical examples for improving quality sustainable inclusive food consumption among Ghanaians. The panelists will additionally reflect on Ghana’s food and nutrition policy and explain how systemic analysis have been translated and applied to interventions on food systems transformation elsewhere.

Most importantly, the dialogue will help create the needed awareness of the inter-linkages within the various components of food systems from growing and harvesting to processing, transporting, marketing, consumption and disposal.

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It will establish that food systems outcomes are interlinked with outcomes relating to climate, health and socio-economics. Hence, activities in these areas could result in trade-offs with one another. The dialogue will highlight the importance of careful consideration in decision making, so that the resulting trade-offs will enhance and not worsen the food and nutritional status of the people. Trades-offs is the process of weighing the pros and cons of choices available in any given situation and making a choice that will best meet a particular need, fully aware of the consequences of foregoing the others.

There will also be group discussions on the preferred food systems and how to get policy support for good practices.

As part of the preparatory activities towards the Thursday afternoon event, members of the eight GCP Research teams, who are halfway through their four-year research work are already in Accra, fine tuning their midterm reports to share with participants and feed into the dialogue. Some of their works, which are specifically looking at the Ghanaian context include trying to understand drivers that shape the transitions in the food system that are necessary to improve food availability, access, utilization and stability.

One study for example, is examining the policy environment, with its related institutions at the international, regional, national and local levels. Additionally, the study is looking at the structure of production, sharing and exchange of knowledge and information, through skills, science and technology of various stakeholders.

Over 40 participants are expected at the event. They include researchers from the GCP group, academia in Ghana, The Netherlands and UK. Others are from the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); Forestry Commission, Ghana Health Service; Agro-based Enterprises; Farmer Groups; Solidaridad West Africa, an international NGO; and the Food and Agricultural Organisation.

By Ama Kudom-Agyemang

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