Story by: Rebekah Awuah
Street food is everywhere and in any country of the world. It is any food ready to eat food or beverage sold and sometimes prepared in outdoor public spaces like the streets, squares, parks, open-air markets, and many more by vendors or cooks on the move or stationary, from an outlet with or without indoor space to accommodate consumers. In Africa, street food vending and consumption have proliferated in the last three and a half decades. Such phenomenon is strictly linked to urbanization, that is, the combination of increasing urban population and spreading urban boundaries and urban sprawl. Indeed, on one side, a growing number of newcomers are pressing to access the waged labor market, which often does not expand as quickly, generating unemployment especially within those groups who rely on little social and cultural resources. To these people, self-employment becomes the only way to earn a living and street food vending, in particular, represents one of the easiest and viable jobs, as it requires little start-up capital and no formal education. On the other side, the increased commuting distances and the faster living and working pace have accentuated the demand for ready-to-eat, inexpensive, quick and nutritious food near the workplace among the growing urban low and middle working class. Given all the available solutions, street food is the one that best suits the needs of these urban dwellers.
Nowadays, African national and local authorities and international organizations agree on the nutritional, economic, social and cultural importance of street food. They are also aware of the critical issues associated with it, especially food safety issues and widespread informality of the sector. For this reason, since the 1980s, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been promoting the development of the safety and quality of street food as well as of vendors’ livelihoods and working conditions in the Region through the implementation of several targeted projects and initiatives. As part of FAO programming towards eliminating hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition, and support the provision of safe, nutritious and healthy food to the population of Ghana; FAO has a three-fold aim of backing efficient policies, acknowledging and inspiring other vendors, and developing and supporting a deserved positive image of the sector. This led the FAO and the Government of Ghana to agree on a three-year Country Programming Framework (CPF), in 2013 to enhance ongoing efforts at improving good practices among street food vendors with support for raising consumer awareness on food safety. Again, in 2016, the FAO Regional Office for Africa, also led an extensive field survey on street food vending within the Accra Metropolitan Area (AMA), in collaboration with the School of Public Health of the University of Ghana to gather updated and policy relevant information about the sector enabling public authorities as well as street food vendors and consumers to take informed and data-driven action towards the development of the sector. From the findings, it came out that as a whole, 3,334 street food vendors were found and mapped.
Ban or Not to Ban
To ban or not to ban street food vending has been pending. For many who want it banned, it is more of health concerns and for those who do not want it, the argument is tied to cost and accessibility of the service. We sampled views from some Ghanaians on the streets of Accra. Here are voices of those in favour of the trade. “Street food is satisfying the hunger of many common people. Food in most restaurants is not affordable to many. For many middle-class people, eating at street food carts is very cheap and convenient,” said Kwame Gyan, a Cobbler.
Appah Larbi, a Banker indicated, “there is no long process to start a street food and earn for living. It’s very easy for anyone to start selling street food. Many street vendors cannot afford a shop to start their business. If street food is banned, the unemployment problem will be even worse. And the Ghana government is not in a position to give alternate employment opportunities to all the street food vendors. Street food business is the easiest business to start with low investment. Small scale businesses are very helpful for the economy too.
Banning street food may eliminate some distinct cultural foods, that are now available only as street food. ”Nana Yaa, a young Artist caught up at her wayside joint says “If street food is banned, local talents will be neglected. Innovation and creativity will only be in the hands of big restaurants. Not all street foods are junk foods. Some street food sells healthy food like sprouts, carrot juices, etc”.
“There is no guarantee of hygiene at restaurants’ kitchens. Food checks are not conducted regularly in general. If there is no street food, restaurants in some localities may tie up to charge more for the dishes because people will have no other option. These days people are more cautious about health and hygiene, so people will choose to eat at carts where food is prepared in a hygienic way. Hence there is no need to worry because unhygienic street food carts will automatically be eliminated due to no demand,” said Mercy Otiwaa.
One of the main reasons for many health problems in Ghana, experts say is taking unhealthy food. Encouraging healthy and nutritional food, many believe will make Ghana a healthy nation. So for those who want the business banned this is what they had to say: A trained nutritionist, Mary Sey, said for her “street food is prepared in an unhygienic way. It is very difficult to conduct checks on hygiene at all the street food making places. It is difficult to hold them accountable in cases of food poisoning. Street food vendors also encroach footpaths, parking places and roads and worsen the traffic issues. Again, street food vendors add substances like ‘Monosodium glutamate’ (MSG) to make the dish tasty and addictive. This type of food additive is very harmful and cause health problems.
It is not a go to. I prefer to keep a lunch box with me any day anytime, according to Maabena a hairdresser. “A lot of these street foods are junk foods that are unhealthy and addictive. The quality of oil and the raw food items that are used in cooking may not be suitable to maintain good health. Street food carts are also often exposed to dust and vehicular pollution.”
The situation presents an opportunity to strengthen efforts to ensure that food people eat is safe to reduce the burden of foodborne diseases globally. With an estimated 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses annually, unsafe food has become a threat to human health and economies, disproportionally affecting vulnerable and marginalized people, especially women and children, populations affected by conflict, and migrants. An estimated 420,000 people around the world die every year after eating contaminated food and children under five years carry 40% of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year.
Global hunger and food insecurity are on the rise. Estimates suggest that almost 820 million people are hungry and close to 750 million people are affected by severe food insecurity. Food insecurity is the state of living without reliable access to affordable, nutritious food, often impacting diet quality and leading to under nutrition as well as obesity. In today’s world, eradicating hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition calls not only for reduced rural poverty and improved resilience of the most vulnerable people, but also for efficient food systems which are able to deliver sufficient and nutritious food for everyone.
Ghana has the conviction that improved food systems will contribute to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The Government is, therefore, determined to embrace global actions and ensure that the outcomes of the UN Pre-Summit on food systems, which ended in Rome were integrated into development policies and plans, and effectively implemented. In order to meet the Sustainable Development Goal of ending hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, the food sector must come together to find profitable solutions more especially for the informal sector of food vending.