Ghanaians should eat more fruits and vegetable
Recent evidence suggests high market potential for fresh fruit and vegetables in Ghana. Yet fruit and vegetables are not sufficiently consumed by the population to meet the recommendations by the Wold Health Organization (WHO) for daily requirements even though their consumption is seen as one of the best remedies towards the prevention of numerous health hazards.
The WHO estimates that low fruit and vegetable intake contributes to approximately 2.7 million deaths a year from chronic diseases and causes about 31 per cent of ischaemic heart diseases and 11 per cent of strokes worldwide. It ranks low fruit and vegetable intake as the sixth main risk factor for mortality in the world . Fruits and vegetables are good sources of essential vitamins and minerals referred to as micronutrients, needed in small amount but critical for a healthy functioning of the human body. This article review the nutritional and health benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption in Ghana as well as the attitude and perception of Ghanaian consumers to fruits and vegetable intake.
The main vitamins in fruit include vitamin A, B and C, and key minerals include iron and zinc. Eating of fruits and vegetables of different species provides your body a wide range of valuable nutrients. The lack of these nutrients in the diet can lead to micronutrients deficiencies with negative health consequences. Micronutrients deficiencies are common in developing countries (including Sub-Saharan countries including Ghana), where access to a balanced and diversified diet is a challenge. Many children and women of reproductive age are suffering every year from deficiencies in micronutrients, due to insufficient or low consumption of food sources that are rich in micronutrients, such as fruits and vegetables leading to poor health and socio-economic development of Ghana. On the other hand, increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with the prevention of other non-communicable conditions such as cardio-vascular diseases, obesity and some cancers). Recent research shows that fruits and vegetables are critical to promoting good health . To ingest the recommended amount, most people need to increase the quantity of fruits and vegetables they currently consume every day. One important aspect to consider when eating fruits and vegetables is the hygienic handling and preparation, since there are usually consumed raw, in order to reduce the risk of their contamination by microbes.
The consumption of fruits and vegetables will have a positive impact on the production of horticultural crops and will therefore boost the agriculture sector while creating job opportunities for fruits and vegetables farmers and commercial distributing agents. It has been estimated that the market potential in Ghana for organic fruit is GH¢32,117,113 (US$26,453,433) per annum and that of organic vegetable is GH¢1,991,224 (US$1,640,083) . The main fruits and vegetables grow in Ghana include green leafy vegetables, papaya, orange, mango, sweet potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, okra, carrots, red water melon, and white onions.
The global trend in fruits and vegetables consumption
Given the importance of fruits and vegetables for human health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations (FAO) have recommended a daily consumption of 400g of fruits and vegetables (equivalent to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables). This consumption level can significantly improve and prevent the health conditions mentioned above while reducing several micronutrients deficiencies, particularly in developing or emerging economies such as Ghana. In practice, there are disparities among countries in term of consumption. Consumption in low and middle income countries is generally lower than the WHO/FAO recommended levels. Various studies in Ghana have considered the development of the Ghanaian fresh fruits and vegetables industry, however a study conducted in 2009 in 52 countries (mainly low and middle income including Ghana) revealed that overall, 77.6% of men and 78.4% of women interviewed consumed less than the five daily servings of fruits and vegetables . In high income countries, though not optimal, the consumption is far better than in Ghana. This may be due to increased efforts put in place in developed countries to promote fruits and vegetables consumption.
There are also disparities between developing countries, as demonstrated in the same study conducted in 2009, which observed that fruit and vegetable consumption among men in Ghana was close to three times lower than consumption in men from Pakistan (36.6% against 99.2%). Similar trend was also observed in women, with 38.0% in Ghana versus 99.3% in Pakistan. Many factors could be attributed to low consumption of fruits and vegetables in Ghana and other developing countries. Among them, the availability, access, price, taste, lack of health education, as well as nutrition education are cited as the primary factors. The illustration below shows the factors that can influence fruits and vegetables consumption in the country. Nevertheless, the findings of the study acknowledged that there was a room for action in developing countries to mitigate this challenge. This will require strong political commitment as well as community education. Other organoleptic attributes influencing fruit consumption in Ghana include colour, freshness, taste, texture and size as well as consumer perception on the benefits of specific fruits to their well-being.
Potential Factors Influencing Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables in Ghana
What can be done in Ghana to improve the consumption of fruits and vegetables?
In Ghana, key actions taken by the Government and its partners such as FAO to promote the consumption of fruit and vegetables by the population include awareness creation for behaviour change and ensuring the cultivation and market accessibility and availability of fruit and vegetables especially by the vulnerable population groups. In 2012, the Ghana Institute of Horticulturists, FAO and the University of Ghana held a workshop on ‘Production and Consumption of Vegetables and Fruits: The Wealth and Health of a Nation’. The government is also engaged in promoting post-harvest management and processing of fruit and vegetables for market stability and prolonging shelf-live. Despite these efforts, there is still the need for improvement in strategic communication for continued change in behaviours. As shown earlier, in Ghana, fruits and vegetables consumption is low, estimated at 74 kg per capita per year but higher in urban areas than rural areas despites the higher opportunities of home grown production in rural areas1 and about 63% of the households fail to meet the recommended daily intake4. Though Ghana has a suitable climate and land for horticulture, the productivity of the sector could improve with adequate investments and curbing the export-oriented nature of the horticultural production, which is impacting negatively on the availability and the accessibility to all fruit and vegetables throughout the year.
Despite this trend, there are several practical solutions to increase and improve fruit and vegetable consumption in Ghana. First of all, the Government should pursue the creation of a favourable environment in term of fruits and vegetables production and availability. At policy and governance level, enhancing the horticulture sector productivity and production is key (i.e. promotion of horticulture sector, increased investments through seeds and entrants subsidies, mechanisation, better post-harvest management systems, use of new technologies, etc.). Furthermore, to increase local consumption subsidies could be put in place to reduce the price of fruit and vegetables. These could be coupled with nutrition education on the importance of fruits and vegetables consumption.
Mohamed Ag Bendech*
Senior Nutrition Officer
*United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
Regional Office for Africa, Accra, Ghana
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