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Re: What is the role of social relations and networks in household food security and nutrition?

Anna Antwi GD Resource Center (development NGO), Ghana
04.11.2013
Anna

The food system is an important social, political and economic unifier in most rural settings in Ghana. Again, food festivals are held in many societies at the beginning of new harvesting season. Some of the festivals are: Yam festival, Deer hunting, draining of the Lagoon (“Bakatue”) for fish etc. All these festivals have specific names depending on the locality and the purpose. Aside being grateful to God for the food from the new harvest season and asking for rains and protection in the coming year, the festivals and seasons bring people together for socialization and networking around food (be it crops like maize, yam etc; animals such as fish, deer etc). Families also come together in preparing, sharing and eating of specific foods during celebrations of any of human life cycle like birth, puberty, marriage, death and its related ceremonies.  It also builds a sense of belongingness, and common purpose for households and families to keep in touch. Families unite, eat, share information, settle disputes, and advise each other during such times.

In close societies, no-one goes hungry for lack of food. Food is freely shared and that reduces food poverty and vulnerability especially in rural areas and compound houses in urban areas. In effect, everyone is each other’s keeper.  Nursing mothers and old ladies (grandmothers) who stay at home prepare food for children and the sick to ensure food availability or access at meal times. The women also ensure nutritional wellbeing of all household members. Household members and at times able-female community members take turns to provide for women who have delivered. Traditional foods served by these women are more nutritious and have medicinal purposes. The extended family structure acts as a support system by providing labour for farm activities and environmental sanitation to ensure access to nutritious food. Farmers produce all kinds of foods needed in any particular setting to ensure wellbeing of their households in particular and the community at large.

Presently, societal values have degenerated and the current situation is “each one for him and God for us all”. This may be due to a number of factors such as; over use of electronic and electrical gadgets such as TVs, radios, phones etc for communication and educational purposes. Others including globalization, liberalized policies, urbanization and probably population growth have affected the food system of societies. People are consuming fewer foods in their natural states and more processed foods with more inorganic chemicals affecting health.  There is growing numbers of fast food outlets springing up all over the place, limited control over the use of agro-chemicals, less inter-cropping and mixed farming (almost all farms are into mono-cropping and large commercial farms with more use of synthetic agro –chemicals). Parents are too busy working or looking for money, and have less time to cook and spend fewer hours at home to the extent that they are not aware of what the households are consuming. Most working people are also eating from outside without knowing the nutritional value of the food. Urbanization has also contributed to the societal break down. Societal relations and networks have also broken down leaving more people to fend for themselves and their nucleus family.   

It is not only national governments, private sector and civil society but traditional rulers and local authorities (in a decentralized system) can support to ensure food and nutritional security at the household levels by using food-based approaches. Extension services can be used for nutrition knowledge sharing and technology transfer, farmers can be encouraged to diversify production (crops and animals) and all households to consume diversified nutritious diets. Researchers may go into bio-fortification of main staple crops, and general population may be encouraged to consume fruits and vegetables in addition to the body protection and building foods. The multi-sectoral approach to food and nutrition is a must in all countries. Communities need good portable water, and personnel to provide extension services in agriculture and health education. To conclude, we all have a stake in ensuring household food and nutrition security.

Anna Antwi (PhD).

Development Consultant,

Ghana.