Editor's spotlight

African Food Forum to celebrate African food and highlight struggles with supply chains, ingredients & sustainability

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: zoeadjonyoh instagram. Mini feast from @ghanakitchen
Pic: zoeadjonyoh instagram. Mini feast from @ghanakitchen
Entrepreneur Zoe Adjonyoh is at the forefront of championing African food to the masses, having evolved from setting up a food stall in London seven years’ ago to opening her first restaurant, ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’, and now vocally promotes the challenges and triumphs of her heritage.

Her latest initiative is to create an African Food Forum with a two-fold purpose: to serve as a platform to celebrate what African countries are doing in terms of food and beverages; and to start a conversation around some of the struggles the nation has to deal with concerning supply chains, ingredients, sustainability and provenance.

African role models

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I am keen to create a platform that doesn’t exist already​,” said Adjonyoh, who is of Ghanaian/Irish descent.

The food landscape has been changing rapidly over the past 10 years but there has been no coverage of this type of food in any food-related press and media until the past eight years​.

In 2017, there was a keen interest in African cuisine but it’s seen as a trend, which limits it to something temporary. I have tried asking people to be mindful in the language they use because there are 54 countries on the African continent and each country has a different story to tell and different ways of cooking. There is no one thing that sums up African cuisine by using an African food trend term​.

We are seeing a rise in African food businesses and restaurants in the UK along with African origin street food places, but there is no-one on TV cooking food from these countries and people need role models​.”

African food can include anything from slow-cooked red-red and cassava, to jollof fried chicken, potjiekos (‘pot food’), sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra.  

There are specialities such as ewa agoyin and agege bread, romazava, malawah (Somali sweet pancake), fufu, ugali (cornmeal porridge), kienyeji mboga (traditional vegetables) and mursik (fermented milk), attieke-poisson thon et alloco (cassava, couscous and fried tuna) mealie bread, moi moi (Nigerian steamed bean pudding) and kachumbari (fresh tomato and onion salad dish). 

The problem Adjonyoh says is African markets remain ‘a dumping ground’ for many importers and exporters. As an example, she says: “China is flooding Ghana with imported chicken and rice, there is imported chicken in the fast food outlets and we need to raise questions that need to be addressed such as giving young people adequate education and skills in entrepreneurship to enable them to fulfil their economic and social potential.”

Numerous opportunities in mechanized farming, food processing, transportation, marketing and other business sectors are emerging that need talent and skills to fill these gaps so they can grow and expand to create meaningful employment for African youth, she added.

Unlock Africa's agricultural potential

The technologies needed to unlock Africa’s agricultural potential are related to the improvement of seed varieties, soil fertility enhancement and efficient use of water, for rain-fed and irrigated methods of farming.

Some of the main food types that are imported into Africa include corn, rice and wheat because, despite being the country’s biggest produced crop supply, corn demand exceeds supply and has to be imported, or, at other times, the weather and other factors fail and the country has to rely on external sources.

Another example is chicken. Even though the country boasts a large production capacity for poultry accounting for almost 20% of its agricultural output, this is not sufficient for its populace and it needs to cover the deficit by importing these products.

The same with sugar. Industrialization efforts by other countries have seen significant price drops in the commodity on the international trade platform, which has made sugar a popular import product. Due to current production technology in many of Africa’s countries, it is more viable to import sugar than produce it locally.

The same can be said for palm oil. The rate of consumption is on the rise because people are adopting Western food-style habits, eating more snacks and processed foods.

Where once Nigeria was a top producer of palm oil, it has had to rely on importing the product because it cannot meet demand.

The low productivity levels in Nigeria and West Africa are due to consistent adverse weather conditions that are negatively impacting output, high risks of operation and costs of production as well as reducing international prices on the product.

Nigeria blames its reduced capacity on the shift the country made to crude oil at the expense of agriculture. The only country currently enjoying a surplus in palm oil is Cote d’Ivoire.

Malaysia and Indonesia are currently the world’s top producers of palm oil and Nigeria admits even if it did return to its former production levels, it would take a minimum of four years with optimal weather conditions to realize anything close to its former capacity.

Food concept Sankosa

We need to acknowledge how to protect African agriculture, which is something to be mindful of when discussing a new type of food from a continent that people aren’t familiar with​,” added Adjonyoh.

Ultimately we need to talk about cultural preservation before people can engage in it (adopting a foreign product), promoting the food and turning it into a viable financial business, blocking others from investment, celebrating the progress but being mindful of what’s left to do in a country where local people are losing their skillsets​.

2019 is going to be a busy year as I am launching a food concept called Sankosa, which will be launched in April, and I will be cooking more in the US, working with chefs from Ghana and across Africa​.”

Adjonyoh will be taking to the stage at Amorevore Food Festival in Ibiza (October 26-28) hosting a session entitled ‘The African Food Explosion:​ Giving Heritage a Voice’ on Saturday October 27, from 2:30pm-3:30pm.

She was recently involved with the James Beard Foundation​ in partnership with New York African Restaurant Week this month and celebrates achievements on social media such as Dine Diaspora’s FoodieVenture: an Accra short documentary film showcasing some of the brightest minds disrupting the food and beverage scene in Accra, Ghana.  


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