University of Bayreuth, Press release No. 062/2023 - 12 May 2023
New research project in Kulmbach: Food corporations and public health in West Africa
Multinational food corporations have increasingly expanded their distribution networks and sales markets in the Global South. By way of their products, they are present in many African countries. A new project at the University of Bayreuth will now use the example of Ghana to systematically investigate for the first time how these companies define their responsibility for food, nutrition and health and put that into practice. The project is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and led by Prof. Dr. Tina Bartelmeß, Junior Professor of Food Sociology at the University of Bayreuth’s Kulmbach Campus. The findings are expected to generate new impulses for strengthening public health that extend beyond West Africa.
Under the influence of large food corporations, eating habits on the African continent have changed considerably. Here too, and not only in Western industrialized societies, consumption of highly processed and demonstrably unhealthy foods has increased. The result is an increase in non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and coronary heart disease. To date, few scientific studies have critically examined these relationships with respect to African countries. At the same time, however, there has been an increase in the willingness of companies in the agricultural and food sector to assume social responsibility through ethical voluntary commitments. Many corporations have now defined guidelines for their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and made them publicly transparent. The social, economic and environmental sustainability goals adopted by the United Nations have been important points of reference.
Against this background, Prof. Dr. Tina Bartelmeß’s research team first wants to find out which food companies are active in Ghana and have a strong influence on the daily nutrition of the population. Based on this, the CSR strategies of these companies will be analyzed, particularly with regard to whether they are suitable for making an adequate contribution to public health in Ghana. At the same time, the focus will be on the corporate activities of the food companies: the question is to what extent, for example, the products, the investment and pricing policy, the operational processes and the design of supply chains meet the self-imposed requirements of their own social responsibility.
"Our aim is to develop concrete recommendations for action in the food sector for the further development and application of CSR strategies. In doing so, it will be important to take into account the economic, social and cultural conditions in Ghana and, above all, to consider the interests and needs of the local people. In this respect, we see our research work as a pilot project aimed at aligning the hitherto largely unquestioned activities of multinational food companies in West Africa more closely with the requirements of a modern public health policy," says Prof. Dr. Tina Bartelmeß. Empirical studies on consumption decisions in Ghana will therefore also be included in this project. Currently, a survey among consumers in the vicinity of the capital Accra is being evaluated. It indicates that quality and safety are regarded as particularly important characteristics of food by the people in Ghana.
The new project, entitled "Responsibility and Impact of Multinational Food Corporations on Public Health Nutrition in Ghana", is one of a total of 22 projects currently being funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) with the aim of establishing new collaborations between Germany and countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the field of public health. The research team led by the Junior Professorship of Food Sociology therefore also includes two young African scientists: Dr. Eric Nyarko from the University of Ghana in Accra and Dr. Faith Onyangore from the University of Kabianga in Kenya.