Elijah Amoo Addo is a chef, food stylist, social entrepreneur, TV host and recipient of the 2017 Queens Young Leader Award presented by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace for his contribution towards social development across the commonwealth.
He is also the Founder and Executive Director of the Food for All Africa Programme, which recovers surplus food from supermarkets, restaurants and other sources in Ghana and distributes it mostly to facilities for children, the elderly and mentally-challenged persons.
Growing up in Ghana and Nigeria, Addo worked his way up from being a kitchen cleaner as a young boy, to becoming a junior sous chef, a sous chef then eventually as head chef at a number of restaurants in Accra, Ghana. He left full-time work as a chef to start the Food for Africa programme in 2012. He was inspired by a mentally-challenged man who recovered food from street vendors and shared it with others in need. The programme also runs “SDG 2” (Zero Hunger) crop and livestock farms and stores to foster agricultural employment and distribute rural products in urban centers.
He had a sit down with chefs4development and this is what ensued;
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Ghana and Nigeria. During my early years, I was in Ghana until age 11 when I lost my parents and had to go and stay with my Aunty in Lagos, Nigeria.
Why did you become a chef?
As the only boy amongst three sisters, I remember my late mother always made sure I was the first to taste and comment on the food she prepared for the family.This brought me close to her, and most of the cherished moments I had with her as the only son was in the kitchen with food.
In Lagos as a young boy, I picked up a job as a kitchen cleaner in a restaurant where I worked after school and on weekends to help support the upkeep of my siblings back home. One night in a hurry to go home, I threw away sauce which the chef had prepared in order to wash the saucepan. I remember the chef shouting at me, I started crying and burst out “Do you think if my Mummy was alive, I will be here as cleaner while other kids are at home learning for exams?” This made the chef feel sorry for his actions and opened up his kitchen for me, adopting me like a son.
Why did you get interested in cuisine?
My interest in cuisine grew as a result of the times I spent in the kitchen with my late mother. Whenever I cook, I feel her presence around me and this has always been my source of inspiration and passion for cooking.
What inspired you to start Food for all Africa?
In 2011, working as a chef of a big restaurant in my home country Ghana, I came into contact with a mentally challenged man who picked leftover food from trash bins to feed his mentally challenged friend on the streets. His actions inspired me to obtain excess food from restaurants to feed vulnerable communities. This led to the formation of Chefs for Change Ghana Foundation where I mobilised Ghanaian chefs to support the nutrition of low-income families in our society. In 2015, I resigned from my paid job as a Head Chef to start Food for All Africa.
Please elaborate on the issue about waste and hunger in Ghana.
Food for All Africa leverages on mobile technology to create efficient and sustainable means of nutrition for low-income families and vulnerable communities through food recovery and redistribution, as well as a forum for stakeholders within the food supply chain.
According to the 2014 Ghana living standard survey by the Ghana statistical service, 9.3 million Ghanaians cannot afford more than $0.81 on food daily. The Cost of Hunger report by the National Development Planning Commission in 2016 estimates that Ghana loses GH¢ 4.6 billion which is equivalent to 6.4% GDP annually to hunger among children and 24% of all child mortality cases in Ghana are associated with undernutrition. UNICEF in 2015 estimated 1 out of 4 children in most parts of Ghana goes to bed hungry at a time when 45% of food goes to waste along our food supply chain.
The Food and Beverage Association of Ghana estimates show its members lose over GH¢200,000 every month to food waste due to inefficiency of the food supply chain, and 95% of smallholder farmers in Ghana depend on the women in the local markets to buy their produce at low prices before it gets to urban centres. If not addressed, Ghana will be losing $8.9 billion annually to food loss and waste by 2020 while the growing gap between the low, income and middle class increases.
Food for All Africa operates West Africa’s first community food support service in Ghana by creating efficiency and sustainable means of nutrition for low income families, mostly children, as well as aged and vulnerable communities using mobile technology for food recovery, redistribution, farming and a forum for stakeholders within the food supply chain. Food for All Africa is gradually becoming Ghana’s emergency food supply agency for the vulnerable in society by recovering GH¢10,000-GH¢25,000 worth of food products on a monthly basis to feed and support to 5,845 beneficiaries.
Can you tell us about any farmers and chefs you work with?
Food for All Africa works with smallholder farmers mostly in the Afram plains of Ghana and urban chefs to recover excess food in supporting the vulnerable in society. Some chefs and farmers who have benefited from our program are Chef Joe Wilson Tetteh, Richland Yemoh, Samuel Noi and many others.
What is your personal mission?
My personal mission is to use food as a catalyst for the socio-economic development of the African continent by leveraging on technology to ensure sustainable and efficient means of nutrition for all especially the vulnerable in society.
Can you tell us what you are most excited about right now?
I am so excited about the Okumkom Community Food Distribution stores, a mobile app and community venture which currently distributes affordable and healthy food to low income communities in Ghana. This is a venture which I believe will facilitate the distribution of local food produced by smallholder farmers in Ghana. Also excited about my upcoming online chefs hiring venture which provides training and freelance employment opportunities for young chefs through an online portal called www.chefsonwheel.com