In Accra, foodies and techies are coming together to create solutions to Africa’s food industry challenges while serving up the best of what the continent’s culinary ecosystem has to offer at Ghana’s first ever ‘food hackathon’. We met up with social entrepreneur, Yorm Ackuaku (@yorm_a), founder of Essense13, and a sponsor of the food hack, to learn about the opportunities she sees for creating extraordinary eating experiences, conscious consumption, a successful tourism industry, and making African food the next gastronomic trend.

Yorm Ackuaku, founder of Essence13 and Accra Food Hack Chair

Yorm Ackuaku, founder of Essense13 and Accra Food Hack Chair

(EO) What is the Accra Food Hack?
Accra Food Hack is a weekend-long, problem solving event. What we’re trying to do is bring people in the food industry and people in the tech space together to collaborate on challenges the food industry here faces. The theme for the hack is going to look at how we can use food to promote local and international tourism. So that’s what different teams will be addressing through the prototypes, the apps, the websites or whatever it is they come up with. And we’re doing it in Accra because Accra has the mass of people that are tech-savvy, a well-developed technology ecosystem. But I think that if there are things developed at the hack that can be applied in places like Cape Coast, where a lot of people travel to or Ada, Kumasi, Takoradi and all other tourism hotspots, I think that will be a good outcome and it’s something we hope to see as an annual event.

(EO) What are some of the challenges the Ghanaian food scene is currently facing?
(YA) I think the biggest challenge is awareness, especially on a global scale. People don’t really know what African food is. And so we’re hoping this is the first of many events that will raise the profile of African food. But we have identified four other challenges we will be addressing at the food hack. One is nutrition, So thinking about where do I find healthy food? Where can I go if I’m a vegan, a vegetarian, or if I’m gluten-free. And not just that, if I want a lighter or healthier version of banku and tilapia or palm nut soup, how do I do that? So we’re hoping we’ll have nutritionists come and talk about that. We’re also looking at convenience which sort of ties into what I’ve already explained but also looks at, for example, food delivery. If I’m visiting Accra, where could I order food to be delivered to my hotel or office? The third is sustainability. We really want to look at idea of recycling because food packaging is a big problem that we have in the food industry. We need to think of creative ways of packaging our food and I think we’ve done this traditionally like how we wrap our waakye in banana leaves, but need more of it. And then sustainability is also about figuring out how to recycle compost waste from our restaurants. The last, is employment in the tourism industry. This is something Essense13 is working on in the next 3 to 5 years. Our goal is to train people in the tourism and food sectors with really, really high level customer service skills and teaching them the importance of food presentation. So we are  hoping people at the food hack can help us come up with ideas around that.

(EO) Apart from the food lover and techie, who can we expect to see there?
(YA)  I think people that are looking for technology talent. City Investments Company Ltd.,  is going to be there because they are a big financial sponsor, but they will also be looking for technology talent to build apps for several products that they have. I also think that if you’re a business that’s generally interested in the tourism industry it’ll be great to be there. And if you’re just a regular Ghanaian, who wants a little more convenience like knowing where to order food for delivery, then the hackathon is for you. You’ll discover chefs like Midunu who is going to be catering our Saturday night event. I found her on Instagram and I just love, love, love the way she thinks about Ghanaian food. So coming there and experiencing something like that will give people a sense of what we’re trying to do with food tourism in Accra, Ghana and hopefully past the borders of Ghana.

(EO) What do participants need to bring along with them?
(YA) The main thing you need to bring is a laptop. We’ll have internet and food to fuel you throughout the weekend. And then of course, come with a great attitude and creative ideas. So start thinking about things you see in the food space that could be better with some sort of technology enablement. Someone tweeted about creating a waakye map, so somehow creating some sort of waakye locator where you can figure out where to get the best waakye if you’re in Tema. So fun but practical stuff like that.

(EO) Walk me through the schedule for the two days
(YA)  We start on January 8th, a Friday evening with some networking. We want people to get to know who’s in the space. After an hour of networking, we have a panel of food experts which I’m really excited about. And they’re going to talk about how they started their individual businesses and how technology plays a role in helping them grow and acquire customers in Ghana but also allows them to export our food to people that haven’t experienced it yet. The audience will have a chance to ask questions. After the panel, we’ll roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. This is when the teams will pitch their ideas for the things that they’ll be working on for the weekend. And if you don’t have a team, we’ll make provisions for you to set up a team. The rest of the evening will just be working with your team to solidify your ideas. The following day, bright and early, we’re partnering with BloggingGhana to do a photo walk for two hours. The idea is to go around and capture the food scene in Accra on a Saturday morning. And the reason we wanted to do this is because it puts people in space of the problem they are trying to solve. We want them to ask themselves, is the solution I’m coming up with really applicable in a local context? The rest of Saturday afternoon is about working on their ideas and then in the evening we’ll have final presentations. The judges will decide on the best idea and the winning team will receive a cash prize of 2,000 cedis.

(EO) How can the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and the Creative Arts get in on some of the conversations that will take place at the food hack?
(YA) A couple of weeks ago, the World Food Programme released some information on how the tourism industry is going to be the one big factor for economic development in developing countries in the next 5 to 10 years. So I do think it’s important for our Ministry to get in on the conversation. We tried to reach out them but it’s been a bit difficult to connect. We hope to engage them moving forward. We will have a post-event video and summary article and we could actually share that with them.