‘Fish and chicken’ study earns 2023 PhD Dissertation Award

“Fish and chicken” is a nickname that may follow David Antwi for the entirety of his career. But he is ok with that. 

He has a ready comeback for fellow Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology students and faculty who call him “fish and chicken professor.” 

“By the end of the day,” he tells them, “you are likely to have eaten one or both proteins.” Research shows, after all, that Ghanaians consume a lot more fish and chicken on average than people in other African countries or elsewhere in the world.

Antwi also could point out that the likelihood of their contracting food poisoning may be reduced thanks to his decision to make fish and chicken the focus of his doctoral research. 

Or he could remind them that his thesis happened to earn him recognition as CARISCA’s PhD Dissertation Award winner last year. His winning dissertation is titled “Human Capital, Cold Chain Logistics Performance and Food Losses.” 

Antwi’s interest in studying food loss stems in part from his long-ago stint as a cargo truck driver, carrying goods from all over the country.

“As a cargo truck driver, there were instances when I encountered products getting expired along the journey due to temperature abuse,” he says. “And what that meant was that the aggregator who was supposed to buy and have it sold at the marketplace wouldn’t be able to do that. 

“So the aggregators would not be able to get money, the farmer would not be able to get money, and sometimes the truck drivers would be affected too.”

Where do we eat?

Rampant media reports on food poisoning linked to the consumption of frozen fish and chicken products also stoked Antwi’s interest in the problem. Roughly 90,000 Ghanaians die each year from food poisoning, and around 14% of all hospital admissions are for foodborne illnesses.

“High-class restaurants are registering food poisoning, wayside food vendors are registering food poisoning, households are registering food poisoning,” observes Antwi. “So it’s an issue; where do we eat?”

“It is either we help to reduce the losses or we go to join our ancestors untimely.” 

While undertaking his research study, Antwi observed operations at Tema Fishing Harbor and Asafo Market in Kumasi. He says what he saw there helps explain why food poisoning is so prevalent.

“Sometimes I would just go park, walk around and look at how the business is conducted,” recalls Antwi. “Clearly, the actors are not on top of the business. That is why their actions are leading to massive food losses and poisoning.” 

Antwi says he witnessed sellers taking food from the fridge, exposing it to the sun all day at the market and then returning it to the refrigerator in the evening to sell the next day. He asked one woman if she disposes of the food she hasn’t sold.

“She said, ‘No, we just smoke it when it goes bad,’” Antwi exclaims. “So they change the form. They smoke it, they grill it, and sometimes they fry it. And that makes the risk quite serious because you can’t tell if the product is bad,” he adds.

Even when it is noticeably off, consumers still purchase it, Antwi learned. That was the biggest surprise of his research.

“You see the product has gone bad, and the people will buy it because it’s a reduced price,” he says. “That was the surprising thing, because they see the quality is so, so bad. And the people are buying it because, in Ghana, eating chicken, we deem it a privilege. So it doesn’t matter the state to most people.”

We are all at risk

Antwi felt compelled to determine the root causes of the problem and find a solution. For his doctoral dissertation, he studied the actors in the temperature-sensitive food industries in Ghana, specifically licensed cold-storage facilities.

David Antwi

He surveyed almost 300 importers, distributors, wholesalers and retailers in four regions of the country. He looked at the relationships among three factors: human capital (workers), refrigerated transportation performance (maintaining proper temperatures during transport), and cold-storage facility performance (maintaining proper temperatures during storage). 

What he found is that all three factors are critical. The importance of prioritizing workforce development in the fight against food loss cannot be overstated, he noted. But improving either transportation or storage processes is insufficient. Both must be improved to make a difference.

“To reduce food loss effectively,” Antwi says, “businesses should invest in firm-specific skilled personnel, maintain high-quality transport and storage infrastructure, and encourage cooperation among participants in the supply chain.”

He hopes to use this knowledge both to educate future generations as a university professor and to bring about practical changes within the frozen-food supply chain. Antwi believes the reason he won the PhD Dissertation Award is because his research addresses a real problem.

“I had a lot of challenges with respect to my topic,” he says. “But I foresaw that it was going to be used to solve a question. 

“It’s a must that we pull resources together to help reduce the quantity of food loss. Because whether contaminated food is consumed or destroyed, it affects either humanity, the environment or both. 

“We are all at risk,” Antwi warns. “It is either we help to reduce the losses or we go to join our ancestors untimely.” 


Learn about and enter the 2024 PhD Dissertation Awards Competition.