After Burkina Faso in October, the Meriem project was officially launched in Niger on 14 February last. This launch marks the beginning of a new phase in the implementation of the project, which aims to put innovative marketing solutions in place to prevent malnutrition in the Sahel.
The event took place at the Congress Centre in Niamey, and was attended by Mr. Ahmed Boto, interim minister of Trade and Promotion of the private sector, the French ambassador to Niger, and the director of the department of Demographic and social transition at the Agence française de développement. It followed on from three days of workshops bringing together partners, project donors and company representatives.
This launch took place in a sensitive context in Niger. Nutrition is a development priority in the country, where rates remain particularly high: almost one out of every two children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition (source: Smart 2018).
A will to change
The country’s public authorities have been working in the fight against malnutrition for several years now, in particular via the 3N Initiative “Nigeriens nourishing Nigeriens” (in french) which focuses on national initiatives. “Our country is bursting with potential in the areas of trade, the economy and agro-industry”, explained the interim minister of Trade, before continuing: “Agro-industry can contribute not just to the acceleration of economic growth, it can also, and above all, contribute to nutritional security through the production, marketing and consumption of locally produced quality food”.
However, this is not necessarily the path followed by Sahelian businesses, which encounter difficulties to enter the fortified foods market for women and children. This is a complex market, with stringent requirements in terms of significant quality and legal constraints in terms of promotion.
The challenge of mobilising companies
To rise to this challenge, the AFD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have come together in a public-private partnership to fund the Meriem project (Mobilising Sahelian businesses for innovative, large-scale responses to fight malnutrition) (in french). In concrete terms, this pilot project aims to test innovative marketing solutions in large cities in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali with a view to preventing malnutrition.
“What is a solidarity investment, if not the capacity that Sahelian businesses will have to demonstrate that they can reach an objective while working in conditions that ensure their financial profitability? This is the question two very different donors – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, created through the work of an iconic capitalist company, and the Agence française de développement, a public development bank – wanted to answer, said Marie-Pierre Nicollet, director of the department of Demographic and social transition at the AFD in Paris, who was attending the launch.
GRET and Hystra in the pilot seat
The implementation of the Meriem project, under the coordination of GRET and Hystra, is bringing together a number of partners from different sectors: international business consultants (Hystra, Ogilvy Change, ThinkPlace), research (IRD), and development (GRET, Iram, I.C.I), which will all pool their skills to support and work alongside Nigerien businesses to develop and market products contributing to the fight against malnutrition.
Over three days, the GRET/Hystra project team and all the partners analysed the results of surveys conducted during the first months of the project among populations and businesses. These reflections led to the design of product concepts that will be subsequently developed with partner businesses.