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“A well-fed child makes for a thriving family!” Vitamil+, a ready-to-cook milk flour for infants in Niger

Since 2001, the Société de Transformation Alimentaire (STA) has been producing nutritional solutions intended to prevent and treat malnutrition in West Africa, in particular in Niger. It manufactures Vitamil, a flour to make porridge for children aged 6 months and older, as a complement to the products in the Plumpy range, which treat severe and moderate acute malnutrition, and supplementary products such as those in the Grandibien range.

In partnership with the Meriem project, STA developed Vitamil+, an enriched, ready-to-cook milk flour for infants, made using local cereals and fortified with minerals and vitamins. The Vitamil+ flour was designed to meet the nutritional needs of children aged 6 to 24 months and older, as a complement to breastmilk. It is manufactured in Niger using local ingredients such as millet, groundnuts, cowpea and soybeans, in accordance with international production and marketing standards. Easy to prepare, it takes just five minutes to cook a dose of Vitamil+ porridge, which children can eat immediately.

Vitamil+ is marketed in an urban area in Niamey, in pharmacies, large supermarkets, and neighbourhood shops. It is available in 500 gram packets, and is priced competitively compared to imported flours.

 

Miriama Abdou Jayéri, business manager of the Laitière du Sahel in Niger 16/06/2022

The Foura business strategy consists of making foura soga known by the Nigerien population, and ensuring that it is available in all sales outlets, supermarkets and grocery stores to satisfy our customers. Based on this same strategy, we held an official launch including extensive communication so that customers know we are manufacturing a new product called foura in the local language, and we have put it on the market.

We organised events outside hospitals, at markets, in public squares and at a major annual agricultural fair. We rolled out promotion so that foura would be really well known by the Nigerien population.

Source: testimony recorded during the filming of the foura soga infomercial

Mrs. Maïmouna Malé, Managing Director of the Laitière du Sahel (LDS) in Niger

The Meriem project contributed greatly to LDS, in particular by providing technical support for production. The objective was to improve the quality of production, and fully ensure product safety and quality. We also received support to modernise our distribution circuit.

“Foura soga is a new product, a new fortified product, i.e. containing multi-vitamin complexes. It is a healthy, quality product. It is different in that, currently, it is unique on the market, its packaging is attractive and it is not at all expensive.”

“Moving forward, we aim to distribute Foura soga throughout Niger. At the moment we only sell foura in Niamey; but soon we will try to roll it out within all of Niger, and maybe even in the sub-region. Our ambition is to establish how we can make foura soga an instant food, which would really enable wide-scale marketing in the sub-region”.

Source: testimony recorded during the preparation of the foura soga infomercial

 Michel Trapsida, Technical director of the Laitière du Sahel in Niger

“Foura soga is made using mainly local raw materials, essentially millet – as millet grains are also used in our thiakry, and 70% cow’s milk that we purchase through the Kolo collection centre. We place a lot of focus on local ingredients. In addition, as we are engaged in the fight against malnutrition, we have enriched this foura soga with vitamins and minerals. We tried to maintain the traditional system, using foura, an entirely traditional product which we tried to improve through an industrial process.

The process begins with husking, which consists of separating the grains from the bran; then these are washed; the grains are then milled to obtain a flour; balls are formed with the milled substance, in the traditional manner, and are placed in a pasteuriser to be cooked. An industrial process is applied, using large mixers for blending and homogenisation. In addition to this, at the end of the process, the product is packaged in biodegradable 250 ml packets, and 33 cl bottles.”

Source: testimony recorded during the preparation of the foura soga infomercial

Amélie Girel, project manager at GRET for the Meriem project in Niger

“We conduct awareness-raising at ten healthcare centres in the municipality of Niamey; this enables us to raise women’s awareness on the daily recommended eating practices they should adopt, and especially to explain that there are things they need to eat every day that provide vitamins and minerals, and other things that are detrimental for their health when consumed in excessive quantities. So, it is necessary to repeat the advantages of good nutrition, its benefits in terms of women’s health, and also for children. So, we start with pregnant and breastfeeding women and continue until their children are 24 months old. This is referred to as the first 1,000 days in a children’s life. Through this awareness-raising, we ascertain their initial knowledge on these issues, and we organise film screenings followed by debates in healthcare centres, making it possible to improve knowledge.”

Source: interview by Studio Kalangou in Niger

Foura Soga, a new fortified product for women being sold in Niamey

The Laitière du Sahel company is engaging in the fight against malnutrition in Niger, which particularly affects young children and women. It was supported by the Meriem project, which aims to develop commercial solutions to prevent malnutrition in large cities in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali.

It launched Foura Soga, its first fortified product for women, in Niamey on 26 January 2022. The product is an enriched version of the traditional Foura, a millet-based milk drink that is very popular in Niger. Foura Soga is enriched with vitamins and minerals, and is recommended for women wishing to boost their energy levels.

A healthy product for women that is made using natural, local ingredients and caters to traditional Nigerien tastes.

The product is made using natural, local raw materials and is suited to the nutritional needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women. When the product was put on the market, a launch ceremony was held on 26 January 2022 at the Radisson Hotel in Niamey, attended by 200 guests under the high patronage of the Minister of Industry. This ceremony was launched by the Minister High Commissioner of the 3N initiative (Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens), and chaired by Mrs. Diori, the Executive Director of the Laitière du Sahel. According to Mrs. Diori “Foura Soga will contribute significantly to improving indicators in terms of our population’s access to good-quality, healthy food with high nutritive value”.

 The launch campaign

Following the launch, a campaign was rolled out in the field from 29 January to 26 February 2022 in five communes in the city of Niamey, at markets, hospitals, maternity clinics, bus stations, Total filling stations and major roundabouts.  Various activities such as selling at markets, tasting sessions and DJ events with prizes to be won were organised to make Foura Soga known throughout the city. A vast communication campaign was also launched for a period of 3 months, ensuring high visibility of the product. In addition, a poster campaign was rolled out in strategic neighbourhoods in Niamey, as was communication on TV, radio, social networks and other media.

The population of Niamey has already welcomed the product favourably, and sales were very successful for three product formats (250ml packet, 330 and 500ml bottles).

Pictures of Foura Soga launch campain – ©Gret 2022

As Fati Mariko says, let’s focus on what our women and children are eating

“Inadequate diet is one of the causes of the multiple health problems experienced by mothers and children in Niger. Yet, with simple, cost-effective actions we can feed our women and our children well” (Fati Mariko).

On Thursday 20 January 2022, the official launch of the social communication campaign on nutrition for pregnant and breastfeeding women and children aged 6 to 23 months, led by the Nigerien Ministry of Health, was held at the north Koira Kano integrated health centre in district 1 in Niamey. The launch was organised by the MERIEM project teams in collaboration with senior officials from the Regional Directorate of Public Health and the Directorate of Nutrition. Several of the project’s partner organisations and prominent figures were in attendance, in particular the Governor of the Niamey region and the Deputy General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Action.

The ceremony began with a speech by the well-known Nigerien singer Fati Mariko, who recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women use local foods with high nutritional value, available at lower prices. A sponsor of the project, she composed a song conveying this message especially for the occasion.

GRET’s country representative then spoke and recalled that this campaign is part of the national strategy to prevent malnutrition, as defined in the national nutrition security policy and in the 3N initiative (Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens).

The Governor of the region, alongside the Deputy General Secretary of the Ministry of Public Health, sponsor of the launch, then officially launched the campaign, ending with these words: “this is an opportunity to congratulate NGO GRET and its partners for all their efforts in this fight against malnutrition”.

Speech by Fati Mariko, a sponsor of the campaign – ©GRET 2022

GRET’s country representative – ©GRET 2022

3 questions to the Meriem project teams to better understand the campaign

The social communication campaign began last November, with the participation of two Nigerien civil society organisations (CSOs). Firstly, the campaign messages focused on pregnant and breastfeeding women’s eating practices. This year, over a period of one and a half months, young child feeding will be covered. The campaign is broadly mobilising various channels to promote feeding practices recommended in the messages, in order to contribute to preventing malnutrition in young children and women of childbearing age.

What do the screenings followed by debates, and culinary demonstrations organised as part of this campaign, consist of?

For Ibbo Amadou of GRET: “We screen films followed by debates, where participants see a film featuring characters talking on the subject, with whom they can identify. After the film, a debate takes place, enabling additional information to be provided if necessary.

The culinary demonstration is a completely different awareness-raising technique, promoting recommended feeding practices. It consists of using locally available foods to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal, with a view to preventing malnutrition in children and women of childbearing age”.

The screening-debate and culinary demonstration sessions are being conducted in 10 health centres in Niamey during the various consultations, and in 6 neighbourhoods with women’s groups, concessions and fadas. The sessions are facilitated by the 2 national partner CSOs’ teams.”

 

Culinary demonstration in a neighbourhood – ©GRET 2022

 What is the new AlloLaafia service proposing?

AlloLaafia is a first in Niger. It aims to raise awareness through mobile phone messages. The service was jointly developed by the Ministry of Public Health, the Population and Social Affairs, in close collaboration with GRET. Text messages are sent to pregnant women and their husbands, and to parents of children aged 6 to 23 months. The advice received is personalised and adapted according to the stage of pregnancy or the age of the child.

In Niamey, thanks to this campaign, more than ten thousand people subscribed to the service. Having a mobile phone, knowing how to read, or having a trustworthy person who can read the messages received are among the criteria for subscription to the service. Each subscriber receives 2 to 3 text messages a week on eating practices and health”, explains Warsou Ousmane of GRET.

Have there been other innovations apart from the AlloLaafia service?

The campaign rolled out by GRET and its partners also has a national scope, with the broadcasting of two short awareness-raising clips on national television and radio channels. “The message is clear and strong: “let’s listen to our babies”, says Amélie Girel of GRET, who adds: “Our sponsor Fati Mariko’s song is also played on two community radios. Naturally, all the messages conveyed via the mass media are available in three languages – Hausa, Zarma and French – to reach as many people as possible”.

Fati Mariko is a well-known singer-songwriter in Niger, who is appreciated for her commitment to worthy causes. Her active involvement as sponsor of the campaign will enable greater visibility and increased interest among the population around prevention of maternal and child malnutrition in Niger”, explains Ibbo Amadou of GRET. With the song and the clip she created especially for the campaign and thanks to her presence at several screening-debate sessions and culinary demonstrations, Fati Mariko is generously providing precious help.

 Fati Mariko and two facilitators from the ADN KAMNA CSO – ©GRET 2022

The multitude of channels used for this campaign should yield results in terms of providing knowledge and adoption of eating habits that are favourable for the health of pregnant and breastfeeding women and young children in urban areas in Niamey. It will be the subject of external evaluation to demonstrate its efficiency and its impact. As Fati Mariko says in her song: “let’s focus on what our women and children are eating!.

Collaboration between the IRD and the INS for the Meriem project in Niger

SIGNATURE OF THE AGREEMENT FOR SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION AND PAYMENT OF FUNDS BETWEEN the IRD AND the INS TO CONDUCT THE MERIEM PROJECT BASELINE SURVEY

The National Institute of Statistics (INS) of Niger and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) signed a protocol in November and December respectively for the implementation of a baseline survey as part of the MERIEM project (Mobilising Sahelian Businesses for Innovative Large-scale Responses to fight Malnutrition). The objective is to evaluate the process and the effects of the MERIEM project on women of childbearing age and young children (6-23 months) in the region of Niamey. With technical and financial support from the IRD, the INS will develop methodological documents for the survey and collect data in the field.

As the INS, via the National Platform for Information on Nutrition (PNIN), has experience of collecting quantitative data on food consumption, the IRD selected it to conduct this operation. The latter will make it possible to obtain information on a certain number of intermediary variables corresponding to the project’s two main potential impact pathways, i.e. the “food” pathway and the “knowledge and practices” pathway. It will also make it possible to identify the factors that contributed to the positive effects of the project or, on the contrary, to the absence of effects, or, where applicable, to its harmful effects.

The expected success of this scientific collaboration between the INS and the IRD will further strengthen the position of the INS as a key player in the production of information on nutrition in Niger.

[Source: PNIN Platform Niger]

Preparation of social communication campaigns for behavioural change

Social communication campaigns for behavioural change are being prepared in Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger. The strategies adopted are specific to each country according to the needs identified, the feasibility of the various approaches envisaged and the timetable for launching products on the market.

These campaigns will aim to promote appropriate feeding practices identified as priorities following the contextual studies conducted at the beginning of the project, and in accordance with national nutrition policies in the three countries. They will primarily target women of childbearing age, particularly pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as parents of children aged 6 to 24 months. “We are developing complementary approaches in order to maximise the impact of these campaigns on behavioural changes among the project’s target group leading to a quality, diversified and balanced diet. For example, we hope – via the mass media component – to reach a wider range of people who directly influence beneficiaries’ dietary practices, such as husbands or close family members. In Mali and Burkina-Faso, we are currently preparing short films on appropriate feeding practices for pregnant and breastfeeding women and links with health. These films will be broadcast nationally,” explains Martial Pouret, Director of the Meriem project. In addition, the project also includes a community-based approach aiming at directly raising awareness among influential people in the target neighbourhoods (leaders of associations, health workers, neighbourhood leaders, etc.), pregnant and breastfeeding women and their husbands, and parents of children aged 6 to 24 months.

These social communication campaigns for behavioural change are an integral part of the Meriem project. They will promote quality food for women and young children and thus increase understanding of the value of products with high nutritional value and their role in a balanced and diversified diet. In addition, combining these campaigns with improvement of the available supply of these products on the market makes it possible to maximise the adoption of better dietary practices, thus constituting a powerful lever for action in the fight against malnutrition

Working with the private sector to prevent malnutrition in Niger

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 ChangeThinkPlace), research (IRD), and development (GRET, IramI.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.

More information on the Meriem project (in french)
Read the article entitled Marketing solutions to prevent malnutrition in the Sahel
See the Nutridev website