Innovative campaigns to promote quality food for pregnant and breastfeeding women in Burkina Faso and Mali

Baby says: “More vegetables and fortified foods, less fried foods“!

This is one piece of advice given by the baby star from the “Bébé kodi” (baby says what) awareness-raising campaign spots. The baby reacts directly from its mother’s womb to the nutritional advice given by a midwife to its parents.

It is on this original, playful tone that a nationwide social communication campaign for behaviour change was launched in Mali in November 2020. A month later, a similar campaign was launched in Burkina Faso.

These two innovative, unprecedented campaigns stand out for their multi-channel approach, simultaneously mobilising the media, cell phones, social networks, and outreach activities. This strategy maximises the impact on the women and men targeted, to improve knowledge and foster widespread adoption of recommended practices.

These two campaigns aim to implement a range of activities to promote a clear message: during pregnancy and breastfeeding, eating a varied, balanced diet is essential for the health of mothers and their children.


Poster developed as part of the “Bébé kodi” campaign on women’s nutrition in Mali

Under the auspices of the Burkinabe and Malian Ministries of Health, in partnership with GRET as part of the Meriem project (Mobilizing Sahelian Companies for Innovative Large-Scale Responses to Malnutrition), these two campaigns are being implemented for a period of three to four months. They were designed by the Meriem project and developed with the help of local communication agencies, and the involvement of a key project partner, Ogilvy (communication agency).

Baby takes you on a guided tour of the activities

The campaign messages are disseminated via numerous complementary media in short, pragmatic messages: “less sodas, more water“. Sandrine Guissou and Maïmouna Diakité, GRET’s two awareness-raising officers in Burkina Faso and Mali, explain that “the objective is to broadcast the same messages simultaneously through different communication channels for better credibility. In this way, the messages are widely shared and discussed, which maximizes their chances of being memorised and put into practice.”

Film-debate sessions in neighbourhoods and health centres in the two capitals are organised by local associations supported by GRET. Films created especially for the campaigns are shown to small groups of pregnant and breastfeeding women and their husbands, separately or as a couple. These screenings initiate rich exchanges on dietary practices. “[…] the well-being of children cannot be ensured without the support of both parents, it is up to both parents to ensure the evolution of the pregnancy and motherhood. I learned a lot today. […] I am appealing to all men to become aware,” said one father at a film-debate in the Torokorobougou district of Bamako.

WhatsApp mailing lists will also be created with film-debate participants to share films, campaign messages, and encourage peer-to-peer sharing.

The mobilisation of participants in the film-debates is facilitated by influential people in the neighbourhoods (neighbourhood leaders, imams, representatives of local associations, and health workers) who themselves sometimes act as spokespersons for the campaign messages.

Short versions of the films shown at the film-debates were also broadcast on national and local TV channels and interactive radio programmes were organised. In Mali, a mini-series was created and broadcast, with 3 one-minute episodes each. Viewers can follow the parents’ adventures and identify with them. You can watch these on the Youtube Baby Kodi channel, and see the Burkina spot here.

In Burkina Faso, talented, committed slam artist Malika la slamazone agreed to be an ambassador for the awareness campaign. “The well-being of future generations is at stake,” she says in one of her campaign posts on her Facebook page. She composed a special slam on the concepts of a balanced, varied diet, which has become very popular and well known in Burkina Faso, thereby enabling a  larger target audience to be reached.

Malika la slamazone, ambassador of the Burkina campaign, at the launch workshop in Ouagadougou on December 4, 2020

Mobile telephony also makes it possible to massively sensitize the population through the VIAMO service in Mali and the AlloLaafia service in Burkina-Faso. The latter enables personalised advice to be sent via text message to pregnant and breastfeeding women on their diet and recommended care. The subscription, which is free, is also offered to pregnant and breastfeeding women’s husbands.

Finally, these two social communication campaigns aim to raise awareness among men, who are generally unaware of and not very invested in the major support role they have to play in their wives’ nutrition and health. As the baby says, “Get it, dads?” 

Mali – Strengthening and adapting partnerships to fight the Covid-19 epidemic

In Mali, the Meriem project strengthened its partnership with the Bara Musso company by supporting Covid-19 prevention in 30 markets in Bamako. This three-month action targets traders, handlers and consumers in the capital’s busiest markets.

Thanks to the collaboration between the Meriem project and Bara Musso company, 120 hand washing stations will be installed in these markets. In addition, key messages on prevention measures adapted to the commercial context will be disseminated through posters placed in strategic market locations, through audio messages via loudspeakers and through local radio.

“This approach will help to strengthen the company’s image in terms of its commitment to fight the coronavirus epidemic and contribute significantly to preventing the epidemic in areas where risk of the virus spreading is high, such as the large, crowded markets in Bamako,” explains Amaia Bessouet, Meriem project manager in Mali.

The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs (MSAS) and the National Centre for Information, Education and Communication for Health (CNIECS) are also contributing to this preventive action.

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

Launch of the MERIEM project in Mali

Bamako, 22 May 2019. Under the coordination of the SUN Movement, the representative of the General Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs today announced the launch of the MERIEM project (“Mobilising Sahelian businesses for large-scale innovative responses to fight malnutrition”), implemented by GRET and Hystra. Thanks to the support of their financial partners – Agence française de développement (AFD) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – a multi-stakeholder alliance will test innovative marketing solutions over a three-year period with Sahelian businesses, with a view to meeting a major public health challenge in the country: malnutrition.

With consequences such as delayed growth, micronutrient deficiencies and excess bodyweight, malnutrition affects the health and development of young children and their mothers over the long term. In Mali, 27% of children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and 46% of women are anaemic. By providing nutritional value suited to their needs, fortified food products have strong potential to prevent this phenomenon. Particularly in cities, where families want food products that are affordable, easy to prepare and attractive.

But Sahelian businesses encounter difficulties entering the market when it comes to manufactured fortified foods for women and children. This is a complex market to move into, with stringent requirements in terms of quality and significant legislative constraints regarding promotion.

To meet this challenge, AFD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation came together in a public-private partnership to fund the Meriem project – “Mobilising Sahelian businesses for large-scale innovative responses to fight malnutrition”. In concrete terms, this pilot project aims to test innovative marketing solutions in large cities in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali to prevent malnutrition.

Conduct of the Meriem project has been entrusted to an alliance of multi-disciplinary stakeholders who have proven skills in terms of marketing and nutritional innovations. Under the co-management of development NGO GRET and consultancy firm Hystra, stakeholders from research (IRD), development (Iram, I.C.I) and consultants working with businesses internationally (Ogilvy Change, ThinkPlace) are pooling their skills to support the local private sector for nutritional innovations.
“Low-income populations do not have the means to purchase imported fortified food products”, says François Lepicard of Hystra, co-director of the Meriem project. “And local supply is still insufficient in quality or too limited to cover the needs of populations in cities. The first victims of this lack of interest are the consumers. To encourage Sahelian production and distribution businesses to become active on a large scale in a growing market while focusing on the general interest, it is necessary to minimize the risks related to their investment.”

“By including a marketing approach in systems to prevent malnutrition, in addition to action by the public sector, and with respect for legislation, we want the majority of young children and their mothers to have access to a quality local fortified food product offer over the long term”, explains Martial Pouret, Meriem project director.

Press contacts

Claire Labat, communication manager at GRET (France): / +33 (0)1 70 91 92 76.

Charles Bakyono, GRET’s representative in Mali: / +223 92 02 99 22.

This document benefits from the support of Agence française de développement and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Nevertheless, the ideas and opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily represent those of AFD or the Foundation.

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

Exploring women’s and young children’s eating practices

Between September and November 2018, Iram, a MERIEM project partner, conducted a qualitative study in Ouagadougou, Niamey and Bamako to explore eating practices among women of childbearing age and children aged between 6 and 24 months.

Multi-faceted malnutrition

The study highlights the multi-faceted nature of malnutrition in cities in the Sahel. Undernutrition leads to delayed development in children and poor health, which is passed on from one generation to the next and contributes to the vicious circle of illness-poverty-malnutrition. But undernutrition is not the only challenge in the Sahel: overnutrition and the disorders associated with it are a major priority in cities. A taste for fried foods, sweetened drinks from an early age, sedentary lifestyles, snacking…  The study highlights – particularly in Bamako – eating practices that explain the emergence of malnutrition due to excess in urban areas.

Taste, prices, the opinion of fathers, availability of products, advertising: these are all deciding factors in families’ food and nutritional choices, which have a high impact on the quality of their nutrition.

Analysis of demand for women and very young children

Porridge is the most common meal for babies aged 6-12 months, but it is not always fortified to meet the nutritional needs of children and is often served “on request”. Snacking is a part of regular feeding practices for very young children.

Mothers of young children usually eat meals at home with their families. Girls and women students mostly have lunch outside of the home. Breakfast is often neglected or taken later in the morning: a practice that can contribute to anaemia in young girls. When women are pregnant, they benefit from increased attention from their husbands, who worry about what they eat with a view to good health for mother and child.

The MERIEM project must take these eating habits into account to propose products that appeal to urban consumers, while at the same time improving the nutritional health of women and young children in Sahelian cities.

Distribution of fortified food products for women and young children in Ouagadougou

ICI, a MERIEM project partner in Burkina Faso, conducted a study in January 2019 to better ascertain and map places where fortified food products for young children are sold in Ouagadougou. The objective is to better ascertain local marketing methods for these products in the Burkinabe capital.

ICI dispatched surveyors in 181 sales outlets in the city. The majority of local commerce is done via very small stores (or “kiosks”). While 100% of the outlets sell imported infant formula, from kiosks to pharmacies to department stores, only 14% sell local infant formula. This finding reveals the low availability of these products, which are important for preventing child malnutrition in African cities.

This study contributes to the series of preliminary surveys conducted by the MERIEM project partners on preventive marketing solutions to fight malnutrition in Sahelian cities.

Marketing solutions to prevent malnutrition in the Sahel

On 17 October, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, GRET and the Hystra consultancy firm launched a three-year project aiming to demonstrate how, and under which conditions, marketing solutions can contribute to sustainably preventing all forms of malnutrition in large cities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The Meriem project (Mobilising Sahelian businesses for innovative, large-scale responses to fight malnutrition), funded by Agence française de développement (AFD) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is being implemented by a multi-stakeholder alliance made up of development, research and business consultancy professionals.

The first 1,000 days: a key period to prevent malnutrition, especially in urban areas

In Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, 21 to 42 % of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. Malnutrition has irreversible consequences when it occurs during the first 1,000 days, corresponding to the period of a child’s development, from the first day of pregnancy up to the age of two. Manufactured quality fortified foods have strong potential to contribute to preventing malnutrition among young children and their mothers during this key period, by providing nutritional value appropriate to their needs. This is particularly true in large Sahelian cities where city dwellers are used to consuming manufactured foods and where the population in precarious neighbourhoods is constantly increasing.

Yet, Sahelian businesses still have difficulty with the production and large-scale distribution of quality fortified foods, in a market they perceive as complex and unfavourable. Local supply exists, but it is insufficient to sustainably cover the needs of the population, and imported products are financially inaccessible for the majority of the population.

We have observed that fortified foods are one effective solution to fight against malnutrition in our country, particularly in cities where manufactured foods are now a part of our eating habits”, explains Bertine Ouaro, director of nutrition at the Burkina Faso ministry of Health. “This is why we are encouraging the development in our country of a quality fortified foods offer that is produced locally and affordable for the greatest possible number of people.”

An innovative sustainable solution that is mobilising businesses

By generating enthusiasm among public and private nutrition stakeholders, and with sustainable market mechanisms, it is possible in the Sahel to extend the manufactured quality fortified foods offer, while making it affordable for the greatest possible number of people. Convinced of this, GRET is launching the Meriem pilot project (Mobilising Sahelian businesses for innovative, large-scale responses to fight malnutrition).

This project is rising to the challenge of reconciling social and economic profitability objectives on a large-scale in three countries. It wants to demonstrate how, and under which conditions, marketing solutions can contribute to sustainably preventing malnutrition. Marketing innovations will be tested and deployed with high-potential Sahelian businesses, selected for their dual interest in branching out in a growing market, while contributing to addressing a public health issue. Alongside these innovations, vital actions will be conducted to support the public sector to implement an appropriate regulatory framework (quality standards, WHO international code, etc.) and to promote a quality label making it possible to encourage businesses to become mobilised while structuring their action. This approach will be accompanied by actions to raise awareness on exclusive breastfeeding, food diversification and continuing breastfeeding until the age of two or longer, together with public health stakeholders, with a strong focus on encouraging these fundamental best feeding practices during the first 1,000 days.

A large-scale pilot project

This project, led by GRET and Hystra, brings together a pool of international experts from the NGO, research and private sector consultancy sectors – the Institute of Research and Application of development methods (Iram)Initiatives Conseil International (ICI), the French National Research Institute for sustainable development (IRD)Ogilvy Change and ThinkPlace. Over a three year period (June 2018-May 2021), it will benefit from the support of AFD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with an overall budget of 14.2 million euros. With project management based in Ouagadougou and project teams in all three countries, this hybrid consortium will work on three main areas of activities:

1. Development of a local quality fortified foods offer

  • Designing products suited to the nutritional needs of children aged 6 months to 2 years and women of childbearing age, appropriate to populations’ eating habits, in line with international standards and recommendations, and affordable for the majority of the population.
  • Supporting selected Sahelian businesses with the potential to produce and distribute products on a large scale.



2. Deployment of an innovative marketing approach

  • Generating interest among families for these products that are suited to the needs of children aged 6 months to 2 years and women.
  • Encouraging regular widespread consumption of these products.
  • Testing large-scale distribution strategies, from major distributors to local networks.
  • Raising the population’s awareness on nutrition, in partnership with the State and local stakeholders.
  • Promoting a quality label.
  • Supporting the State and businesses to respect quality standards and the WHO international code.

3. Evaluation and capitalisation of results

  • Evaluation of the impacts of the project, capitalisation on the approach and results.
  • Documentation of conditions necessary for the success of this approach, identification of limits, debate on this.
  • Encouraging stakeholders to adhere to the approach by distributing and fostering recognition of its benefits.

Working in urban areas, this project wants to respond to the challenge of nutritious food in cities,where few projects are conducted, despite the rapid increase of populations in precarious neighbourhoods. It aims to prevent all forms of malnutrition by mobilising businesses to ensure widespread sustainable access to quality fortified products.

The project was officially launched on 17 October in Ouagadougou for Burkina Faso, at the second meeting of the project steering committee. The launch ceremony was attended by  representatives from AFD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, by Philippe Chedanne, AFD Greater Sahel regional delegate, Ella Compaore, technical secretary in charge of food and nutrition with the ministry of Health, Nana Thiombiano, a representative from the Directorate of Nutrition, Salamata Ouedraogo, a representative from the General directorate for the promotion of businesses at the ministry of Trade, Industry and Crafts, Pierre Jacquemot, chairperson of GRET, and representatives from NGOs, the United Nations, businesses, the banking sector and the national public health laboratory.

The launch of activities in Burkina Faso will be followed in the coming months by the launch of activities in Mali and Niger, the project’s two other countries of operation.

For more information on the project see the Meriem project webpageSee the project factsheet (in French)
See the project factsheet (in French)
Read the press release and press kit (in French)
Visit the website