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

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.

Marie-Pierre Nicollet, director of the AFD’s demographic and social transition department in Niger

“The originality of the MERIEM project is not the fact that it provides solutions to malnutrition, it is the fact that it prevents it by inviting the private sector to become mobilised in the prevention of this illness using innovative solutions.

Is there a pathway, a happy medium between the World Food Programme’s humanitarian nutritional programmes targeting the most vulnerable populations, and the purchase of imported fortified food products that are not affordable for the majority of people? What is solidarity investment, if not the capacity of Sahelian businesses to demonstrate that they can respond to a social objective while protecting the conditions of their financial profitability, at the very least, profitability that would be sufficient to renew the investment?

Is solidarity investment for nutrition reserved for the non-profit private sector? Or is it the societal responsibility of all businesses? This is the question that two very different donors – the Gates foundation, generated by the work of an iconic capitalist company, and the Agence Française de Développement, a public development bank generated by the contributions of French tax payers – wanted to answer. The creation of this platform of partners called MERIEM makes sense.”

Source:, 15 February 2019, to mark the launch of the MERIEM project in Niger.

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