Fighting Malnutrition in Benin: Board Chair Shares a Story from the Field
By: Nancy P. Harris, Partners for Development Board Chair
Recently, we shared a post about how the GREEN project is tackling malnutrition in Benin, working towards healthier families and healthier communities. Now, PfD Board Chair Nancy P. Harris shares her first-hand experience from a recent visit to Benin of what implementation looks (and tastes!) like on the ground:
On October 1st, I visited with the Partners for Development (PfD) team in Cotonou, Benin. It was a delight to finally meet the dedicated GREEN project team and visit the field to meet with community members who are making a difference in the fight against malnutrition in Benin.
The morning began with the roundtable discussion, organized by PfD, which brought together a number of NGOs working on nutrition issues in the country, to discuss their activities and how we might collaborate with each other in the field. PfD’s nutrition and hygiene coordinator, Irvine Minaflinou gave a description of the GREEN project’s promotion of proper preparation and consumption of vegetables and fruit to combat the low consumption in Benin and corresponding high rates of long-term health problems. The roundtable facilitated valuable networking and brainstorming on low-cost ways to collaborate. I am hopeful this effort will lead to ongoing collaborative action.
After the roundtable, I met with PfD staff for a delightful lunch of local dishes, many of which reminded me of those I enjoyed during my time in Nigeria. Then it was off to the village of Togoudo Agonkanmey, on the outskirts of Cotonou. Here we met the Allowanou (roughly translated as “we work hard”) vegetable producer’s group on their farm. I could tell this farmers’ group was a longtime participant in the GREEN project, as they had the best looking fields of vegetables I had ever seen, particularly the lettuce! The farmers told me that this success was made possible through the GREEN project technical trainings and micro credit loans. And, of course, success came through their hard work.
After greeting us with a welcome song, the Allowanou Group – comprised of 15 women and 6 men – gave a demonstration of culinary techniques they learned through the GREEN project to ensure good hygiene and preserve the vegetables’ nutrients. They prepared what was, on the surface, fairly standard local fare: a corn meal porridge called pate and a mix of local greens, onions, and fish called ‘sauce legume’. Traditional cooking techniques destroy or leech away many nutrients in what would otherwise be a nutritious meal. Traditionally, the sauce is cooked too long, and the vegetable cooking water (rich in vitamins and minerals) is thrown out. The GREEN project staff taught simple ways to avoid nutrient loss, and dramatically increase the meal’s nutritional benefits. Cooking times are reduced, the cooking water is used for the sauce and the pate, and the rest is simply consumed with lime juice. In addition, the Allowanou Group is now adding moringa leaves to their sauces. Moringa trees grow everywhere in Benin and its leaves are high in protein, vitamins and minerals. PfD Benin is cooperating with the Hunger Project to promote the use of moringa as a cost-effective way of combating malnutrition. The demonstration, enlivened by local songs and dancing, was followed by a taste of the meal and – even after our large lunch – the food was a tasty treat (in addition to being very nutritious)!
All too soon, we said goodbye to our hosts at Allowanou, and my visit with PfD Benin came to an end. I came away with a feeling that communities are gaining greater understanding of the issues affecting nutrition in Benin, and that organizations can work together to meet these challenges. I continue to be impressed by the good work that PfD does in Benin and elsewhere. I look forward to hearing more about PfD’s nutrition activities and encourage you to do the same by signing up to receive the newsletter.