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Vital role for local food

Young men in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou loading Plumpy Nut onto a truck for transport to health centres throughout the country. April 2010
(Nancy Palus/IRIN)

Local food – like sesame, tamarind and certain leaves – is a vital tool in the fight against malnutrition, say aid workers training families in northern Burkina Faso.

Communities who know the nutritional value of local food, and have the means to conserve and use it, are far less vulnerable, say the NGO Eau Vive and local health workers.

“Nutritional foods are all around us, right here,” said Balima Léopold, health worker in the town of Dori, northern Burkina, who has worked with Eau Vive to show villagers how to incorporate locally available ingredients into meals. “For example, there are leaves rich in vitamin A for making a good sauce for children.”

Health workers train local women in making porridge fortified with foods including tamarind, soumbala (a local bean), fish and baobab fruit, Koné Blandine, a midwife and nutrition trainer in nearby Gorom-Gorom, told IRIN. The women in turn teach fellow villagers. Eau Vive also shows people how to get the most nutritional value out of milk from their livestock.

“A lot of milk is produced in the Sahel region [where most families raise animals] from July to September,” Eau Vive country director Juste Hermann Nansi told IRIN. “But most people discard any surplus for lack of a way to conserve it.” The NGO – as part of a three-year “sustainable food security” project funded by the European Union – is teaching villagers to make a cheese that keeps longer than milk and provides a nutritious supplement to meals.

Local products properly conserved can help improve the nutritional value of meals particularly during the dry season, said Maïmouna Sanon/Traoré with the European Union in Burkina. "The use of local foods is appropriate in Burkina's Sahel region because they are at hand, adapted to people's eating habits and accessible to the most vulnerable... The ultimate goal is to prevent malnutrition."

Food aid dependency

For Eau Vive's Nansi and health workers in northern Burkina the promotion of local foods is also a way to combat dependence. "The Sahel region regularly faces drought, water shortages and malnutrition, and this has meant almost perpetual outside assistance. That affects people's mentality," Nansi said. "If our approach proves effective people will have less need for outside help to fight malnutrition."

Women attach containers of water to a donkey to transport to their home, several kilometres from a pump. Dori, northeastern Burkina Faso. April 2010

Nancy Palus/IRIN
Women attach containers of water to a donkey to transport to their home, several kilometres from a pump. Dori, northeastern Burkina Faso. April 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Vital role for local food
Women attach containers of water to a donkey to transport to their home, several kilometres from a pump. Dori, northeastern Burkina Faso. April 2010

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Women transport water from a pump to their village about 15km away in Dori, northern Burkina Faso. Aid workers say a lack of water poses problems for health and nutrition

Eau Vive and health workers said initially it was difficult to get villagers motivated about their approach.

“We asked them to come to our demonstration with local ingredients,” nutrition trainer Koné told IRIN. “At first they were disappointed that we were not coming with bags of food but in time they have seen that they have good nutritious foods at hand.”

Health worker Balima said: “Education is the only means to show people that they must not count on outside aid.”

Monotonous diet

Still, nutrition experts say local diets are generally deficient in essential nutrients, and local food promotion projects have yet to be applied on a large enough scale to broadly reduce malnutrition.

“A lot of communities in this region have a tendency towards a very simple monotonous diet and we are always working to increase the variety of foods they use,” said Robert Johnston, nutrition specialist with the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) West and Central Africa office.

Fortified products – produced either locally or outside – will continue to be an important tool in reducing child malnutrition in the region, he said. “You find [fortified spreads and fortified cereals] throughout West Africa,” he said, adding that an important role for UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization is to ensure that such products are safe. “I think most of us cannot see a way around the use of products to satisfy the micronutrient and nutrient needs of infants in the entire region.”

He said promoting a diversity of foods in infants’ diets is necessary and beneficial, but stressed that the foods should be accessible and already part of caregivers' feeding habits.

Eau Vive currently does nutrition work in 104 villages in northern Burkina; its activities include infant growth monitoring, and education on malnutrition’s causes and treatment.

A 2007 Eau Vive study in the region showed that families did not understand children's nutritional needs, Nansi said. "Many do not make the link between what people eat and their health." He noted that hygiene and access to water play a considerable role in proper nutrition and well-being. "It is not enough to solve the issue of accessibility to food."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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