Côte d’Ivoire: interview with Françoise N’Guessan, Marahoué Regional Coordinator and tireless nutrition activist

“The baby was stunted in utero, we needed millet porridge to make him fat.” “Exclusive breastfeeding isn’t a good idea. With the heat, add water so that the baby is not thirsty.” It was not uncommon to hear this sort of advice in the region…

August 23, 2021 - Last update: February 10, 2023

“The baby was stunted in utero, we needed millet porridge to make him fat.”

“Exclusive breastfeeding isn’t a good idea. With the heat, add water so that the baby is not thirsty.”

It was not uncommon to hear this sort of advice in the region of Marahoué, located in the heart of Côte d’Ivoire.  In the city of Bouaflé and surrounding villages, Alliance SUN Côte d’Ivoire, the country’s Civil Society Alliance (CSA) for nutrition, has been hard at work countering these assumptions when it comes to breastfeeding and infant feeding practices.

In 2019, the CSA received a grant from the SUN Movement Pooled Fund #SUNPooledFund to improve the lives of women, men and children living in two of the most underdeveloped regions in Côte d’Ivoire, Tchologo and Marahoué.  Together, the CSA’s regional coordination teams have supported their respective Regional Councils for Nutrition who have coordinated the roll-out of Côte d’Ivoire’s national nutrition plan in their respective areas.  Since the Government pledged to finance 15 per cent of the national nutrition plan, the CSA has assisted both regional and national authorities to organise a National Breastfeeding Day, to prepare for the 2021 Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Summit in Japan, and to optimise the USD 8.7 million investment by the African Development Bank to promote exclusive breastfeeding and improve nutrition indicators.

Everybody in Bouaflé is pitching in to help.  The Union of Transporters of Bouaké (UTB), the largest food distribution company in the country, and the company COVIMA partnered with the CSA and the regional authorities to make financial and programmatic commitments to reduce malnutrition in Bouaflé.  Specifically, UTB has committed to setting up warehouses in its local stations to facilitate proper food preservation.

Individual villages are organising themselves to change breastfeeding practices and empower women in the process.  Thanks to the #SUNPooledFund, the CSA helped initiate village saving schemes, called tontines, and purchased items that would be offered for rent by the Regional Council for Nutrition to local communities to support village breastfeeding committees’ activities, such as monitoring and community workshops on topics like mid-upper arm circumference (MUAC).

Ms Françoise N’Guessan, the CSA’s Marahoué Regional Coordinator shares her thoughts on the project as it comes to a close:

What types of activities did you carry out?

“We have raised awareness of the population, especially young women of childbearing age, pregnant women, breastfeeding women and men, on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding. We carried out training exercises with the Citizen Watch and Breastfeeding Support Committees [CVCSA] in the 20 villages of Bouaflé on good nutritional practices and COVID-19 measures.”

What is your assessment of your activities with the SUN Alliance of Côte d’Ivoire?

“We carried out community activities such as village tontines and birth registration in 20 villages of Bouaflé. The results of the activities are positive because the population appreciates the project. Because of this project the women know how to feed themselves and their children.”

Does the regional coordination group have all the elements to operate in a sustainable manner?

“The regional coordination group has all the elements to operate in a sustainable manner. Thanks to the project, the Alliance acquired and lends out a motorized trike, 2 tarpaulins and 100 chairs for our use  We transport these to villages to facilitate supervisory visits and training exercises.”

Can you share with us a great experience within the strategic framework that is being implemented by SUN Alliance of Côte d’Ivoire?

“We have a model of success with the Koubi village. The project supported us with the income-generating activities [IGAs] of the village tontine. Members of the Citizen Watch and Breastfeeding Committee received XOF 40,000 as seed funding. Less than a year after the establishment of the tontine, the amount of the fund in this village is now at XOF 514,000.  The annual subscription and the interest on the loans to members amounts to XOF 474,000.

And this is not the only village that is performing well. Thanks to IGAs, women have the agency and means to carry out activities that allow them to feed their families well. Today, we can say that the project is fighting malnutrition in our villages.”

Do you have any final words to share?

I would like to say thank you to Alliance SUN Côte d’Ivoire and its partners, especially Action Contre la Faim. Thank you for their tremendous contribution to improving nutritional practices in the Marahoué region. I also would like to thank the donor for its confidence in civil society. We are eager for other projects that can improve people’s lives. We would like to provide members of Koubi village’s Citizen Watch Committee with a motorized trike, which is a model of success for our regional coordination. This will allow them to more easily sell their agricultural products to the town of Bouaflé and also to Yamoussoukro.

*Adapted from: “Interview avec Mme N’Guessan Françoise épouse Diby: Coordinatrice de la région de la Marahoué d’Alliance SUN CI,” by Action Contre la Faim.  SUN Pooled Fund Final Report – Annexes, Place of Publication: Grant report.

Civil Society Alliance members stand together with local authorities and community leaders.

Want to learn more?

Côte d’Ivoire is in the news! Read more the recent gathering of SUN Focal Points in Abidjan.   In March 2021, Nutrition International, the SUN Movement Secretariat, the Africa Nutrition Leaders Programme (ANLP), and TAN partners MQSUN+ and TASC launched their online capacity strengthening programme for francophone SUN Focal Points.

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