Senegal F2F: Getting to know Relais et VNC, and their communities

Bonjour from Senegal!

On days three and four of my Farmer to Farmer assignment, we visited Relais et Volontaire pour la Nutrition Communautaire (Relais et VNC) members in five villages to learn about the behavioral changes they’re promoting, the related products they make and sell, their marketing and education efforts, challenges in these areas, and they dynamics of their communities. The landscape is desert, dotted with drought-tolerant trees such as jujube, and quite a bit of euphorbia. Some villages were just off the paved main road, which generally ranges from very good to fair condition. Others required driving some distance on dirt roads, making travel difficult, particularly in the rainy season. We periodically shared the road with donkey-drawn carts and passed numerous public transit minibuses.

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VNC with her nutritious food products (see below)

Most of the members we visited were women VNC’s, along with some Relais and a male VNC. We generally met members in their homes, though in one case we met outside with an audience of about 150 villagers, who were invited via the community loudspeaker. The many women were a rainbow of stunning beauty in the country’s typical tailored, brightly patterned dresses and head wraps.

VNC’s focus on educating women in “Mother to Mother” (MTM) groups on specific topics, and informing both genders in informal discussion groups. The VNC’s we met generally held meetings with MTM groups monthly, covering topics such as hand washing, breastfeeding, sanitation, monitoring children’s growth, and nutrition—particularly micronutrients (Vitamin A, iodide, iron). They showed us the products they make and sell, including fortified cereals (for porridge), iodized salt, baobab and jujube powders, jujube cookies, orange sweet potato couscous and granules (biofortified, bred to be rich in Vitamin A, palm oil and peanut butter (repackaged from bulk), and water purification tablets.

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Front: Cereal made with biofortified grains and cowpeas, peanut and sugar; Back: Baobab powder, Jujube powder and cookies

The products, and recipes for fortified cereals, differ across members, depending on what ingredients they can source locally. One woman used maize, millet, cowpeas (biofortified for Vitamin A), peanuts and sugar; while another used maize (not biofortified), cowpeas, peanuts and sugar. We also saw their healthy home gardens (called micro gardens) with chili, eggplant, okra, sorrel, orange sweet potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, jujubes, mangoes and more; another aspect of their education.

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Cereal (maize, peanut, sugar); Orange sweet potato couscous and granules; Baobab powder

The Relais et VNC members we visited seemed to indicate a good rate of uptake for the behavioral changes they were promoting. They also reported success in selling their products, particularly to those whom they educated on related behavioral changes. Their main interests seemed to be expanding their reach and markets beyond their villages; obtaining better packaging materials, product labels and processing/packaging equipment, and addressing challenges such as access to transport to buy ingredients and access larger markets. It was a great learning experience to orient the trainings, and we enjoyed delicious jujube cookies, which we purchased along with several other items. In the last village, I also bought some locally made, hand-dyed fabric to get a dress made.

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