Friday, April 13, 2018, it was just 1:00 pm, when, in front of a crowd of customers, sitting around the tables in the restaurant “Chez Alice” located in Marcory in Abidjan, Mrs. Pauline Epélékou, Director of Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire took the floor.

She announced to those who were there for lunch that two new dishes were added to the daily menu: fonio couscous with chicken Yassa and Fonio au Gras.

It was actually a free fonio tasting session, organized by Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire to promote this ancestral African cereal.

                                                                     Fonio grains

For the record, fonio has long been cultivated by the people of northern Côte d’Ivoire, where ecological conditions are favourable to its growth and development. For centuries, the consumption of this cereal has been an integral part of the dietary habits of these populations who master its production and cooking techniques. Fonio is also consumed in other African countries, including neighbouring countries in northern Côte d’Ivoire.

Because of the difficult nature of its processing, the consumption of fonio is unknown to a large segment of the Ivorian population, particularly urban dwellers who have become accustomed to the consumption of other cereals such as rice, maize and millet.

Yet fonio is a cereal with many virtues, rich in mineral salts and amino acids. Resistant to climatic hazards, it can easily replace rice and thus limit massive imports. Fonio is classified by Inades-Formation as a sovereignty food and is part of the foodstuffs it promotes through its Sovereignty Food Enhancement Project.

                                            Tasters in front of their fonio with Yassa dish

Giving People the Opportunity to Know Fonio

The objective of the tasting session was to offer the public the opportunity to discover or rediscover the flavours of fonio and get them to include it in their menu.

Moreover, the fact that the tasting took place in a restaurant was not accidental. This choice was intended to attract restaurant owners so that by seeing the interest customers could have in fonio dishes, they could consider putting it on their menu card.

In addition to customers of the restaurant who agreed to taste the dishes, other people from state institutions related to agriculture and food as well as local partners, invited by Inades-Formation, took part in the tasting.

Fonio is Digestible and Delicious in the Opinion of the Guests

The guests carried the first spoonful of fonio dish to their lips, with slight gestures of hesitation for some and confidence for others.

After the first bite, the faces lit up immediately most of the time, pleasantly surprised by the good taste of the fonio. The appreciation did not take long to come. In their great majority, the tasters judged the fonio dish delicious and digestible.

They said they are ready to consume fonio regularly if it is available and accessible on the market.

To promote food systems based on family farming, a forum was held at the General Secretariat of Inades-Formation on Wednesday, April 11, 2018, for the exchange of knowledge and experience on the promotion of dishes based on sovereignty food and the exploration of entrepreneurial opportunities for women caterers in Côte d’Ivoire.

This forum, organized by the General Secretariat in partnership with Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire in the framework of the programme to promote sovereignty food, was attended by some thirty women caterers, processors of sovereignty food such as millet, sorghum, beans/niébé and local chicken. These women came from the communes of Abidjan and other towns in the country, particularly in the north and centre of Côte d’Ivoire, where these foodstuffs are most consumed.

A view of the participants in the workshop

As a reminder, “sovereignty food” is, from a conceptual point of view[1], food crops and livestock and/or harvesting products traditionally dominant in the diet of the local populations of African countries South of the Sahara but which are today losing ground in terms of production and are increasingly less important in the household food basket. The causes of this loss of importance are diverse:

  • Gradual discontinuance, by producers, for reasons of arduous work, especially in terms of packaging;
  • Changes in consumption patterns due to substitution by other imported or hybrid seed products;
  • Decrease in support for the development of the family agricultural sector and food exchanges between urban and rural areas, the emphasis being placed on policies to promote export monocultures at the expense of traditional crops.

Yet, these cultures, true sovereignty food, have great virtues – globally recognized nutritional, therapeutic and cultural / traditional values (used especially for traditional rites or ceremonies, such as weddings, baptisms, funerals, etc.). Finally, they are resilient food crops (poor soils, climate change, etc.) and family farmers, especially women, are the repositories of a huge amount of knowledge and know-how accumulated on these products in terms of farming practices enriched from generation to generation, recipes for cooking “local dishes” and the preservation of agro-biodiversity.

Indeed, the concept of “sovereignty food” derives from these characteristics of resilience, knowledge and know-how accumulated on seeds, cultivation techniques and recipes for cooking. Thus, repositioning “sovereignty food” at the heart of the food systems of African countries will make it possible, among other things:

  • To consolidate and amplify the intellectual and cultural heritage of local populations (local knowledge, know-how and life skills) in terms of cultural practices and recipes for cooking “local dishes” enriched and transmitted from generation to generation, which constitute important levers of sovereignty in food;
  • To reweave the decisive links between cities and the countryside, to support the emergence of a social and solidarity-based economy (city-country solidarity), as an engine for improving the system for serving local and urban markets and to all actors involved in the production, processing and distribution of food obtained with dignity from their labour;
  • To stimulate awareness of the strategic role of sovereignty foodstuffs in local and national food systems and to draw the attention of decision-makers and the general public to the threats of disappearance of local food products and the current opportunities.

Intervention of  participants

The forum was articulated around the following objectives:

Linking women sovereignty food caterers and analysing together the stakes and challenges of the development of sovereignty food services from the perspective of the “concept of Proximity Catering;”

  • Collect practices and knowledge related to sovereignty food;
  • Stimulate initiatives to network women caterers of sovereignty food in Abidjan.
  • The participants thus discussed the importance of enhancing sovereignty food services.
  • Emphasis was placed on positioning the principle of food sovereignty, promoting foods recognized for their nutritional, therapeutic and cultural values, and the opportunities offered for entrepreneurship and empowerment of women.

The participants, who already know the values of these sovereignty foods, confirmed their adherence to this vision and thanked Inades-Formation for the initiative to promote these ancestral agricultural products.

Intervention of participants

Sovereignty Food, Products Appreciated by the Population but Insufficiently Promoted.

Women caterers participating in the forum recognized the interest that the population has in the dishes derived from sovereignty food and the potential market they constitute.

They believe that all segments of the population like to consume them. However, to regain a place of choice in the populations’ dietary habits, products should be promoted through better presentation of dishes, varied menus, modernization of sales stalls, sustained communication, etc. This requires women to be creative, innovative and determined.

They shared their experiences on the difficulties encountered in the carrying out of their sovereignty food-based catering activities at the organizational, financial, material, product availability, product prices, product quality and customer levels. They identified their needs to consolidate and promote their activities.

Thus, issues of hygiene, presentation, treatment of products have been identified. This was an opportunity for them to give advice to each other for the improvement of their commercial activity.

They expressed the need for networking between women caterers in order to guarantee the availability and quality of sovereignty food, exchange operational information and promote solidarity in their profession. They also identified various communication actions to promote sovereignty food.

This was also an opportunity to talk to the participants about the requirements in terms of managing sovereignty food orders to enable them to be more competitive in conquering new markets.

Intervention of participants

New Dishes Identified

This forum for women identified 16 new local dishes, often created or invented by the caterers themselves based on modern menus made from other cereals, vegetables or others.

Thus, the participants could realize the diversity of the proposals and the infinite possibilities to create new dishes, possibilities they had already seen through the samples of dishes and drinks based on the sovereignty food they had brought.

Pastry made from millet

Different dishes made from millet and beans made by the participants

Different dishes made by the participants

Women involved for further exchanges and collective learning

The forum closed with enthusiasm from participants and a commitment to deepen issues related to organizational aspects, the quality of food and beverage services, communication and networking.

Family photo of participants

[1] Concept Inades-Formation avec des dimensions économiques, sociales, environnementales et politiques

Organic cocoa farming is a fact of life in Côte d’Ivoire. For the last decades, several organizations, institutions and even the Ivorian State have been promoting this initiative, which aims to reduce and stop the use of chemical inputs in cocoa plantations, because these chemical products not only increase the producer’s costs, but also harm the producer’s health as well as the biodiversity.

Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire remains the pioneer organization among the organizations involved in this dynamic. Indeed, it has provided support to cocoa producers members of the Société Coopérative Equitable du Bandama (SCEB) based in M’Brimbo (S/P) Tiassalé in the Agnéby-Tiassa region since 2007. This initiative is part of a programme to help improve the incomes of cocoa farmers in the Agnéby-Tiassa region through their sustainable positioning on the organic cocoa market.

To this end, several actions have been undertaken by Inades-Formation Côte d’Ivoire on mastering the specifications of organic and fair cocoa production with a view to certification, marketing support, and improved governance.

With 38 organic cocoa producers in 2010, CSEB currently has 138 members. It has two (2) functional internal control systems in M’Brimbo and Ahouakro. CSEB gradually increased its exports from 13.66 tonnes in 2010 to 71.28 tonnes in 2017. This growth is due in particular to the stability of the price to producers guaranteed by a European buyer. Organic cocoa is bought today from the producer at 1,350 F.CFA/Kg. The margin earned has enabled several producers to improve their habitats, acquire new motorcycles that make it easier for them to get around, provide for their children’s schooling and support their families’ health costs.

The cooperative, as an entity, has contributed to the construction of the village maternity and primary school teachers’ housing. In recent years, it has provided subsidies to its members in the form of small agricultural equipment.

Despite the small quantities exported compared to the large exporting cooperatives, CSEB enjoys a regional and international reputation that has enabled it to forge new partnerships. In addition to Inades Formation Côte d’Ivoire, it is now accompanied by AVSF and ICRAF. These new partners are committed to pooling their efforts to support SCEB in its new challenges and enable it to position itself sustainably on the organic market by extending the social base, improving cocoa plantations productivity, improving bean quality and strengthening governance.

Drying cocoa beans