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Attempts Under Way in Burkina Faso to Improve Child Nutrition

  • Jennifer Lazuta

FILE - Children get ready to enter a class room in Yakouta, Burkina Faso.

FILE - Children get ready to enter a class room in Yakouta, Burkina Faso.

A third of children under the age of five in Burkina Faso are chronically malnourished, something that the Ministry of Health says is not always due to lack of food, but a lack of the right foods. Now, in the village of Bougounam, in the northern part of the country, a group of women from one village have started training women how to better cook foods to retain nutrients and plan meals to ensure balanced nutrition.

Thirty-four-year-old Salimata Sana squats beside a small fire in her courtyard in northern Burkina Faso, stirring a pot of enriched porridge.

A small group of women looks on, nodding and asking occasional questions.

Sana explains to the women that “regular millet porridge doesn't give children health and strength like this enriched porridge does.” She says she has added ground peanuts for protein and fat, and ground-up leaves from local moringa trees, which are packed with calcium and vitamins. She adds a bit of milk, oil and sugar for taste.

She tells the women they should start giving this enriched porridge to their children at six months old.

A local aid agency trained Sana and dozens of other women in Zondoma Province on how to feed their kids in the most nutritious way possible. Enriched porridge is just one tactic Sana learned.

She now tells women in surrounding villages not to over-cook vegetables. Boiling them for longer than 5 or 10 minutes takes away nutrients. She tells women that kids need a variety of fruits and vegetables, and that kids need more than a plate of white rice.

Back in the capital, Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Health says good nutrition is about both quantity and quality of food.

The head of the Ministry’s Nutrition Department, Betrine Ouaro, says “Foods need to be rich. Our grains are good, but you need to complement them with proteins, fruits and other vitamin-rich foods.” She says “it’s not enough to give a young child millet porridge and think they have a balanced diet.”

Ouaro said that mothers will often say their children are well-fed because they don’t feel hungry. But having a full stomach doesn’t mean you are well nourished.

The World Food Program (WFP) reports that 88 percent of children under the age of five in Burkina Faso suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. Micronutrients are things like iron, iodine and zinc. They are important for kids because they help their brains and bodies grow.

The Ministry of Health says that while 10 percent of children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, nearly a quarter are underweight for their age.

One reason is poverty. The World Bank says almost half of people in Burkina Faso live below the national poverty line. Foods like fruit and meat can be particularly expensive.

Back in the village, Sana says mothers want to feed their children the best possible food.

But she says “it can be hard sometimes to pay for bananas and tomatoes or other produce.” She says “many fruits and vegetables are only available in the city, not in the villages. Many families can’t afford to eat more than millet every day. It’s just too expensive.”

Sana says that is why recipes like the enriched porridge are so important. The peanuts are grown locally and women can go out and gather the tree leaves for free. But she says the difference these kinds of added ingredients make for a growing child is dramatic.