In the Classroom, “Trickle Up Education” to Improve Diets and Livelihoods for the Whole Community

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Conflict and war don’t just have an impact on soldiers and politicians in sub-Saharan Africa, but also on a nation’s farmers and agricultural production. The conflict that erupted in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) in 2002 after a coup d’etat, for example, had a huge impact on agriculture in the Northern part of the country.  According to Slow Food International, women farmers were especially hard hit by a decrease in their incomes—they make up the majority of the agricultural work force in Cote d’Ivoire. Not only did yields and incomes decrease, but many children stopped going to school because of the violence.

Mariam Ouattara, the President of Chigata Fettes et Development (Women and Development), an NGO in N’Ganon village, started Slow Food Chigata and organized the women’s group to start helping grow organic food and cook meals for the children. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

And for the children who did attend school, the meals they were served were often of poor nutritional quality because of inadequate funding. As a result, Mariam Ouattara, the President of Chigata Fettes et Development (Women and Development), an NGO in N’Ganon village, started Slow Food Chigata and  organized the women’s group to start helping grow organic food and cook meals for the children.

Our “big thing,” says Ouattara, “is eating things that are close”—much of the food sold in stores in Cote d’Ivoire and other parts of Western Africa is imported from other parts of Africa and Europe.  The problem with imported foods, according to Ouattara, is “there are so many things in the food—flavorings, colourants, and preservatives—that we don’t know what we’re eating.” This “globalized version” of food, she says, has given people new illnesses that they didn’t have before, including obesity, which they don’t  know how to cure.  The Chief and the elders in N’Ganon, who remember the traditional foods people who used to eat, “have jumped on the project” and are helping educate students, teachers, and community members about “how to eat.” And they’re helping the community realize that “nutrition is not about things far away,” but that they can provide their own nutrition locally.

The project started with 300 students, who are working with over 300 women in the community to grow rice, haricot blanc (white beans), onions, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, radishes, and other crops. Much of this food is eaten by the children in the school canteen, while the surplus is sold to help maintain the garden and the canteen.

Slow Food N’Ganon is also teaching the students and teachers how to maintain the garden and the canteen, so “that even if we’re not there,” says Ouattara, “we can do the program.”

They’re hope is that by educating children, they can also change how parents cook and eat through “trickle up education.” They’re also hoping that they can scale up the project to other schools and communities in Cote d’Ivoire. “Once children eat,” says Ouattara, “it’s easier for them to become better students.”

Stay tuned for more on Slow Food International’s work in Africa in the upcoming State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.


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