Spreading the word: Promoting safer hygiene and healthy eating in Senegal

Local radio adverts and face-to-face training have persuaded rural Senegalese communities to adopt healthy eating and safer hygiene practices, reducing sickness among children and helping families to generate more income.

Community health workers have received SPRING training to integrate nutrition messages into their work © Itunu Kuku

When Thiane Dramé – a resident of a village in Senegal’s Kaolack region – found that she could no longer feed her seven children and four grandchildren, she decided to start growing her own fruit and vegetables. “My youngest grandchild was always sick,” Dramé says. “As soon as I learned that orange-fleshed sweet potato is a nutritious crop for preventing anaemia in pregnant women, improving mothers’ breastmilk, and ensuring children grow up healthy, I didn’t hesitate [to plant it].” The USAID-run SPRING (Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally) project trained Dramé how to grow nutritious vegetables so she could feed her family a more balanced diet.

Between 2015 and 2017, the SPRING project helped to improve maternal and child nutrition in three regions of Senegal (Fatick, Kaffrine and Kaolack) – chiefly by delivering healthy eating and safe hygiene training to women, and broadcasting messages on local radio stations which is by far and away the most popular media channel among rural communities in the country. The project teamed up with six radio stations, airing over 14,000 adverts and around 30 programmes in local languages on a variety of nutrition-related topics. The programmes covered simple hygiene measures, such as using tap water and soap rather than communal basins for washing hands, and stressed the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for infants under 6 months. “[This is] very problematic as there is widespread belief that infants need to drink water,” explained Robert de Wolfe, SPRING project manager. But infants regularly fall sick because the water is often not safe to drink.

The project worked alongside national authorities and local and regional NGOs to promote healthy eating and nutrition advice to 430,000 women, mostly through radio broadcasts and direct contact with 7,500 households. Senegalese women like Dramé have also been taught how to grow bio-fortified maize and millet, as well as carrots, black-eyed peas and orange-fleshed sweet potato to provide their family with a more varied diet. In addition, more than 500 people working for partner organisations were trained to dispense advice on nutrition.

Many children are developmentally delayed because they lack access to nutritious, affordable food and because of poor hygiene – a situation that affects their performance at school and, in later life, their employment opportunities. National statistics show that, in rural communities, barely 7% of children aged 6-23 months have the minimum acceptable diet, while around 20% of children under the age of 5 years old are chronically malnourished.

“My 5-year old girl repeats a spot [one of the project’s radio broadcasts] to me all day long, and that’s what attracted my attention to this message,” said a woman from a village in Kaffrine region. “Now, I understand that everything a child needs in their first 6 months is contained in breastmilk and that exclusive breastfeeding protects against diseases. Next time I have a baby, that is what I will do.”

Dramé now enjoys a better standard of living. Like other women who received training, she earns an income by selling her surplus vegetables and raising chickens with a women’s group. She also has access to meat, fish and eggs, and is able to feed her family a more varied diet. “My youngest grandson doesn’t fall sick as much now, so we don’t have medical bills like before,” says Dramé, who is now sharing the benefit of her experience with family and friends. “In my community, all the women have started their own gardens and I invite other women to do the same.”

Vincent Defait

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.