Let’s Cook, Benin!

Cooking demonstrations — a proven method to reach people in predominantly rural areas

Photo: © Klaus Wohlmann

Cooking in a group is fun and allows to clarify numerous questions regarding nutrition in a practical manner. For their cooking demonstrations, the country package Benin of the Global Programm Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience, Special Initiative ONE WORLD – No Hunger relies on a multisectoral approach that includes all relevant actors on the communal level, including social promotion centers, health centers, therapeutic nutrition centers and vocational training centers as well as on the implementation of standards.

In the past, the demonstrations were led by two of the programme’s nutritionists with 50 to 100 female participants watching. The women had been coming and going as they pleased, they were often detracted doubting it was feasible for them to prepare the dishes in their own households.

Nowadays, the cooking demonstrations are completely participatory!

How did the programme get to this? — In a first step, the programme collected recipes common in the area of the intervention. From more than 100 recipes 12 were picked, one for every month of the year.

The main criteria for the choice were the local availability of ingredients, their nutritional value, time needed for preparations and viability. With regard to the selection of ingredients, the programme put an emphasis on a balanced diet and the use of local nutritious plants such as Baobab (Adansonia digitata) and Nere/African locust bean (Parkia biglobosa). For example, the seeds of the Nere-tree can be processed into a paste that replaces Maggi cubes in the recipes. The promotion of these locally available fruits also has important positive side-effects, such as combatting deforestation. By rediscovering the value of the trees and using them for consumption or sale, people are immediately less likely to cut down the trees and sell them for firewood.

The programme operates in seven communities of the Atacora department in northern Benin. Standards help to harmonize the processes and to detect and eliminate potential errors early on. The programme developed a two-pager that describes the recipes and every step of the corresponding cooking demonstrations.

The program has developed standards for the preparation of the dishes and the running and post-processing of the cooking demonstrations. The number of participants is limited to 30. The demonstrations go on for two and a half hours.

The different steps and tasks of the cooking procedure are assigned to the different participants. Ahead of time, the participants are informed about which dish will be cooked and when and where the demonstration will take place. The voluntary community workers are responsible for the communication. They also clarify additional questions with the participants:

  • Which ingredients are needed? Who contributes which ingredient? Is there something missing (ProSAR contributes ingredients if necessary)?
  • Which materials are necessary and who can bring them?
  • Who takes over the cleaning of the kitchen/cooking place before and after the demonstration?
  • Which group prepares the food (washing, cutting, etc.)?
  • Who takes care of the kids (in a protected area)?
  • Who monitors the fulfilment of hygiene requirements?
  • Who cooks? It is advisable to have only 2-3 women near the cooking place to avoid accidents!
  • Are there other topics to be discussed (local issues, prevention topics)?

The biggest challenge, especially in the beginning, is to get all participants to contribute ingredients. It is important to remain persistent and to include all partners. During the cooking demonstration the community workers explain the necessary steps and the advantages of the demonstrated recipes.

After the demonstration all participants eat together, whereby the kids always eat first. By the way, did you know that the expression “bon appetit” exists in none of the many local languages in Benin? Luckily, this is not necessary for the programme anyway, since ALL ProSAR-recipes are delicious!

Photo: © Bianca Oebel

About the project

The activities described in this article are carried by the Country Program Benin, Global Program Food Security and Strengthening of Resilience in the North-Benin Region / Atacora.

The authors

Bianca Oebel, Development Worker, Global Programm Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience, country package Benin and Youssif Kamil-Abdulsalam, Junior Adviser, Global Programm Food and Nutrition Security, Enhanced Resilience, country package Benin