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Local products to promote healthy eating in Africa

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The ICON Cooperative brings together 16 social entrepreneurs one common objective: the promotion of healthy and sustainable food

© Javier Mármol, Manos Unidas

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The Innovative Cooperative for Optimal Nutrition (ICON) was launched in March 2018 in Burkina Faso by 16 Ashoka fellows, with the aim of supporting the consumption, production and trade of local, highly nutritious food products through a new collective brand. Its Director General Lamisse Kandil looks back at the efforts made to establish the ICON Africa label as a guarantee of health and nutritional quality and a model for sustainable development.

The ICON Cooperative brings together 16 social entrepreneurs from nine French- and English-speaking African countries around one common objective: the promotion of healthy and sustainable food. This includes the launch of a collective brand to market cooperative members’ agrifood products in different African countries. The ICON Africa brand, launched in October 2019, is the result of a long collaborative process based on high quality standards. Today, it includes five products: plantain banana chips from the Springboard agro-ecological farm in Nigeria, Apisavana honey from the Wend-Puiré NGO in Burkina Faso, a local infant flour, and dried mangoes and cashew nuts, produced by Sodepal and Socabe respectively in Burkina Faso.

Quality packaging that respects the environment

Beyond the focus on product quality, significant efforts have been made on packaging, to ensure that it meets the brand’s specifications and recommendations. All our packaging must be for food use – not always the case in Africa – and be as well adapted as possible to the products they are used for. It must also be sustainable, while taking into account the circumstances of the company. For example, one of our aims is to phase out the use of plastic packaging, but we cannot require a contractor to use environmentally-friendly packaging if it is twice as expensive.However, we can raise awareness and decide, as a collective, to work towards this goal, hence the benefit of cost sharing.

We have paid particular attention to labelling to ensure that our products list all the mandatory information (list of ingredients, storage instructions, etc.), as well as nutritional information. ICON’s objective is to promote a healthy and sustainable diet. This means that we have to include the nutritional benefits of our products and help our customers better understand the importance of a balanced meal. This will help reduce the risk of diabetes-type diseases, vitamin and iron deficiencies, and other direct consequences of poor nutrition.

Certification and quality control

Upgrading to national standards is another of the recommendations for entrepreneurs. In Burkina Faso, Sodepal has successfully obtained the ABNorm certification for its Vitalin infant flour. In Nigeria, all entrepreneurs who want to sell their products have to obtain NAFDAC authorisation, and Springboard has renovated its factory and installed new processing equipment in order to meet the necessary requirements. In the long run, we want all our members’ products to achieve national certification, though it is a long and expensive process that requires considerable effort to understand the regulatory system and to change established practices.

For the implementation of the quality control systemwe have decided to develop the necessary skills within ICON to implement a quality approach based on internal audits that include carrying out physico-chemical and organoleptic testing. In parallel, we plan to carry out external quality audits.

A collaborative effort

The four companies have also received strategic support from Kinomé, a social enterprise that is also a member of ICON, with extensive experience in helping companies to comply with standards and improve the quality and marketing of non-timber forest products, including moringa. The results have been very encouraging! Today, these products are of comparable quality to those found on Western supermarket shelves. I am pleased that all these efforts, accomplished over a very short period of time, are the result of a collaborative effort involving Kinomé, the various members of ICON, as well as Ashoka and CTA, which have supported the implementation of this initiative.

We plan to sell the products of the ICON Africa brand in Burkina Faso, Benin, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria. The next stage will be to diversify our range and our markets by targeting other countries, not only in West Africa but also in North Africa and East Africa. Ultimately, our aim is to offer healthy and quality African products throughout the continent.

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