With one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa undernourished, Africa is the continent most affected by hunger and malnutrition. Rapid population growth is undermining the capacity of countries to sustainably source food and guarantee access to major food products. Changing food consumption habits – for food that is imported and not very nutritious – coupled with unstable food prices also constitute fundamental challenges. Poor nutrition across the continent is also affected by a severe lack of consumer knowledge on nutrition and how to prepare nutritious food, as well as limited availability of bio-fortified and high micronutrient food crops.
To help address problems related to nutrition, Ashoka – the worldwide leading network of social entrepreneurs – along with key partners, has been able to support around 100 social entrepreneurs in Africa to develop innovative solutions. These social entrepreneurs – Ashoka fellows – have developed new models that help communities, women and young rural entrepreneurs to address the economic, environmental and cultural challenges related to nutrition. To accelerate and support the consumption, production and trade of local highly nutritious food products, 17 Ashoka fellows working on agriculture and nutrition in West and Central Africa, joined forced to create the Innovative Cooperative for Optimal Nutrition (ICON), formally launched on 20th March in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
Relying on the strong businesses of the 17 entrepreneurs (and €3.8 million of combined turnover and over 150,000 local producers), ICON will leverage their innovations and add value to existing products in order to achieve a larger collective economic and social impact on nutrition in the region.
ICON’s mandate is to improve the consumption and value creation of highly nutritious food products – by increasing production capacity and access to markets for the 17 social entrepreneurs and their network of local producers – and provide nutritional education for local consumers. In addition to producing fresh and processed meat and fish products, and different types of instant-enriched flour, ICON will also distribute bio-fortified seeds and organic fertilisers and provide training, business coaching and awareness raising services targeting rural youth, female farmers, and young agripreneurs.
To build entrepreneurship capacity, create new markets and market linkages, and promote locally-produced nutritious foods, CTA, Ashoka and ICON members are partnering for the first 2 years of this project (2018–2019) in Burkina Faso and Nigeria, with a focus on three key components:
1) design and launch a sub-regional online marketplace;
2) develop a collective brand for all cooperative products, and;
3) design and disseminate a kit for the nutritional education of children in Burkina and Nigeria.
Other components in ICON’s roadmap will be implemented with the support of other partners.
A collective brand of local nutritious food products will help ICON members to better position themselves in the market, and consumers and distributors will have better access to locally-produced nutritious products.