‘The children are sick less often’

Interview with doctor and nutrition expert Fatimata Koné, she works for Welthungerhilfe, GIZ’s project partner in Mali.

Text and Photos
Katrin Gänsler

Ms Koné, you lived in Timbuktu from 2014 to 2017. What did the people there eat at the time?
They ate mainly grains and meat. It was difficult to find fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables in the markets – it was only available if it was brought across the Niger from the south to Timbuktu.

What effect did that have?
There were very many people who were overweight in Timbuktu. At the same time, they were malnourished. They ate mainly meat and fat in order to put on weight, which is a sign of prosperity. And the region shares a border with Algeria, where people like eating sweet foods, which is not very healthy either. The body needs food with a high nutritional value, vitamins and mineral salts.

Has the range of food that is available improved since then?
Yes, there are vegetables and even fruit in the region around Timbuktu now. That is partly due to various initiatives by the government and by non-governmental and international organisations to improve food and nutrition security. They show all the different things that can be grown and how to prepare them.

Fatimata Koné

GIZ is cooperating with Welthungerhilfe in the region. What have they been able to achieve together?
In the joint project run by GIZ and Welthungerhilfe, we have devoted a great deal of attention to kitchen gardens. Many women already had kitchen gardens beforehand, but the water supply often did not work. In addition, they were not able to tend the gardens throughout the whole year. That has changed thanks to a great deal of training and support. The structure of the gardens has also improved.

What types of vegetables have been introduced?
A variety of sweet potato with orange flesh and pumpkins, which are high in vitamin A. We also taught the women that certain leaves can be eaten too. They have a high iron content and a lot of vitamin A. One example is the leaves of the baobab tree, which grows in the north.

Do women prepare fruit and vegetables differently now than they used to?
Yes. Using traditional methods, it used to take five to six hours to prepare a sauce made from fakoye, the leaves of the Corchorus plant, for example. But the final dish no longer had any nutritional value. We showed them how to cook the leaves more quickly. That is not only healthier, but also saves firewood. That kind of change cannot be made overnight, however. It takes time.

Has there been a visible improvement in people’s health too?
The women report that their children are now sick less often – they used to suffer from diarrhoea and malaria a lot. The women recognise the connection between a good diet and good health. In our studies, we have also found that fewer children are malnourished.

What do you think is the nicest thing that the project has achieved?
Our joint cookery book. We met up with women from at least 30 villages every month. We talked about the nutritional value of particular types of vegetable and explained how the nutrients could be preserved during cooking. And afterwards we cooked together of course too. We gathered all these recipes in our cookery book, which 90 per cent of the women who took part in the project now use. At least 2,800 women have it to hand when cooking. The food preparation is simple and practical, and the recipes are easy to follow. But the main reason why the cookery book is so popular is that the women developed it themselves.

Which is your favourite recipe?
It’s a recipe using pumpkin with orange flesh called pumpkin cream. You add milk and, if you want to, a little sugar. It’s very popular in Timbuktu too.

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