This is a story of how a group of CSOs embraced a multi-sectoral approach in order to bring the food and nutrition security debate to the fore. Inspired by their neighbouring country, Benin, these CSOs convinced Burkinabe stakeholders to join forces in the battle against malnutrition through an evidence-based, collaborative approach.
Getting to the roots of food and nutrition insecurity
It all began in 2016, when the Voice for Change (V4CP) programme was launched in Burkina Faso. Through this programme, several Burkinabe civil society organisations (CSOs) - namely the National Federation of Naam Groups (FNGN), Agricultural Service Delivery Cooperative-Coobsa (COPSAC), Federation of Agricultural Professionals of Burkina (FEPAB), and the National Union of Rice Producers of Burkina Faso (UNPRB) – would receive training to strengthen their advocacy capacities, as well as support in gathering evidence from a renowned research institute, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Through this programme, these four CSOs soon joined forces to advocate together for the improvement of food and nutrition security in Burkina Faso.
In order to formulate a clear advocacy message, the four CSOs reflected on the state of food and nutrition security and the levels of malnutrition in their country. They acknowledged that Burkina Faso has made important strides in recent years to address malnutrition; chronic malnutrition was reduced from 35.1% in 2009 to 21.2% by 2017 while acute malnutrition decreased from 11.3% to 8.7% over the same period. Despite these improvements, levels of stunting amongst children below the age of five in 2016 remained high at 29.1%, affecting over 1 million children. The need for a comprehensive effort to address food and nutrition security was recognised by the Burkinabe government and in 2016 the National Nutrition Policy was formulated and a Multisectoral Strategic Nutrition Plan for 2016-2020 was finalised. To ensure that they practiced what they preached, the CSOs backed their claims with evidence generated by IFPRI and other research institutes, including briefs reviewing policy dialogue frameworks. IFPRI presented this research to the CSOs, engaging with them through multiple workshops to translate this research into persuasive policy arguments.
Due to its multifaceted nature, tackling an issue such as nutrition is a task that concerns several ministries and departments. While the Ministry of Agriculture oversees the production of nutritious food, the Ministry of Infrastructure provides suitable roads for the transport of food. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is responsible for educating children on nutrition, and the Ministry of Health ensures the provision of health services to the people of Burkina Faso. Numerous other ministries play parts, big and small, to address nutrition nationwide. A coordinated national nutrition policy and plan across ministries is therefore essential to ensure that efforts are effective and efficient.
In reviewing the Burkinabe nutrition context and the possible reasons why progress in tackling malnutrition has been slow, and with the help of credible IFPRI research, the CSOs determined that weak coordination between the Ministries of Health and Agriculture was a primary cause. Each ministry had its own approach to achieve a reduction of the malnutrition rate, establishing their own councils and policies to tackle the same issues. For example, the National Food and Nutrition Security Policy was created by the Ministry of Agriculture, and the National Nutrition Policy by the Ministry of Health. The lack of coordination and communication between the two ministries resulted in work being duplicated or unorganised. The CSOs saw that there was a clear need for closer coordination and synergy between the two entities, and made it their mission to achieve it.
Building the alliance and its tools
Encouraging two different ministries to recognise the need for closer coordination is not an easy task. The sensitive nature of this issue required a robust and credible message from the CSOs, one that would be greatly strengthened by engaging with other food and nutrition security allies. The CSOs decided that they needed to establish a space for CSOs advocating for food and nutrition security, so they embarked on the challenge to create a platform that is effective, credible, and speaks with one voice. They applied the leadership and communication skills that they had developed during V4CP trainings, and spearheaded the formation of the platform. With a new-found confidence and the support of SNV and IFPRI, the CSOs quickly managed to find an additional seven voices to join their cause, three of whom are considered to be some of the most influential advocacy organisations in the country: the Burkina Faso Farmers' Confederation (CPF), the Permanent Secretariat of NGOs (SPONG), and the Consumers' League of Burkina Faso (LCB). The participation of such high-profile organisations gave the CSOs’ platform additional credibility, and together they came up with a plan of action
The National Council of Food and Nutrition in Benin.
Cross-country exchange: learning visit to Benin
The CSOs realised that the best way to convince two separate bodies to work together was by showing them similar examples of where cooperation had been successful. At the recommendation of SNV, the CSOs decided to look towards their neighbouring country, Benin. In 2009, the government of Benin established the National Council of Food and Nutrition. It is a multisectoral policy coordination platform that operates under the authority of the President, bringing together a wide range of stakeholders. Sectors such as agriculture, health, finance, social protection, planning, academia, and civil society develop and coordinate multisectoral nutrition policies and programmes. Benin’s coordination model is inclusive and involves other relevant stakeholders such as UN agencies, NGOs, and technical and financial partners. Benin’s model effectively coordinates actions to reduce malnutrition both between sectors and between levels of administration, and has been actively supported in 40 of Benin’s 77 districts. Benin has shown that better coordination mechanisms can be established at both the national and sub-national levels, an example that Burkina Faso could learn from.
With their success story found and their objective clear, the CSO coalition pooled their resources and networks together and set to work to convince decision-makers from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Agriculture Ministry, the Health Ministry, and the National Assembly to take part in a fact-finding trip to Benin in May 2018. The comprehensive visit gave the Burkinabe delegation the opportunity to see first-hand how Benin’s coordination model was being implemented, from national level down to village level. The delegation spoke with a wide range of stakeholders, ranging from national technical services, NGOs, multiple specialised UN agencies, and the Benin people who had benefited from the improved nutrition services. The trip inspired the Burkinabe delegation and convinced them that Burkina Faso could benefit from a similar coordination model. Most importantly, the parliamentarians and ministers of the two targeted ministries of Agriculture and Health had been convinced of the necessity to move towards a centralised coordination model, under the auspices of one high-level ministry. This was the first sign of imminent change.
Government representatives and CSOs took part in an exchange trip to Benin.
Cementing buy-in back home: identifying the Burkinabe model
Once back home in Burkina Faso, the coalition of CSOs reflected on the study trip to Benin and how to translate the experience from enthusiasm to firm commitments. That is where the idea came to organise a high-level panel for food and nutrition security stakeholders to share the lessons learned on Benin’s coordination model and to begin determining a suitable version of the model for Burkina Faso. The ministry representatives who had been a part of the delegation to Benin were in agreement and worked alongside the coalition to convince the very influential State Minister at the President’s Office and chairperson of the ruling party, Mr. Simon Compaore, to sponsor the high-level panel. As proof of his support, the Minister of State said:
“The initiative of the high-level panel is all the more commendable that it comes from CSOs who, in their role as citizen control over public actions, are helping the government to take more responsibility for its citizens. For an effective and efficient food and nutrition security intervention and the better use of state resources, we need to rethink the food and nutrition security coordination model and under which ministry it would fall. Our government is committed to supporting this. The president himself underscored the importance of this undertaking.”
– Mr. Simon Compaore, The Minister of State.
The decision to establish a centralised coordination model and the changes that this requires is more a political challenge than a technical one. The Minister of State’s support for the establishment of a coordination model gave the CSOs’ movement the legitimacy it needed to begin taking the first steps to action. However, despite the CSO platform’s preparations and the ministers’ support, the process to formalise this new strategy for tackling food and nutrition security issues in Burkina Faso has not been without its difficulties. The announcement of a high-level panel discussion on a coordination model awakened a conflict of leadership. A number of international NGOs questioned whether leadership for guiding the coordination model process should reside with local CSOs, with some pressuring central directorates at the Ministry of Health and technical and financial partners to boycott the panel. But despite the initial resistance, the CSOs, with the support of SNV, used their experience and their newly developed leadership and negotiation skills to ensure that the high-level panel went ahead.
Soon after, the CSOs organised the high-level panel on a coordination model for food and nutrition security in Burkina Faso. During the panel, the CSOs and ministry representatives who had been a part of the study trip to Benin told the participants about their experience and the things that they had learned from their neighbours. They described the benefits of having a coordinated approach to tackle nutrition and why they believed a version of the model should be adopted by the Burkinabe government. Most importantly, they ensured that all key stakeholders had a common understanding that food and nutrition security is a cross-cutting issue that does not only concern the agriculture and health sectors, but many others as well. The need for a centralised coordination model, linked to a high-level ministry such as that of the presidency, became clear to all in attendance. At the end of the panel, the participants unanimously recognised the relevance of the proposed model, and political actors (executive and legislative) publicly stated their commitment to achieving this goal.
The ground work has been laid. CSOs have gathered evidence and organised a joint learning visit with government officials to neighbouring Benin, built their coalition and legitimacy, and thereby ignited political will. With this backdrop, the government will now begin to discuss and develop the ideal centralised coordination model for Burkina Faso, with CSOs. Future consultations will seek to develop a concrete action plan in a continuous process of adaptive planning and collaborative action, while the coalition continues to expand and strengthen its network with a vision to keep food and nutrition security high on the agenda in the country.
Who we are
The Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) strengthens the capacities of CSOs to foster collaboration among relevant stakeholders, influence agenda-setting and hold the government and private sector accountable for their promises and actions. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 Burkina Faso Ministry of Health (2018)
 European Commission (2016) “Burkina Faso Nutrition Country Fiche”, https://ec.europa.eu/europeaid/sites/devco/files/nutrition-fiche-burkinafaso-2016_en.pdf
 World Bank February 19, 2018 http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/120941521788526261/text/Concept-Project-Information-Document-Integrated-Safeguards-Data-Sheet-Early-Years-Nutrtion-and-Child-Development-Project-P166211.txt
The sign welcomes the Burkinabe delegation to Benin.