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Marketing through Ambassadors to build consumer demand and entrepreneurs – modernizing nutritious, climate smart foods of Niger

There will be new markets for climate smart crops, new businesses for entrepreneurs, and diversified and more nutritious food on the table.

Photo of Agathe Diama
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Tatali IYALI (The First Lady’s Foundation) – 4. Small NGO Innovation and Technology Complex – 8. Government

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?


Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?


Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Niamey in West Africa has an urban area of 250 km2 and peri urban area of 420 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?


Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

ICRISAT has a research for development base in Niger with a training facility in Niamey and a research facility at Sadoré, 45 km out of town on a 500-hectare farm. Research, training and innovations are undertaken on improved crop varieties and farming methods that will help farmers have more resilient and productive farms.

The Innovation and Technology Complex, Niger’s first innovation center for entrepreneurs, was set up in January 2019 at ICRISAT’s Sadoré site. This was the culmination of an MOA between ICRISAT and the Niger Government’s Agency for Information Society (ANSI) as part of the government’s Niger 2.0 program. The Complex will be an incubator developed around clusters (agribusiness, health, education and more). It will host a startup and small-medium enterprises acceleration and incubation center, a training and certification center (university for technical/professional training), a coding academy, a business center, a national data center and assembly lines for digital and other equipment including computers, tablets and solar panels. The incubation centre will be the basis of the assistance to millet entrepreneurs in this initiative.

ICRISAT established a connection with the First Lady’s foundation - the Tatali IYALI Foundation - by collaborating to conduct the inaugural national millet fair. The Foundation is interested in young girls and women’s well-being with a focus on nutrition as Niger has one of the highest rates of malnutrition. As a charity, the foundation distributes food but also supports interventions that integrate both nutrition-sensitive and nutrition-specific activities. This is the reason why the Foundation supported and led the inaugural International Millet Festival in January 2019, to raise awareness about the importance of millet in food and nutrition security.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The need for nutrition-based solutions for Niger

UNICEF: The destructive wave of malnutrition in Niger needs to be halted. Stunting affects 47.8 per cent of children [2018], similar to the situation in 2006. Micronutrient deficiencies are rampant, and more than 70 per cent of children under 5 are anemic. The number of stunted children is expected to increase by 44 per cent by 2025 owing to population growth.

The need for climate smart (resilient) agriculture options
FAO: The Republic of Niger is a vast landlocked country of the Sahel, two-thirds of which are desert. The population is very young and a large majority is rural. A large part of the active population is employed in the agropastoral and agricultural sectors, mainly in small-scale family farms, practicing subsistence agriculture and rearing livestock. This sector, which is the foundation of the economy, is highly sensitive to the harsh climatic conditions which include recurrent periods of drought.

The need to tackle poverty
Poverty is widespread and severe, with more than 60% of the population below the poverty line. Structural poverty, coupled with persistent food production shortages, results in high vulnerability of the population to climatic and economic shocks, which can lead to severe food crises, as occurred in 2005.

USAID: Currently, Niger ranks 151 out of the 157 countries in terms of progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Sachs et al. 2017).

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Millets were a traditional staple food of Niger. Rice and wheat have taken over as the staples in urban areas and are typically refined and imported. Millets are highly nutritious, high in iron and zinc, and are very hardy, surviving with minimal water and in degraded soils. They are a climate smart crop. However, they have not been modernized like rice and wheat, and have an image of food for the poor or old fashioned food. Millets are still readily grown and available but are not the food of first choice in urban areas. A few modern or convenience (ready to cook or eat) products have been developed with millets but are rarely seen in retail outlets.

By driving demand for millets as the food of first choice in urban areas, through marketing and modern and palatable versions of the foods, we tackle a range of issues in unison:

  • Lend a modern touch to traditional foods to revive their popularity;
  • Restrict the trend of less nutritious foods becoming popular and a major part of the diet; and
  • Build the market for foods that are most suited to the agro-ecology and rising temperatures.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

By focusing on millets, we tackle nutrition and at the same time farmer adaptation to climate change and solutions that are more sustainable on the environment.

Research is being undertaken at the farm production end to breed improved varieties of millets and develop their seed supply chain. Less has been done to build the consumer market, and this is a gap that needs to be filled. If millets are marketed well to change their image, in combination with engaging entrepreneurs to develop and make available modern products, these nutritious and climate smart foods can become mainstream.

Building markets for farmers for crops that are more resilient is a good risk management strategy and part of climate adaptation. It will also drive consumer demand, open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to develop nutritious products made with millets and make them available through retail outlets. These modern products also contribute to changing the image of millets. Consumers benefit as their diets are diversified and they gain nutritionally because of millets are high in iron and zinc.

The First Lady of Niger is a Smart Food Ambassador. She led Niger’s inaugural national millet fair in January 2019. The fair included displays, cooking classes, and roundtable discussions with key stakeholders. For 2020, a chef training and the second national millet fair in March are planned.

With focused funding, these activities can be taken to the next level with the following components:

  • Consumer marketing campaign based around ambassadors. The First Lady is the lead Ambassador who will bring in other prominent nationals. The ambassadors will be key in the marketing activities - National Millet Fair, promotions and ambassador events.
  • Entrepreneur product development exposure and capacity building.
  • Use of branding: The campaign will be branded and the same branding used as a co-brand on millet products to maximize exposure and effectiveness. This will apply only to products that fulfil certain criteria (e.g., nutrition levels- not high in sugar, saturated fats and salt). These criteria will be set and entrepreneurs will be encouraged and assisted in meeting them. There will be peer level certification. This will be set up as a self-sustaining business model.
  • Engagement with retailers: On behalf of the ‘co-branded’ entrepreneurs, retailers and other outlets will be approached to set up branded millet sections. This too will eventually be a sustainable business model as the entrepreneurs will have formed a cluster to enable them to effectively negotiate and jointly fund such initiatives.
  • Chef engagement: Interactive sessions will be conducted with chefs on cooking millets and sharing knowledge about its value. A competition will also be conducted, led by the First Lady.

These efforts will be the nudge that is needed to popularize millets and bring them back into mainstream, reversing the urban trend to move towards imported refined foods.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The initiative will lead to the following changes along the value chain:

  • Farmers improve livelihoods: Consumer markets for millets will grow; so will the demand for products that are climate smart. Farmers will benefit through in terms of a risk management strategy against rising temperatures and water scarcity.
  • Entrepreneurs and new market opportunities: A marketing campaign to popularize millets together with product development training will open up opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new businesses. Co-branding across the millet products will maximize the benefits of any campaign.
  • Consumers’ diets improve: Consumers will have easy access to healthy products. Greater consumer demand and consumption will mean a more diversified and healthier diet.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The vision directly addresses the environment, diets, economics and culture and links with policy and technology. This is because millets are often described as being ‘good for you, the planet and you’, with qualities that allow them to tackle many issues in unison.

Millets are environmentally sustainable as they survive with minimal water (e.g. 30% less than maize and 70% less than rice), have a short growing season (e.g. 60-65 days compared to 100-140 days for wheat) and put less stress on the environment, survive with very few fertilizers or pesticides and so have a low carbon footprint.

Millets are highly nutritious, having high iron and zinc which are two of the top three micronutrient deficiencies globally and particularly important for women. Depending on the variety, millets typically have 4-8 mg of iron per 100 g and have been shown to provide the daily allowance of iron taking bioavailability into account.

Millets are a traditional staple in Niger, but pushed aside by the successes of rice and maize. Re-popularizing millets but with a modern overlay, will help bring back these traditional foods.

As millets are climate smart, they are a good risk management strategy for farmer and make economic sense. Building demand for them will help entrepreneurs open new businesses. Supporting entrepreneurs will require food processing technologies and knowledge sharing.  Identifying and advising on policy needed to support this initiative will be part of the program.

This vision is led by Niger and will be part of Niger’s 3N Initiative ‘Nigeriens Nourishing Nigeriens’ which stems from a strong political will to combat hunger and poverty. It is a large-scale, cross-sectoral initiative that increases agricultural productivity, while augmenting the resilience of farmers against climate change and food insecurity. The initiative has already reduced the proportion of people suffering from hunger by 50 per cent since 2011.

A committee represented by different nodes  of the value chain will be formed. Together with ICRISAT as the technical knowledge provider, the committee will constitute the advisory group for the First Lady and coordinate implementation.

The Vision will tackle the food system challenges by popularizing food from the consumer end that in unison fits the criteria of locally being good for you, the planet and the farmer.

The Vision aligns with the Evaluation Criteria:

  • Systems Focused Approach – This will happen when working both across different levels of the value chain as well as focusing on a solution that in unison tackles malnutrition, the environment, adaptation to climate change, and producer (farmers and entrepreneurs) welfare.
  • Transformative Potential – This will happen by diversifying the staples. A major impact can be achieved by focusing on staples since they constitute the majority of the plate. The approach will change consumer behaviour through positive marketing and bring a modern and convenient overlay to traditional food.
  • Community Rooted – This initiative is led by the First Lady of the country and part of 3N – “Nigeriens nourishing Nigeriens”. It will also be advised and implemented by a committee with representatives from across the value chain and disciplines.
  • Inspirational – Being an Ambassador-based initiative led by the country’s First Lady, it will inspire consumers through to entrepreneurs.

Effectiveness of this approach will be monitored and modified during this time. This will include:

  • Each marketing and advocacy intervention will be tracked for effectiveness. Surveys and focus groups will be conducted.
  • Changes in perception on these foods will be monitored.
  • Sensory evaluations will be undertaken on a variety of the foods.
  • Changes in consumption will be tracked with selected target groups.
  • Entrepreneurs engaged and new products on the market will be tracked and quantified.

Lessons learnt will be identified in marketing nutritious smart foods.

A small study will be incorporated for identifying nutritional impact. A selected school group will be tested (through BMI) for nutritional gain compared to a control group.


Sample media coverage of the inaugural international Millet Festival in Niamey (FESTIMIL):

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Conference/event


Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Agathe Diama  Great to see you joining the Prize!

We noticed your submission is currently unpublished. Was this your intention? We'd love to have your submission included in the Prize. Even if you've not started populating your Vision just yet, by publishing your submission you can make it public for other teams in your region to see, get in touch and possibly even collaborate with you.

You can publish it by hitting the "Publish" button at the top of your post. You can also update your Vision at any time before 31 January 2020 by clicking on the "Edit Contribution" on top. If you need inspiration or guidance, take a look at the Food Vision Prize Toolkit.
Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.

Photo of Agathe Diama

Dear Itika,
Thank you very much for the clarification.I thought I could not make any change if published. T
I will push on the publish button and certainly visit the Prize Toolkit for more.