Interview with Marie Konaté, CEO of a leading producer of fortified infant cereal products in Côte d’Ivoire
Marie Konaté is fighting malnutrition in Côte d’Ivoire in partnership with GAIN. Read our interview.
For Marie Konaté, fighting malnutrition is about promoting local nutritious food products that are affordable and accessible to the poorest of the poor.
How does malnutrition affect Côte d’Ivoire?
Malnutrition is a real problem holding back the country’s development. Chronic malnutrition (low height for age) affects an estimated 33 percent of children under five years old, while an estimated 19 percent are underweight and 7 percent suffer from acute malnutrition (low weight for height). Sub-optimal infant and young child feeding practices further contribute to malnutrition. Only four percent of mothers practice exclusive breastfeeding from delivery to six months and nearly half of children six to nine months do not receive the necessary complementary food required for adequate development and growth. 1
How is GAIN supporting you?
By preventing malnutrition in the very early years of life, we aim to save future generations from the long-term consequences of malnutrition – mental impairment, blindness, inability to find jobs and other disabilities.
My company Protein Kisèe-La provides affordable cereal-based complementary foods (ie infant cereals containing soya and vitamins and minerals) and promotes the production of local food crops (maize, rice and soya beans).
Our main product, Farinor®, is an infant cereal product fortified with vitamins, minerals and proteins for infants 6 to 24 months that we promote in conjunction with breastfeeding. We sell the product in pharmacies, supermarkets and small shops across the country and export it in several African countries.
GAIN’s Infant and Young Child Nutrition Program is providing a five year grant to us so that we can partner with the non-governmental organization Helen Keller International to address vitamin and mineral deficiencies among infants in Côte d’Ivoire. The grant from GAIN will help us repackage, market and distribute Farinor® to ensure that low-income families can afford and access it. For example, we plan to sell the product in small sachets for US$ 0.25 each. Our goal is to reach an estimated 1.5 million children 6 to 24 months old across the country.
How did you get into the food business?
Through an assignment in Brazil earlier in my career, I saw that Brazilians produce what they eat. In Africa, it’s different. Africans produce what they export and eat what they import. I realized this was ridiculous. This experience opened up the food industry world to me. Therefore after Brazil, one day I just gave up my job and went with my heart - to the shock of my friends and family.
The first thing I did was buy an old machine in France for shelling and grinding soy beans to make soy flour. It cost me 600 euros. I then set up the machine in a 30 meter square shop located in the thoroughfare of an outdoor vegetable and fruit market in Abidjan, hired a couple of people to help me, and started selling sacks of the flour to people going to the market and to bakeries making traditional breads and cakes.
At the same time I educated clients about the health benefits of eating soy flour and explained how to use it in traditional local meals. My company was officially created in 1994. When we received more funding, we moved to a better office space.
What drives you?
What makes me most excited is that this business model is sustainable and can be reproduced elsewhere.
I also admire African women who are farmers the most because they are business-minded, entrepreneurial and they work hard. I also admire my employees. During the recent conflict, they continued to deliver maize, rice and soya despite the dangers involved. They told me that being employed was one of the only things that gave them hope during this difficult time. I was amazed by their dedication and confidence.
I know I am making a difference in Côte d’Ivoire’s development through the purchase and use of local agricultural products and provision of products that respond to the needs of local populations.
Last but not least my nine-year old son Karl also motivates me. Last week he came into my office and drew a box of Farinor with the tagline “Your happiness is here!” Of course I fed him Farinor® infant cereal, in addition to breast milk, when he was little.
Interview by Karie Atkinson, Writer/Editor, GAIN. Email: [email protected]
- 1. Institut National des Statistiques, UNICEF Multi-Indicator Cluster Survey Côte d’Ivoire, 2006