Volunteer Benedicto is a “Blessing”

Increasing the Nutrition of Village Meals

School boy sampling the sweet potato, peanuts, and fresh milk.
School boy sampling the sweet potato, peanuts, and fresh milk.

In the village of Solla-Bougouda, as in many other villages in the West Sikasso region, most families have corn porridge for breakfast; and corn porridge, break corn or corn paste with tomatoes, onion or okra sauce for dinner. If a third meal is taken the options are the same. Fish from the local river are readily available, but are used sparingly and generally preserved by drying. Eggs or fresh milk is not consumed regularly and meats are saved for special occasions. The children eat last.

Although there is a wide variety of vegetables and fruits produced the majority is sold for cash flow and only a small portion is consumed by the farm families. Childhood malnutrition is increasing and hovers around 12% in this region. Almost half of children in the rural areas of the Sikasso region, 42%, show delayed growth (Malian Demographic and Health survey: EDSM-V 2012-2013). Malnutrition is most severe among young children but it is also an issue for the whole family.

New York City Chef Benedicto came to Bougouni Circle in the Sikasso region of Mali to share his creative use of farmer products in nutritious, inexpensive meals. He worked with 4 villages and 1 school including 125 men, 129 women, 118 youth and totaling 372 (36 with disabilities).



“Let thy food your medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” -Hippocrates

Class preparing meal
Class preparing meal

The chef first requested that the participants share their cooking methods and ingredients. He then explored what was available in their community gardens and sold on the roadways. With this information he was able to increase the nutrition and diversity of their meals.

Measuring tools were ignored. Participants were encouraged to use their intuition and trust their eyes and taste when creating meals.

Benedicto built the capacity of men, women, and youth to prepare and appreciate more diverse food choices, such as the highly nutritious moringa tree leaf, papaya, sweet potatoes, and spices, along with the addition of protein from fresh milk, eggs, chicken, and fish from the local river.

Toddler watching from his mothers back
Toddler watching from his mothers back

Benedicto you are a blessing…, by coming so far and training all of us on the importance of using our foods as our medicine to maintain health”

The village chief, Mr. Djeka Mariko, praised the results


September 2016: This assignment “Village Nutrition Assessment: Choice and Opportunities,” is part of the Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance (VEGA) USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer Special Program Support Project.

Corn and Moringa Leaves in Fish Broth 


Class preparing the corn, Moringa, dried fish meal.
Preparing the corn, Moringa, dried fish meal.

Fresh corn, Moringa leaves, dried fish
Fresh corn, Moringa leaves, dried fish


  • Moringa leaves
  • Dried catfish
  • Corn Kernel
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Tomatoes
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook and stir garlic, then onion, ginger and tomatoes in hot skillet until softened, about five minutes.

Add the dried catfish, stir slowly until tender. Add water. Let it boil. Add the corn.

Simmer until cooked, about 15 minutes.

Add the moringa leaves. Season with salt and pepper.

In no less than a minute after the moringa leaves are added, this dish is ready.

Note: moringa leaves gets overcooked easily and when they are, they tend to get bitter.