CRS in Benin
Benin, with almost 12 million inhabitants, is ranked in the low development category of the United Nation’s Human Development Index, at 163 out of 189 countries. This index comprises data on life expectancy (health), average years of schooling and gross national income per capita (economic development). The low index indicates the hard struggle of the poor and vulnerable to make a living, send their children to school and improve their access to health, with often substantially lower indices among women.
CRS Benin is providing a real and direct response to address the underlying factors affecting the health, education and incomes of the poor and vulnerable by 1) improving family health and nutrition; 2) getting more kids to school, keeping them there and improving their education; 3) improving household incomes; 4) improving household equity, and 5) building effective partnerships.
IMPROVING FAMILY HEALTH & NUTRITION:
Community Action Against Malaria: According to the CDC, malaria is the leading cause of mortality among children under five years of age and morbidity among adults in Benin, and accounts for 40% of outpatient consultations and 25% of all hospital admissions according to the President’s Malaria Initiative.
In partnership with the Benin Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Control program (PNLP), and with financial support from the Global Fund for Malaria, TB and HIV and AIDS, CRS supports 2,748 CHWs selected from 1,206 villages within 10 health zones and 420 Peer Educators to promote prevention messages, detect and treat simple cases, and refer complicated cases to health facilities and hospitals. Over 76,000 children under five were tested for malaria from January to June 2018, of which 61,559 cases were confirmed and treated with artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT).
Nutrition: Many of the most chronically malnourished households are found in Atacora department of northern Benin, with a 37.2% prevalence of chronic malnutrition and a rate of exclusive breastfeeding (12%) in Kouandé. Funded by private donations, and in collaboration with the National Food and Nutrition Council, UNICEF and the local health district, CRS’ exclusive breastfeeding project promotes social behavior change among 939 pregnant and lactating mothers to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding of infants between 0 and 6 months of age. The project relies on community health workers to expand their influence beyond pregnant and lactating mothers, to include spouses, grand-parents, community influencers and health center staff to create a more supportive environment in the household, the community and at the clinic, so mothers can more readily adopt and maintain good infant breast-feeding practices for the first six months after birth.
Micro-health Insurance: With high rates of malaria, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses among children, and 4.8 fertility rate, poor households are disproportionally impacted by health care costs in Benin. A lack of money is the most common reason cited for not seeking health care, while only 10% of the poor benefit from any social safety net. To alleviate this economic burden, CRS integrated an innovative private health insurance plan into community-based savings and internal lending (SILC) groups. CRS negotiated with private sector insurance companies to lower premiums for SILC members in exchange for increased patient volume and incorporated an innovative tablet-based patient and health service registry to facilitate insurance coverage and payments to health centers. Today, over 1,200 members in 174 SILC groups and 3,267 indirect beneficiaries have improved access to health services as clients of commercial health insurance companies. After paying their premiums, poor families pay only 20% of normal health service costs, while accessing a wider range of services than they could otherwise afford.
FEEDING KIDS TO STAY IN SCHOOL & IMPROVING THEIR EDUCATION:
Food for Education: The average years of schooling in Benin is 2.4 years for women versus 4.8 for men, and over 40% of the population has never attended school. These figures are worse in the northern departments of Benin, where in some areas school attendance barely reaches 30% . These areas are additionally challenged by lack of clean water sources and cultural taboos and practices that reduce girls’ attendance. CRS Benin, with support from the McGovern-Dole International School Feeding and Child Nutrition program fed 43,293 children nutritious daily meals to first and second graders in 144 schools in Alibori and Borgou departments, while our partnership with World Education, Inc., improved the effectiveness of 204 primary school teachers. Through CRS’ efforts, 50 school gardens and 15 school fields were established to support the feeding program, and by September 2019, 252 latrines and 14 new wells will have been constructed. Communities around the FFE schools benefit from CRS’ signature savings and internal lending groups who learn to manage savings and credit to expand small commercial activities resulting in members’ ability to increase their financial support to their children’s education.
In a unique “farm to fork” school feeding approach, CRS’s Besen Diannou (Food from Our Fields) project, also funded by the US Department of Agriculture, sources locally produced crops, such as corn, shea butter (Yes, you can consume shea butter), rice and beans to provide hot school lunches for over 17,629 students, in 80 schools, in 4 communes in northern Benin. Besen Diannou builds farmer groups’ organizational capacity, improves crop production and storage practices, and develops marketing and business planning skills. The local purchase of commodities provides additional markets for local producers, strengthens economic development in the region, creates significant ownership by the local community and government, as well as improved student attendance and nutrition.
IMPROVING HOUSEHOLD INCOME:
BeninCaju: The gross national income per capita for women is $1,673 versus $2,287 for men, exacerbated by unremunerated work for women as primary care givers. In partnership with TechnoServe and with funding from the US Department of Agriculture, CRS Benin supports 32,000 small cashew producers to sustainably increase cashew productivity, quality and revenue from sales, through the effective transfer of new technologies and methods, improved market education and selling methods, and participation in savings and lending groups (SILC), as well as improving access to formal credit. After improving farmer practices, between 2016 and 2018 there was a 54% increase in yields from 225 kg to 346 kg per ha. Over 151,059 improved seedlings were produced and marketed in 2018 by project trained nursery owners. The increased income generated by cashew sales enabled one husband to double the money he provides his wife to manage the household and strengthen their children’s wellbeing.
IMPROVING HOUSEHOLD EQUITY
In Benin, men heads of households exert more control over fertility, food and cash than their spouses, exacerbated by cultural practices that inhibit women’s full potential. To address this imbalance and improve household wellbeing, CRS Benin has incorporated The Faithful House curriculum into several of its interventions. This faith-based and gender sensitive curriculum requires deeper reflection by men and women heads of households to examine their traditional roles and responsibilities by relating their behaviors to their religious beliefs. It results in a radical change in thinking and behavior, resulting in greater mutual trust, negotiation on issues of feeding, fertility and cash among couples as equals, and greater household wellbeing, especially for their children. The change is so notable among participating couples that they have become couples of reference for addressing marital issues among their neighbors.
BUILDING EFFECTIVE PARTNESHIPS:
CRS partners with several local and two international non-government organizations in Benin to improve local capacity and programmatic results. Among our most robust partnerships is with Catholic Church in Benin. In 2018 we supported 2 dioceses to undertake the development of their strategic plans, while continuing to support the diocese of Abomey’s administrative reforms to strengthen their stewardship and efficiency. CRS also provides a “partnership fund” to the National Caritas office that strengthens its support to and relationship with diocesan Caritas to address the health, education and social needs of local populations through competitive proposals.
Our work is no less important to the government of Benin’s efforts to improve the wellbeing of its people. To this end, CRS’ work directly contributes to the Government Action Plan, entitled “Benin Revealed”.
Country News and Stories
June 27, 2022
Digital Technology Improves Health Campaigns in Benin
Moving from paper forms to phones allows better record keeping and more effective distribution of health care.
March 24, 2022
Savings Groups Change Lives in Benin
The CRS Savings and Internal Lending Communities program helps members access capital to improve their businesses, homes and education.
March 24, 2022
Growing and Improving Cashew Farming in Benin
Women like Biba Saka Koto are becoming expert farmers while helping other women learn best practices.
September 17, 2020
Local Leaders Emerge in Benin Cashew Sector
Farmers in remote areas develop the expertise they need to improve crops, yields and their value in the market.
CRS' History in Benin
Catholic Relief Services has been working in Benin for 62 years, since 1958. CRS' early years in Benin were characterized by rural projects reinforcing the economic, health, cultural and social development of local communities. Activities included school feeding, health and nutrition interventions.
Today, CRS’ is proudly involved in projects that address three national priorities: the fight against malaria, improved education and improved incomes from agriculture. CRS Benin also strengthens the organizational capacity of the Church to more effectively achieve its mission in Benin.
We work with 19 Church and non-church partners in 10 of 12 departments in Benin and have over 150 staff in the main office in Cotonou and sub-offices in Parakou and Kandi in northern Benin, and in departmental offices of the Ministry of Health in Natitingou, Parakou and Porto-Novo, as well as in the surrounding communities. In 2018 our work reached 3,740,839 people among a population of 12 million, without regard to ethnicity or creed.