Fighting Global Malnutrition Locally

Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

Every year, 5 million children worldwide die from malnutrition-related causes, including immune-system deficiency, increased risk of infection, decreased bone density, and starvation. But a variety of local efforts are hoping to turn things around.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country struggling with internal conflict, food shortages, and poverty, thousands of lives are threatened by acute malnutrition. When a child is brought to one of the therapeutic Stabilization Centers at regional hospitals, run by the Congolese Ministry of Health with support from the organization Action Against Hunger, they receive rations of specially formulated Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF). RUTF-such as Plumpy'nut, a peanut butter-based food produced by the French company Nutriset-is infused with vitamins and minerals and is used to quickly rehabilitate children suffering from malnutrition.

RUTF is packaged and requires no preparation or refrigeration. It can be administered at home, allowing families to avoid having to travel to far-off medical centers or pay for long and expensive stays at hospitals. It is also very effective. After about 40 days of two or three servings of RUTF per day, a child can reach a healthy weight. During the 2005 food crisis in the Maradi region of Niger, the non-profit Doctors Without Borders treated 40,000 severely malnourished children using RUTF and saw a recovery rate of 90 percent.

In addition to obtaining Plumpy'nut from UNICEF or directly from Nutriset in France, Action Against Hunger purchases it from Amwili, a local producer that has partnered with Nutriset. By providing a local source of RUTF, Lubumbashi-based Amwili frees the treatment centers from dependency on supplies imported from Europe. Local production also improves livelihoods by creating jobs, and many organizations around the world are working to link local farmers to RUTF production in order to provide an improved and consistent source of income.

In Haiti, the Zanmi Agrikol Program, run by the organization Partners in Health, is improving agricultural capacity and household food security, in addition to treating malnutrition, by training and contracting with local peanut farmers who provide the ingredients for locally produced RUTF. Currently the project provides malnutrition treatment and prevention for 5,000 children; agriculture training and support to 1,240 families; and has contracts with over 100 local peanut farmers. Additionally, the organization Meds & Food for Kids relies on local ingredients and Haitian producers to make its own brand of RUTF, called Medika Manba or "peanut butter medicine." Meds & Food for Kids saw a significant increase in demand for Medika Manba after the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year, and many malnourished children were treated with a locally made RUTF that provides the additional benefit of helping to restore the country's fragile economy.

Companies like Nutriset in France and Valid International in the United Kingdom offer instruction manuals for local production of their specific RUTF products and partner with local producers in countries struggling with malnutrition across sub-Saharan Africa. Action Against Hunger, for example, also purchases Plumpy'nut from a producer in Nairobi, Kenya, called INSTA-a partner of Valid International-to distribute RUTF to its programs throughout East Africa.

In Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is processing the leaves of moringa trees, which are high in protein and other valuable nutrients, into powder that can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. This effort, along with other crop-processing projects, is helping to add value to small-scale farmers' crops and improve the livelihoods of the nearly 5,000 participating farmers.

To read more about how farmers can produce ingredients for local products to improve livelihoods, nutrition, and food security see: Locally Produced Products for Locally Consumed Products, Using Small Businesses to Create Local Markets, and Protecting Wildlife While Improving Food Security, Health, and Livelihoods.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

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New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods

This is the seventh piece in an eight part series about the  Ecumenical Association for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development's (ECASARD) work in Ghana. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

In Anamaase, Ghana, the New Frontier Farmers and Processor group is led by the village's chief. Osbararima Mana Tibi II is a self described "young leader (he's 50 years old) with a love for the environment." He took it upon himself when he became chief, he says, to help revive farmland and improve the lives of the farmers in his village of about 5,000 people. And the chief is also helping farmers become more business-oriented. "We're always thinking about how to process the crops we're growing," he says. According to him, farmers don't have a lot of bargaining power in most villages in Ghana, but "processing gives them more leverage.

One of the groups' biggest accomplishments since it began in 1992, according to Chief Mana Tibi, is organizing palm oil processing groups. Typically, farmers collect palm oil fruits and sell them to a processor, instead of processing and extracting the oil-and having the opportunity to make additional income- themselves.

But by "coming together," says the Chief, and building three palm oil processing centers, farmers are able to boil, ferment, and press the palm fruits themselves, allowing them to make a better profit. The processing plants, or "service centers," which are run mainly by women, also help save time and labor because the community is working together to process and then package the oil. And because the three facilities aren't enough to "fill the need" they're working on building three or four additional processing plants.

The group is also involved in helping restore watersheds and barren land through agroforestry. They've started growing nitrogen-fixing trees, including Lucina to help restore soils, as well other trees, such as the so-called "green gold of Ghana," moringa. When they're processed into powder, the leaves of the moringa tree are very high in protein and can be manufactured into formula for malnourished children. And because the processing of moringa into powder "generates a lot of trash," says Chief Tibi, the stalks and other leftover parts of the plant can be used as fodder for animals. New Frontier is also providing moringa seedlings to a group of 40 people living with HIV/AIDS, who not only use moringa as a nutritional supplement, but are also growing moringa to earn income.

The group is doing some of its own community-based research by testing the effect moringa has on livestock. According to their research, feeding sheep moringa leaves has reduced fat in the meat dramatically, "making it taste more like bushmeat," and it lasts longer when it is preserved than regular mutton. They've also found that goats who eat moringa are healthier.

In addition, the Chief is hoping that the business opportunities provided by moringa and other crops, will help make agriculture and agribusiness more attractive to youth and prevent their "drift" to the cities. He's created a Amanmae Fe, or home of tradition, a place in  the community that uses dancing and music "to bait the youth," says the  Chief. By bringing them together, he hopes the youth will learn more about their traditions and the ways of growing food that were in Ghana before Western interventions, as well as more modern practices that can help increase production and improve their livelihoods.

Please don't forget to check out our other posts about ECASARD's work in Ghana: Part 1: Working with the Root; Part 2: Something that Can't be Qualified; Part 3: With ECASARD You Can See A Real Impact; Part 4: The Abooman Women's Group: Working Together to Improve Livelihoods; Part 5: The Abooman Women's Group: We Started Our Own Thing; and Part 6: Making a Living Out of Conservation.

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