Thousands of severely malnourished children in Niger are treated with locally produced Plumpy’nut: 40 percent of the therapeutic food used by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) comes from the capital, Niamey, rather than France.
“We had hoped to cover Niger’s needs this year, but the demand is too large,” said Fatima Cissé, the head of the Société de Transformation Alimentaire (STA), which produces Plumpy’nut under licence. The factory has tripled its production since the beginning of the year and is planning to double it again in September.
Buying locally does not always mean saving money, however. UNICEF pays US$60 to purchase and ship a box of 150 packets from the main producer and patent holder of Plumpy’nut, Nutriset, in France. It costs $65 in Niger. The difference adds up to an extra $15,000 for the 3,000 boxes purchased in Niamey every week.
“The luxury of having no production delays and not fully depending on an external provider is a price we are willing to pay,” UNICEF’s nutrition manager, Eric-Alain Ategbo, told IRIN.
Ategbo said it took at least eight weeks for the nutritious peanut butter-like paste to arrive from France. If it has to be transported by air because of an emergency, local procurement becomes cheaper, said the head of the Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) nutrition campaign, Stéphane Doyon.
Niger's Société de Transformation Alimentaire factory produces Plumpy'nut used to treat severe acute malnutrition in Niger
Photo: Catherine-Lune Grayson/IRIN
STA's Plumpy'nut factory in Niamey
Cissé explained that producing in Niger is costly. “Electricity is expensive, taxes are high and money is expensive as interest rates are high. It would be cheaper if the products we use were bought locally, but they are not available.”
Peanuts are the only ingredient from Niger. Others, such as milk, sugar and oil, are purchased internationally. “We also have the obligation to buy specific products [such as micronutrients and packaging] from Nutriset in order to respect the formula.”
In 2005, when Niger was experiencing another severe food crisis, MSF asked STA if it could make the paste. “We needed a certification, so they put us in touch with Nutriset, which was looking for partners for local production,” Cissé told IRIN. “We started because we had an opportunity: there was a crisis and we had customers.”
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“We felt sorry to import when it could be produced locally,” explained Doyon.
When the nutritional crisis currently affecting Niger eases, STA hopes to expand its cover to other countries in the region, such as Mali and Burkina Faso. STA is the only producer of Plumpy’nut in West Africa but it is produced in four central and east African countries.