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Peanut product to combat child malnutrition

[Kenya] A mother and her babies who are recovering from malnutrition at a therapeutic feeding centre in Mandera town. [Date picture taken: 03/01/2006]
Une mère et son enfant dans un centre d’alimentation thérapeutique de Mandera (photo d’archives) (John Nyaga/IRIN)

The Hilina factory in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, is to start producing a peanut product to prevent malnutrition in children.

Hilina processes the ready-to-use Plumpy’nut, a therapeutic food made from peanuts, soy oil, milk, sugar, vitamins and minerals.

Described by the medical charity, Médecins Sans Frontières, as 'Africa’s miracle food', Plumpy'nut has been used to fight malnutrition in Niger where 63,000 children were treated with a 90 percent success rate in 2005.

Formulated by French scientist André Briend in 1999, Plumpy'nut has also been used in Sudan's Darfur region and Malawi.

"Therapeutic foods such as Plumpy'nut will help save the lives of severely malnourished children and help fight malnutrition across the country," Ann Veneman, executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said during the inauguration of the factory last week.

"It has been shown, in other places, to have a 90 to 95 percent success rate in treating severe malnutrition without putting the child into a hospital setting," she explained.

The factory is owned by Hilina Enriched Foods, an Ethiopian company based in Addis Ababa, which specialises in the production of enriched blended food. In June 2006, it signed a franchise agreement with the French company Nutriset for the production of Plumpy'nut.

It expects to produce 100 tonnes of the therapeutic food per month. This will be bought and distributed by UNICEF to at least 10,000 children. According to Adeline Lescarre of Nutriset, the average cost of 10kg of Plumpy’nut will be 30 Euros (US$40).

"It tastes like peanut butter and children easily get used to it," said Lescarre. "However, huge quantities for emergencies will probably still be supplied by Nutriset."

''It has been shown...to have a 90 to 95 percent success rate in treating severe malnutrition''

The idea of producing Plumpy'nut in Ethiopia was conceived by Amy Robbins, a New York investment banker, who donated funds to build the Hilina factory.

"I came to Ethiopia in 2005 in the middle of a food crisis," said Robbins. "There were starving children. At that time, I bought more than 300 metric tonnes of Plumpy'nut, which solved the short-term problem, but it is not sustainable to keep finding emergency food all the time."

Unlike other therapeutic treatments, Plumpy'nut requires no preparation or special supervision so an untrained adult can feed it to a malnourished child at home. It has a two-year shelf-life when unopened.

Ethiopian officials said economic benefits will also accrue to local producers. "Market links will be created with small farmer groups in Ethiopia to provide raw material like sugar, peanuts, oil and soy beans," the Minister of Trade and Industry, Girma Biru, said.

"Ten million children die every year around the world from largely preventable causes including hunger; five million of them in sub-Saharan Africa," said UNICEF’s Veneman.

However, she cautioned that the use of Plumpy'nut "cannot be the only strategy to address the issue of severe malnutrition. You’ve got to have an agricultural strategy that provides adequate products for the population," Veneman explained, insisting on the importance of breast-feeding as well.

According to UNICEF, under-five mortality rates in Ethiopia have declined to 123 out of every 1,000 live births, from peak levels in 1990 when 204 out of every 1,000 children died before the age of five. Yet with almost 400,000 children under five still dying from preventable causes each year, Ethiopia continues to have one of the highest child mortality rates in the world.

"Child mortality in Ethiopia has declined by 40 per cent in the last 15 years," Veneman said. "We must build upon these gains to further improve the lives of children."

See also: Niger: Peanut-based wonder-food needs wider use

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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