Big Pharma helps export Haiti's hunger-busting peanut butter

Big Pharma helps export Haiti's hunger-busting peanut butter

Peanuts like these go into a nutritional peanut paste that is helping to save kids in Haiti. Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/nojhan/2919522850/">nojhan</a>
Peanuts like these go into a nutritional peanut paste that is helping to save kids in Haiti. Photo: nojhan

This story was republished by The Christian Science Monitor.

A special kind of peanut butter has been bringing malnourished children back to life for years. Pharmaceutical company Abbott Labs is hoping it will help revive the Haitian economy, too.

International healthcare organization Partners in Health (PiH) has distributed Nourimanba, a ready-to-use nutritional paste, to combat malnutrition in Haiti since 2007, when another NGO, Meds & Food for Kids, helped them to get off the ground. Demand has only increased following the 2010 earthquake there, according to The New York Times.

As many as 300,000 children suffer from malnutrition in Haiti, says UNICEF. For these kids, Nourimanba is a lifesaver. Made from peanuts, milk powder, vegetable oil, sugar, and a scientifically-formulated mix of vitamins, it’s like a souped-up version of common child favorite peanut butter. This helps to explain why it’s been successful: it actually tastes good. There are other advantages, too: the main ingredients are all found in Haiti, where peanuts are grown as a crop, so it can be produced cheaply and locally. It’s also easy enough to use that parents can give it to their own children at home, rather than taking them to a hospital.

Nourimanba production in Haiti was feeding malnourished children before Abbott arrived on the scene, but somewhat small-scale and slow-moving. Abbott Labs took a look at what PiH was doing and saw an opportunity to turbocharge it. Abbott is donating 6.5 million dollars to help PiH and local Haitians scale up and improve their production of Nourimanba. This means building a new, three-million-dollar plant in Corporant, Haiti, that is projected to quintuple production. The old plant could produce about 70 tons of Nourimanba to feed 10,000 children a year; the new one should be pushing out 350 tons and will reach 50,000 kids, writes The New York Times.

Abbott isn’t just boosting quantity - they’re also using their expertise to help PiH improve the quality of Nourimanba. The new factory will mechanize the removal of bad peanuts, and safety and sanitation standards will be much higher, according to the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Abbott also wants to tweak the formula to find a local replacement for milk powder, which currently must be imported.

“Local" is a key part of Abbott and PiH’s mission. They don’t just want to make Nourimanba better - they want to make it a sustainable business. Local products and employment should help ensure that Nourimanba benefits Haitians of all ages for years to come. There’s room for expansion, too: Abbott says the factory could make extra money in the future by producing normal peanut butter for consumer purchase.

The collaboration between Abbott and PiH is unique in the world of corporate-nonprofit partnerships. “This is a departure," PiH’s associate coordinator for nutrition in Haiti, Joan VanWassenhove, told the Times. "It’s not Abbott coming in and saying we have an idea we can do. It’s more like saying we want to take your vision and make it the best possible.”

The corporate-nonprofit partnership pays off for both parties. “This is an investment rather than charity,” Kathy Pickus, vice president of global citizenship and policy for Abbott, told the Stanford Social Innovation Review. “We wanted to work in the country to spark the economy.”

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