By Navyn Salem, Executive Director of Edesia
This blog is part of a series organized by The Chicago Council’s Global Agriculture Development Initiative and InterAction to highlight the importance of public-private partnerships in agricultural development. This commentary is cross-posted with InterAction’s blog.
An ideal public-private partnership draws on a wide array of expertise to develop and implement a project both cost-effectively and with the right mix of innovation and reliance on past experience. I am pleased to be a small part of one such collaboration—involving the governments of both the United States and Haiti as well as researchers, product developers, manufacturers, nutritionists, and agronomists—all having a clear goal in mind: to improve the nutritional status of elementary school-aged children in developing countries.
This equation began with the government of Haiti’s Ministry of Education, who put out a challenge to improve the nutritional value of an existing school snack while maintaining or lowering costs. In 2007, the World Health Organization released statistics showing that more than 35% of four- to five-year olds in Haiti were vitamin A deficient and almost half were anemic.
Enter Meds & Foods for Kids (MFK), the U.S. Haitian nonprofit and PlumpyField® partner factory, who responded to the challenge and found the right partners and funding to develop and realize a sustainable solution. Having the support and buy-in of the Haitian government was a critical first step in the process. Having the financial support and guidance of the U.S. government was the next important piece. The project then gained funding through the McGovern-Dole Micronutrient Food Aid Products Pilot program, which allowed MFK to add valuable players to their team: researchers from Washington University and trainers and capacity builders from the National Soybean Research Labs (NSRL). Product development and manufacturing experts gathered at Edesia, my organization, to get the innovation wheels turning.
Edesia, is a small non-profit food producer, based in Providence, Rhode Island, and has been a member of Nutriset’s PlumpyField network since 2009. The new school snack formulation for Haiti was built upon 25 years of knowledge of Ready-to-Use Foods and other fortified peanut pastes like Plumpy’Nut®, handed down to us from Nutriset. The new formulation was created after taking a closer look at the micronutrient deficiencies found in school-age children. The intended result was a product that would not only taste good to children but also effectively deliver crucial micronutrients to improve school performance, cognitive development, and overall child health.
Once the new product was finalized, Edesia produced pilot amounts. The researchers from Washington University will be tracking outcomes in a controlled study, taking place during the 2012-2013 school year in Haiti. They will ensure that the new nutritional food not only gets into the hands of the children, but that concrete evidence of improved nutritional, health, and educational outcomes is gained and documented. Ultimately, MFK’s coordination—the magic that makes complex and challenging partnerships work—made all of this possible.
If the outcomes of the study are positive, this new product will not only be available for children in Haiti but also in other countries and school systems as part of McGovern-Dole programming. In Haiti, as well as in countries like Niger, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Sudan, or Tanzania—where there are other active PlumpyField partner factories and production capacity, the product can be made locally. Following the study, MFK plans to produce the product in its Cap-Haitien factory, using locally grown peanuts and other agricultural inputs.
And so, this is how a diverse group of partners came together to innovate and pave the way for children around the world to be less susceptible to illness and perform better in school because of improved nutrition. The collaboration also spins off into other positive externalities, including increased demand for peanuts (strengthening agricultural supply chains), job creation in farming and manufacturing, more strategic products for use in McGovern-Dole programs, and sharing of knowledge and best practices that will lead to greater sustainability in local production.
When expertise, collaboration, and open minds mingle with innovation, everyone wins. In light of the passing of a true champion of nutrition for those most vulnerable around the world, this collaboration is something of which I hope George McGovern would be proud.
Navyn Salem is the founder and Executive Director of Edesia, the US PlumpyField partner and nonprofit manufacturer of Plumpy’Nut® and other ready-to-use, nutrient-rich, peanut pastes that effectively treat and prevent childhood malnutrition in developing countries worldwide. Inspired to action in 2007, after attending a Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Navyn first founded a factory in her father’s home country of Tanzania. She now operates a state-of-the art facility in Providence, employing 38 people in a US state with one of the highest unemployment rates. Since the RI factory opened in March 2010, Edesia has reached over 825,000 malnourished children in over 26 countries.