Mighty peanut: Local organization gains partner in battle against malnutrition in Haiti
Things are coming together for Meds & Food for Kids, a St. Louis nonprofit organization that works to combat childhood malnutrition in Haiti. For years, the organization has worked with hospitals and orphanages, but needed international recognition and larger manufacturing facilities to expand its reach. One has been achieved; the other is in sight.
This spring, MFK entered into a long-term agreement with UNICEF that paves the way for its Medika Mamba to be distributed to 20,000 Haitian children. This Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food -- which is made of ground roasted peanuts, powdered milk, cooking oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals -- reverses malnourishment in children within 6-8 weeks. No one questioned the fact that it worked, but the international aid organization demanded certain standards.
One of the key steps in that process was to partner with Nutriset, the world’s largest producer of RUTF, which has as its mission to “invent, produce and make accessible solutions for the treatment and prevention of malnutrition.” According the the French company's website, it developed its Plumpy’nut in 1996 and was the first RUTF intended specifically for the treatment of severe acute malnutrition. Severe acute malnutrition is the stage of malnutrition where risk of mortality is highest.
Nutriset already had international approval. And Medika Mamba has been combined into the Plumpy'nut label.
Marianne Frapwell from MFK said the agreement is a huge step in having customers recognize the organization as a local and global producer. Meds and Food for Kids had to go through a rigorous food safety audit conducted by Doctors without Borders. She said MFK is the only food producer in Haiti to be accredited.
The agreement with UNICEF will allow MFK to distribute to a larger population, and that puts the group one step closer to being financially self-sustainable.
“This is a huge milestone for MFK,” said Dr. Patricia Wolff founder and executive director of MFK in a statement. “I am extremely proud of all the hard work our staff, board, and volunteers have put in to secure such an important and large customer. We are excited to partner with UNICEF to reach even more children in Haiti.”
Wolff is a professor of clinical pediatrics at Washington University’s School of Medicine and a long-time pediatrician in St. Louis who has spent 15 years battling malnutrition in Haiti. After visiting a colleague and RUTF pioneer, Dr. Mark Manary, in Malawi, Wolff founded MFK to introduce a similar product to Haiti.
According to the audit decision issued by Odile Caron, coordinator for Food Quailty Assurance, MFK received As and Bs in the audit process, the product analyses and packaging and labeling. The group earned a C in the audit's stability study. All passing marks.
A new MFK factory is well under construction in Cap Haitien. The factory will have the ability to treat 80,000 children a year and will employ 50 local staff members who will buy from up to 1,000 Haitian peanut farmers. According to the MFK website, the project is set to be finished in July.
Frapwell said the project is still on target. The new factory will provide more space for machinery and for the organization to hire more individuals from the community. It will also help MFK achieve its four-part plan to help save Haitian lives and “put Haiti on a path to a stronger future.”
- Treatment: MFK provides Medika Mamba to malnourished children for 6-8 weeks to restore their health.
- Jobs: The MFK factory creates jobs for Haitians so they can lift themselves out of poverty and avoid malnutrition.
- Training: MFK provides training programs and educational opportunities to Haitians to assist them in finding jobs.
- Agriculture: MFK purchases Haitian materials and educates farmers on how to improve crops. Farmers are also introduced to machinery and tools to make their work easier and more efficient.
Looking ahead, Frapwell said MFK hopes to move into producing supplemental and preventative food products, securing agreements with more international organizations so it can distribute to others in Haiti who have nutritional problems. The result of all this for MFK: financially self sustainability in the next few years.