After two days in Cap Haitian (and 12 hours on the road) I am back in Port-au-Prince. During the visit I got the chance to meet Patricia Wolff, Director of Meds & Foods for Kids (MFK), a Haiti-based company that produces therapeutic foods to cure malnutrition in children, including Plumpy’nut. Plumpy’nut is a peanut based high calorie paste for therapeutic feeding, which was a revolution when it entered the humanitarian practice over a decade ago, due to its quick impact on the nutritional status of children and its long shelf-life. A large part of the Plumpy’nut supply that UNICEF Haiti uses to support nutrition centres across the country is produced by Patricia’s team, which is in many ways a pioneer of social business in Haiti.
While the company continues to struggle to ensure sustainable profit, they appreciate the headway made, placing the value of social enterprising at the centre. “We declare victory early, once we break even in terms of income/expenses. Profit is what is to the social benefit of all.” Starting a business in Haiti is a challenge. Costs related to electricity, water, roads and security are significantly higher than elsewhere, which increases the costs of locally produced products. “When UNICEF buys from us it is for philosophical reasons. They believe in the principle of local purchases and the need to strengthen local capacities. Seen from a purely commercial aspect they could get it cheaper from Nutriset in France.” explains Patricia.
She came to Haiti 26 years ago as a volunteer, and never left. “Many people here got sick, because they were malnourished. I saw children and women die needlessly.” Together with the inventors of the original Plumpy’nut recipe she started to work for the establishment of a therapeutic food factory in Haiti. In 2003 MFK set-up shop close to Cap Haitian, in the North of Haiti. At the beginning they produced Plumpy’nut for ten children a month, saving 100 children per year.” In 2010 the company became a partner of Nutriset, the French based company which owns the patent of Plumpy’nut. Today about 1/3 of the 450 metric tons that MFK produces every years is distributed in Haiti.
To ensure access for the most vulnerable children Patricia’s products are bought by humanitarian and development actors such as UNICEF which then supply community health centres in cooperation with the Haitian Government. Yet available funds are insufficient to cover the needs.
As I write these lines, among children under 5 years living in Haiti, 11 % are underweight (moderate and severe), 22% suffer from chronic malnutrition (moderate and severe) and 5% from acute malnutrition (moderate and severe). This may be due to the poverty of their family, to disease or unfavorable feeding practices. If a child does not get sufficient nutrients during the first 1000 days of life (1), his brain and body will never fully develop, which will have consequences on school performance and later on income. There is no second chance to catch up! Plumpy’nut is part of the solution, if it goes hand in hand with overall development that enhances food security for families.
To conclude in Patricia’s words “We are part of those who have won the lottery. It’s only fair if we give a lifting hand to those who haven’t.” So true. This philosophy of reaching those who are the most vulnerable is at the heart of UNICEF’s mission in Haiti, and everywhere across the world.
(1) For more information on the first 1000 days, please check https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NymebwpbL4c.
An error was found in this article, we have made the necessary corrections on the 18/05/2015. Please find below the adjusted numbers for the prevalence of malnutrition for children under 5 years:
- Prevalence of underweight (moderate and severe) 11%
- Prevalence of Chronic malnutrition (moderate and severe) 22%
- Prevalence of acute malnutrition (moderate and severe) by 5%
* Percentage of children of less than five years considered as malnourished according to three anthropometric indices measuring the nutritional status: (1) weight depending on age ; (2) the size according to age ; and (3 ) the weight depending on the size .
Source: EMMUS 2012 Survey Mortality, Morbidity, and use of services
By Cornelia Walther, Chief of Communication at UNICEF Haiti
This post is also available in: French