Peanut-based Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), has helped transform the treatment of severe malnutrition, the cause of more than half of all childhood deaths globally. With just one internationally qualified supplier of the peanut paste up until 2008, it was not possible for UNICEF to meet global demand for the product. Supply, working closely with Programme, began a competitive bidding process to identify new suppliers who could produce similar peanut-based treatments. New suppliers were identified in South Africa, Kenya, India and the United States, as well as several franchises of the original company, notably in Malawi, the Niger, Ethiopia and the Dominican Republic. These franchises have set up local production with a combined annual capacity of 5,640 metric tonnes (enough to feed 410,000 children) and increasing.
In 2008, Supply also developed and rolled out a forecasting tool to collect estimated RUTF coverage and demand for future years. Data provided from 52 countries will be used to inform manufacturers about expected demand, and encourage them to establish appropriate production targets.
With any new product, quality standards have to be established. In the case of RUTF, working with Médecins Sans Frontières, the Clinton Foundation, WHO, WFP and independent experts from the food technology, food safety and nutrition sectors, UNICEF is developing detailed quality specifications for manufacturers.
In 2008, Supply also commenced a research study in conjunction with Duke University, Programme staff, freight forwarders, RUTF producers, UN partners, governments and NGOs, to investigate all aspects of the nutrition supply chain. The goal is to move nutrition commodities from manufacturers to children suffering from severe malnutrition as quickly and efficiently as possible. RUTF was chosen as the research focus due to the continuing food crisis in the Horn of Africa. Since 2006 the crisis has led to a dramatic increase in demand. In just two years, UNICEF’s annual procurement of the peanut paste increased by 450 per cent, to 11,000 tonnes.
The research has identified potential gaps and areas for improvement in the supply chain, including how innovative solutions, such as SMS technology, can ensure that these vital supplies reach children quickly. In 2008, RapidSMS technology was trialled in Ethiopia to monitor the distribution of the peanut paste, compiling mobile text message data into real-time correlated reports. Gaps and stock-outs at local health posts were reported to a central warehouse and responded to immediately, instead of weeks later.
Another important objective of the research is developing a supply chain model that can be applied to other commodities and shared with external partners. This is being facilitated through an online platform where knowledge can be exchanged between members of the Humanitarian Nutrition Cluster and other partners.