|UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman receives flowers from children upon her arrival at the new Plumpy'nut factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.|
By Indrias Getachew
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 21 February 2007 – UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman inaugurated Ethiopia’s first Plumpy’nut therapeutic food factory in Addis Ababa yesterday.
The inauguration marks a joint venture between UNICEF, US-based private donor and businesswoman Amy Robbins and the Hilina Enriched Foods Processing Centre.
Plumpy’nut is a high-protein and high-energy, peanut-based paste used for the treatment of severely undernourished children. An estimated 1.5 million children in Ethiopia are severely undernourished. At full capacity, Hilina Enriched Foods will produce up to 12 tons of the paste per day.
“Today as we open the doors of the fourth, and largest, factory in Africa that will produce Plumpy’nut, we are taking a step in the right direction in addressing the issue of malnutrition,” said Ms. Veneman.
In 2005, the Robbins family donated $1.3 million to UNICEF to allow the purchase and import of 267 tons of Plumpy’nut to Ethiopia.
Formulated by French scientist Andre Briend in 1999, Plumpy’nut has been used to save children’s lives in major emergency situations in Darfur, Niger and Malawi.
|From left: Philanthopist Amy Robbins, Minister of Trade and Industries Ato Girma Birru and the State Minister for Agriculture at the inauguration of the Plumpy'nut factory in Addis Ababa.|
Plumpy’nut requires no preparation or special supervision, so an untrained adult – such as a parent – can deliver it to an undernourished child at home, allowing governments to reduce the amount of money spent on therapeutic feeding stations. The paste has a two-year shelf life when unopened and stays fresh even after opening.
Though Plumpy’nut is relatively inexpensive and easy to transport, Ms. Robbins discovered that huge costs were incurred from its importation and that limited capacity at the French plant made it difficult to ensure timely food supplies from Europe.
To solve the problem, her family foundation donated $340,000 towards investment in the needed equipment to manufacture Plumpy’nut within Ethiopia.
Yesterday she visited a mother in South Omo, Ethiopia whose 10-month-old baby was struggling with malnutrition but gaining weight by eating Plumpy’nut. “It was impressive because you see your investments, your partnerships are really tangible in the happy, healthy children – and that expands to happy mothers and entire communities,” said Ms. Robbins.
“I am a mother,” she added. “I have four sons who are living in New York City, and I am very disturbed by the fact that my sons have everything and there are so many children in the world who have nothing. And so I thought there was an opportunity to take the business expertise that I gained in New York and bring it here to Ethiopia.”
|Exterior of the new Plumpy'nut factory in Ethiopia.|
Increased recovery rates
Malnutrition contributes to more than half of all child deaths in Ethiopia. The country’s 2005 Demographic and Health Survey shows that 47 per cent of Ethiopia's children are stunted, 38 per cent underweight and 11 per cent wasted.
“Recovery rates for severely under-nourished children have been as high as 90 to 95 per cent by using Plumpy’nut as a therapeutic intervention,” said Ms. Veneman. “Therapeutic foods are also helping AIDS patients who need adequate nutrition to absorb life-prolonging ARV treatment.”
The under-five mortality rate in Ethiopia has declined to 123 out of every 1,000 live births from peak levels in 1990 when 1 in every 5 children died before the age of five.
“Ethiopia has seen improvements in addressing malnutrition, yet widespread hunger continues to exact an enormous cost in terms of human suffering and lost potential,” said Ms. Veneman.
Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.