Mani+ Helping To Address Childhood Malnutrition in Central America

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Guatemala has the fourth-highest childhood malnutrition rate in the world, affecting more than half of its children. Fifty-three percent of the population here lives in poverty—13 percent in extreme poverty. One of the most effective ways to treat childhood malnutrition in this region is to use Ready-to-Use Supplementary Food (RUSF). It is a fortified peanut paste that provides a vital dose of calories, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals essential to brain development in babies and toddlers. Now, to further enhance RUSF, a new malnutrition centre called Mani+ has opened in Guatemala, which will locally produce and source this food supplement, creating local jobs and supporting local farmers at the same time.

The centre will specifically address the nutritional deficiencies in Central America.  The supplement is produced by NutriPlus, a unique social enterprise fou­­nded by Professor Ted Fischer and the former Country Music Association CEO, Steve Moore, the founder of the Middle Tennessee-based Shalom Foundation; that organization’s Guatemala City paediatric clinic has strong ties to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, which houses the Vanderbilt Guatemala Research Station. Vanderbilt students from across the university have been instrumental in the development of Mani+, developing financial and quality control models, an aflotoxin eradication plan for partner peanut farmers, educational materials and packaging, including crucial field research on peanut cultivation and Mani+ usage in the home.

This new supplement, Mani+, was developed in partnership with food scientists at the Institute of Nutrition in Central America and Panama (INCAP), which also donated the Mani+ production facility. INCAP has conducted a pivotal 40-year study, which reveals that the costs of childhood malnutrition have a huge economic impact to malnutrition. Undernourished children don’t do well in school, and they actually earn 40 percent less as adults than peers who were well nourished. To put this study into economic terms, it means that in Guatemala, malnutrition is costing the country $300 million a year.

Guatemala faces an economic and food insecurity emergency, exacerbated by extended drought. The global economic crisis has reduced remittances, exports, foreign investment, tourism revenues and access to credit, thereby increasing the Government's budget deficit and unemployment. The rise in the price of agricultural inputs has reduced the availability of subsidised fertilisers and high-quality seeds, negatively affecting subsistence farmers. The combination of these critical issues restricts access to food for already impoverished and food-insecure families. In addition, Guatemala is prone to recurrent disasters. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, landslides and droughts damage the livelihoods of unprepared populations living in vulnerable areas.

Thankfully, Mani+ is already making a difference in Guatemala. Field tests of 1,000 children show that it is universally adopted by families and is reducing key symptoms of malnutrition such as stunted growth and being underweight. Treated children also had lower rates of anaemia and diarrhoea. Once the facility reaches peak capacity, Fischer and Moore hope to produce 25 tons of Mani+ a month, reaching 25,000 children.

Photo Credit: Vanderbilt University