Local factory provides home-grown response to malnutrition in the Niger
By Bob Coen
A new report by UNICEF reveals the high prevalence of stunting in children under 5, but also outlines the tremendous opportunities that exist to make it a problem of the past.
A factory in Niamey is transforming the way the Niger responds to the threat of malnutrition. It is also transforming the local economy.
NIAMEY, Niger, 17 April 2013 – A few hundred metres from the banks of the mighty Niger River, where the routines of fishers and farmers continue as they have for centuries, a modest factory is transforming how this West African nation responds to the threat of malnutrition.
Societé Transformation d’Alimentaire (STA) is a wholly owned and operated Nigerien enterprise in the nation’s capital, Niamey. Within the walls of its plant, personnel work shifts on a gleaming, high-tech assembly line. They turn out carton after carton of a peanut-based ready-to-use therapeutic food, the go-to product for treating severe acute malnutrition in children.
Response to multiple food crises
Since 2005, the Niger has experienced several serious food crises, which have threatened hundreds of thousands of children with severe acute malnutrition. In 2006, UNICEF decided to enter into a unique partnership with the still-fledging STA to help it develop its capacity to manufacture ready-to-use foods locally. In just five years, the company has been able to provide 100 per cent of the country’s ready-to-use food; in 2012, STA delivered 2,800 tonnes of the food, which treated 370,000 children.
“[Ready-to-use-foods] have brought about a real revolution in the treatment of children suffering from malnutrition because these are products that meet international standards and the needs of children,” says UNICEF Niger Deputy Representative Isselmou Boukhary. “They are also extremely easy to use in the health centres, and especially at home, which is important in a country like Niger.”
“We are very happy about this collaboration,” says STA Deputy General Manager Ismael Barmou, watching trucks being loaded with cartons of the food to be taken to the UNICEF central warehouse. “One of the things we’re most proud of is to be able to be competitive in the international market. So, it’s a win and win partnership, especially for the end use, which are the kids in Niger that are in need of nutritional solutions.”
“Soon he will be running”
Some 700 km from the factory, Nana Hassia has reported to her local health centre with her 20-month-old son Hassan, who is recovering from severe acute malnutrition. A health worker carefully weighs and measures the boy. Ms. Hassia is given a week’s supply of the ready-to-use food, which she will use to treat Hassan at home.
With five other children to care for, Ms. Hassia says, “It’s a big advantage for me to be able to treat my child from home and not have to keep him at the health centre.”
Once home, all she needs to do is to tear open the sachet of paste for Hassan, which he quickly and eagerly devours. The food is given five times a day.
The results are nothing short of remarkable. In a matter of days, most children are already gaining weight and strength. “I’m so happy,” says Ms. Hassia, as she feeds Hassan. “I can see my child getting stronger, and soon he will be running.”
Supplies when and where they are needed
In order for ready-to-use food to be available to mothers like Ms. Hassia when they arrive for their weekly appointments at health centres, it is essential that there be a reliable supply chain of the product – a reason that having a local supplier is so important. “It makes our supply chain much more efficient and easier to manage,” explains UNICEF Niger Supply and Procurement Manager Stephane Arnaud.
Before the partnership with STA, UNICEF imported large shipments of the food via the neighbouring port of Lomé, Togo, which would require months of planning. Getting the product from the STA factory to the more than 900 health centres around the Niger is much simpler, says Mr. Arnaud. “Having it locally, I can reduce my costs of warehousing – and it’s also much easier to manage for the shelf life of the product.”
Benefit to the local economy
The UNICEF–STA partnership has also had a positive impact on the local economy. The company employs more than 100 people in its manufacturing plant, as well as scores of women at an adjoining facility who inspect and clean the peanuts by hand. At agricultural markets in the various farming centres around the country, wholesalers can purchase sacks of peanuts directly from farmers. Hundreds of other people are employed as peanut shredders.
“I’m really happy and also proud to know that there’s a company here in Niger that is using peanuts to make this special food for children,” says peanut farmer Hassan Nomao.
“I’m happy because I know that these peanuts are going to help save a lot of children.”