Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Revisiting Plumpy'nut

Since the discussion in class, curiosity as to the specifics regarding the production and use of Plumpy'nut has lingered in the back of my mind. As it turns out, children who receive Plumpy'nut do not get simply Plumpy'nut alone. They are also typically given a product called "Unimix”, a fortified flour product for making porridge. Together, these provide a great deal of nutrition for a malnourished child. Although the media may make it sound so, Plumpy’nut is not at all novel for how much nutrition it contains. In fact, it could be considered simply an "upgrade" to an already proven therapeutic milk formula called "F-100". F-100 has been in use in the field since 1997, and has been proven since then to properly nourish those who receive it. Because it is nearly identical in nutrition, Plumpy'nut's ability to provide adequate nourishment is already well established. Medecins San Frontieres has a brief explanation as to the specifics of why Plumpy’nut works so well for malnourished children. First, the peanuts themselves are very easy to digest, which is important for a child who may have a damaged digestive system. The formula is also energy efficient, providing a great deal of energy in a small amount. It also includes zinc and protein, both important for the immune system, and also for the development of muscle. Children also must eat the peanutbutter slowly, allowing them to better regulate their food intake so that they do not eat too much.

As was mentioned, I was also curious about the production of Plumpy’nut. It was briefly mentioned that Plumpy’nut could be produced locally, but not much more was mentioned. In fact, it would seem, Nutriset, the producer of Plumpy’nut, is fairly open to local producers in impoverished countries making Plumpy’nut. Nutriset does, however, hold a patent on the formula. They have been known to defend it against other for-profit companies which develop food aid, as the article from The Independent mentions. For the local producers, Plumpy’nut is a product which can scale well, able to be produced in very small to very large quantities as demand varies. Of course, to produce the Plumpy’nut it is necessary to have a place which is capable of producing on a large scale. The equipment however is not special, and could even be found in an industrial bakery. Virtually all ingredients can be found locally, except for one vital component: the vitamin mix that goes into the Plumpy’nut. As of right now, the only proven formula comes from Nutriset, giving them a monopoly on this product, even if the majority of production occurs in a localized area. This is in part because sources of all of these nutrients found in the Nutriset mix would be potentially contaminated by the local water supply or their water content would allow for the growth of bacteria in the product. With the exception of this vitamin mix, multiple countries are currently producing Plumpy’nut, proving that its local production is a viable thing. For an example of such an operation, see Project Peanut butter. If you are interested in learning more about the exact steps in producing the Plumpy’nut product, I would highly recommend this report(pdf), which goes in depth as to the exact equipment and methods necessary.


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