Smart Nutrition

Writing in the Ideas 4 development blog, Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Program, makes the important point that, unlike with the fight against cancer or other deadly diseases, we already have all the technology we need to combat the global food crisis. Still, as her description of a new “smart” nutritional program in India makes clear, a little innovation can’t hurt.

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This new ready-to-use food is made from ingredients such as chickpeas and dry skimmed milk powder with a range of added micronutrients. There is huge scope for this type of nutritional supplement in India which has the highest prevalence of underweight children in the world, higher even that sub-Saharan Africa. This latest addition to our hunger toolbox can be used not just for rehabilitating malnourished children but for preventing them becoming malnourished in the first place.

This product can be made locally and at relatively low cost – a daily ration costs just five rupees (10 cents). Being oil-based, it does not require water for its preparation, giving it a longer shelf life and making it particularly suitable for use in places with poor sanitation. Nor does it require cooking which makes it ideal for distribution in disaster zones – which is why we deployed it as part of our relief package after the recent cyclone in Myanmar.

It has already excited significant interest in the region and beyond. Afghanistan, Nepal and Bangladesh have all expressed interest in making this product part of their national food programmes. When I produced a sachet at the African Union Summit in Ethiopia not long ago, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he wanted to start producing locally it in his own country.

This reminds me of the success of “Plumpy’nut,” the peanut butter-esque, Nutella-inspired nutritional supplement that was used to stave off famine in Niger. Sheeran also reveals that WFP is working on an ingenious “rice fortification” project; including just one of these hyper-fortified grains of rice amongst 99 regular kernels will provide crucial micronutrients. Let’s hope the folks at FreeRice are aware of this development.

(image of child with Plumpy’nut, from flickr user aheavens under a Creative Commons license)

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