Industry Embarks
On Humanitarian Project

Could your peanuts one day be used to save the life of a child?
Quite possibly.

 

The fact that peanut butter is a healthy and delicious food has been known for more than a hundred years now. The fact that a peanut-based paste could literally bring children from the brink of death back to complete health is only a few years old.

Given today’s information-in-a-milli-second-based society, you would think that every international aid organization would be clamoring to get as many peanuts as possible to put into this peanut paste to save as many lives as possible. But it’s those things that would seem simple that never are.

The first many people in the U.S. peanut industry learned about peanuts being used in food aid was on the television program “60 Minutes,” in which a product called Plumpy’ nut was profiled.

A brand-named product owned by the French company, Nutriset, it was developed by a nutritionist specializing in feeding the poor. It is a gooey paste made with dried milk powder, peanut butter, vegetable oil, sugar and a vitamin mix.

Many Reasons Why It Works
Plumpy’ nut is what is called a Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF), and it is currently manufactured in France by Nutriset and at four locations in Africa that use the Plumpy’ nut license, but are not owned by the company. It is sold to international aid organizations, such as UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, Save the Children and the United Nation’s World Food Programme among others, and distributed by them.

Some of the reasons it has been so successful is that it does not have to be refrigerated, does not have to be mixed with fresh water, which is often a problem in these regions, and kids love the taste of the sweet peanut butter, which means they will readily eat it.

Plumpy’ nut manufactured in Europe is not made with USA peanuts at this time. In Africa, local peanuts, which are often high in aflatoxin and can be especially dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, are used.

Parting The Red Tape
After learning about the Plumpy’ nut product and knowing that U.S. peanuts are the best quality peanuts available, the American Peanut Council worked to get peanut butter on the USAID Title II commodity list.

Before being on this “approved” list, peanut butter could not have been bought by the U.S. government for food aid. Now, international aid organizations may request peanut butter as part of their “plan,” a request process similar to the National School Lunch Program, where, after receiving requests for peanut butter, USDA puts out “bids” to purchase the product from U.S. producers and then donates it to the recipient agency. This is a taxpayer-funded initiative of the U.S. government, and producers or manufacturers who make winning bids are paid market price for their products.

Now The Sales Pitch
Since peanut butter was added to the Title II commodity list, the industry has learned that more needs to be done to introduce aid organizations to peanut-based RUTFs – in other words, there is a sales process involved. Beginning in 2007, APC began a project using a small amount of export funds to promote peanut butter based RUTFs to aid organizations. The APC has also been working with two of the organizations producing Plumpy’nut outside of Europe to enable them to “request” USDA peanut butter through USAID.

Soon, a small amount of Plumpy’nut will be made with USA peanut butter.

In addition, APC is aggressively working with some of the larger aid groups, such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders, to explore the possibility of producing peanut-based RUTFs in the United States or ramping up local production in Africa and increasing the utilization of USDA/USAID peanut butter.

The APC has also been cooperating with scientists at the University of Georgia’s Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program to assist with this process, utilizing their scientific expertise to assist African manufacturers.

Last December, APC asked the industry to donate extra funds through the Peanut Foundation to assist in this work. Funds from APC’s export promotion program are also used, but are restricted to certain uses. The industry has already agreed to donate $15,000 to $20,000.

Why Is This Project Important?
Initially, it is unlikely that involvement in the development of “Plumpy’nut” will sell significantly more peanut butter. However, in the long term, this is a significant possibility as the world continues to see increasing poverty in Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of the Middle East. This humanitarian effort will also bring some much-needed good news to the industry that has been most recently in the news for food allergies and product recalls. More importantly, being involved in a project to save lives by doing what we do best is simply the right thing to do. PG

Information provided by the American Peanut Council and The Peanut Foundation. For more information about this project, contact Stephanie Grunenfelder by e-mail at sgrunenfelder@peanutsusa.com or call 703-838-9500 .


Peanut Grinder Donated By U.S. Sheller

More recent news coverage in The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times recognized the success of Project Peanut Butter in Malawi, a small scale manufacturer of the therapeutic food “Plumpy’ nut.”

However, one hindrance to increasing production, in light of the great need for this life-saving product, was the lack of a peanut grinder in the small factory. Volunteer staff traveled a long distance to another factory to buy tons of peanut paste and haul it back to the Project Peanut Butter factory.

Upon learning this, Birdsong Peanuts, in Suffolk, Va., agreed to donate a grinder to the factory in Malawi, which will greatly increase both efficiencies and production.

Project Peanut Butter was established by Dr. Mark Manary of The Washington University in St. Louis. The APC is supporting his efforts by encouraging USDA to buy peanut butter under the PL 480 Food For Peace program that purchases U.S. farm commodities for international food aid.