The Hershey Company, in partnership with Project Peanut Butter (PPB) — a project aimed at ending child malnutrition across sub-Saharan Africa — has announced that the Project’s newest manufacturing facility (in Kumasi, Ghana) is now beginning full operation. Thanks to a nearly $1 million investment from Hershey, the new plant will produce PPB’s peanut-based Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTFs), which the organization calls the world’s most effective treatment for severe childhood malnutrition.
More than a decade ago, Project Peanut Butter founder Dr. Mark Manary — a pediatrician and a professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — developed a peanut-based RUTF, designed for home-based treatment. The therapeutic food paste doesn’t spoil, doesn’t require cooking, and is portable, energy-dense and easy for mothers to give to their children at home. According to PPB, 95 percent of children recover compared to 25-40 percent from traditional hospital therapies; on average, children recover in four to six weeks and will never require another treatment for severe malnourishment. The project focuses on treating children six months to five years of age, a very important developmental time both physically and cognitively that impacts the rest of a child’s life. Project Peanut Butter is now operating in Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone.
At full capacity, the Project’s new plant will be able to produce approximately 20,000 peanut-based RUTFs each day, enough to treat approximately 48,000 children each year (it takes nearly 150 packets to treat one child).
Starting in January, PPB will mobilize a traveling clinic in the central region of Ghana to distribute RUTFs to local children. The clinic will be funded through an additional $50,000 contribution from Hershey and its employees through a matching gifts program. Although Ghana is one of the strongest emerging economies in Africa, roughly 30,000 children suffer from severe malnutrition at any time.
“Hershey’s donation to Project Peanut Butter was the single largest donation we’ve received. While it gave us the freedom to think about ‘what’s possible’ instead of worrying about dollars, the truly invaluable piece has been their employees’ immense passion and willingness to share their food manufacturing expertise with us,” Manary said. “In just one year we turned an empty, unconditioned warehouse into a U.S.-quality food manufacturing plant. Hershey’s input saved us months if not a year and we are now ready to begin treating children in Ghana.”
Throughout 2014, Hershey sourcing experts have been on the ground working with Ghanaian peanut farmers on better planting and harvesting techniques that will increase productivity and expand Ghana’s peanut crop for the long term.
“Sustained food security is a key element in helping foster long-term economic growth in Africa,” said The Hershey Company’s CEO John P. Bilbrey. “One of our goals for this project is to help Ghana build its peanut farming industry to ensure strong, reliable sources of locally grown peanuts. This will not only provide a steady source of peanuts for the Project Peanut Butter plant, but will also pave the way for the future production of additional peanut-based foods and nutritional supplements for Ghana.”
Project Peanut Butter will seek to source its ingredients in country as well as hire and train local Ghanaians to work in the factory, supporting the local economy.
Hershey’s support of PPB emanates from Hershey’s vision of encouraging the private sector to use its distinct expertise and financial resources to invest in the continued development of Africa, a region with untapped potential that is important to the entire world.
During the past year, 15 Hershey employees worked more than 6,200 hours on the Project Peanut Butter plant. With more than 30 years of food manufacturing experience, the team advised on raw material sourcing, plant design and quality controls, including recommending changes to the peanut-grinding process to reach a finer peanut blend for a higher-quality RUTF. With Hershey’s input, the plant was designed to give PPB room to grow in the future.
“Watching the first nutritional packet come off the line was special. I’ve worked in food product development for 36 years, but visiting a mobile clinic and meeting mothers who had walked for days to get the peanut-based RUTF packets for their children was life-changing,” said Judy Cooley, Hershey’s Principal Scientist. “With the Ghanaian plant, Project Peanut Butter is giving mothers hope and children a chance for a brighter future.”
While Project Peanut Butter sets about eradicating child malnutrition in Africa, startups such as Yumbutter and Plum Organics are attacking it here at home through their buy-one-give-one programs, and food giants such as Unilever, ConAgra and P&G have all joined forces with Feeding America with the goal of alleviating the problem on a broader scale.