Medika Mamba: Sustainable agriculture, Sustainable nutrition
This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.
Childhood malnutrition has been a significant challenge in Haiti for many years. It is the result of a combination of factors, most of which are not addressed by rescue operations and handouts. While the needs are great, a permanent, sustainable solution for Haiti is within reach. Meds & Food for Kids’ (MFK) four-pronged approach targets multiple sectors, improving the local economy while combating malnutrition.
First, we distribute protein- packed, peanut-based, life-saving Ready to Use Therapeutic Foods (RUTF) to the most vulnerable children of Haiti. Second, we improve the local economy by providing jobs and capacity building to Haitians in our Haiti-based production factory, so that they may take control of their own destinies and lift themselves out of poverty. The third branch of our approach focuses on prevention as we develop and test new products to improve the nutritional status of other vulnerable populations. Finally, MFK believes that the strength of Haiti’s agricultural sector, roughly 35% of the national economy and 60% of employment, is crucial for long-term development. To this end, MFK purchases domestically grown peanuts and works with those farmers to increase their capacity, training them on efficient, practical strategies to avoid aflatoxin contamination.
By working across multiple sectors – nutrition, agriculture, and economic development - MFK’s approach combats the endemic causes of poverty and malnutrition and puts Haiti on the path to a stronger future.
Impact of project:
The impact of MFK’s RUTF is concrete and definitive. In ten years, MFK has saved the lives of more than 80,000 severely malnourished children. RUTF has become the international standard of malnutrition treatment. MFK’s Medika Mamba (our RUTF) is 85% successful in curing severe malnutrition (defined as at least 2 standard deviations (SD) below accepted weight for age) in just 6-8 weeks. To qualify for Medika Mamba, the child must be at least 2.
In addition to treating malnutrition, MFK stimulates the local economy in a real way by employing over 50 Haitians and contracting with many local businesses. MFK’s agricultural program has trained over 1,000 local farmers on how to improve the quality and quantity of their yield. A graduate student from Cornell University recently surveyed 109 of these farmers. The survey explored the program’s impacts on the farmer’s livelihoods. While all the results of this survey are still being processed, it is clear that through our efforts to educate peanut farmers on the impact of aflatoxin, farmers have adopted practices to avoid contamination and recognize the dangers of this unseen threat.
At MFK, we try to avoid thinking of the people we work with as beneficiaries, but rather stakeholders and strategic partners. Through our comprehensive approaches, we have been able to achieve meaningful impacts in the nutritional status of vulnerable children, enhanced food security for employees and farmers, and prevent the anti-nutritional effects of aflatoxin exposure.
Why this project is a Good Practice example:
Use of RUTF to treat severe childhood malnutrition has been identified, evaluated, and endorsed as the most culturally appropriate and effective treatment. At MFK, however, we believe that treatment is insufficient as efforts must also be made to improve food security, reduce poverty, and prevent malnutrition. In Haiti, peanuts are considered to be a cash crop that commands a very high price in the market. However, the farmers themselves rarely receive this exception price because of a systemic, speculative separation between producers and consumers. This – plus the high, relative cost of production, lack of access to credit, fertilizer and other inputs, and low average yields - contributes to the fact that many farmers either just break even or operate at a loss.
Through the agriculture branch of MFK, we work to increase access to affordable mechanization and the reliability of inputs, such as improved varieties and fertilizers. By decreasing the costs of production, farmers’ families are able to generate a greater amount of income that can be used to ensure food security. This is a win-win, as the reliable source of high-quality, local peanuts is then made into life-saving Medika Mamba. For this reason, we think this project is an excellent example of an agriculture intervention with real important nutrition impacts.
Impact evaluation in progress
One aspect that has been and continues to be a challenge is the reality of doing business in Haiti. MFK is forging the way for processing business in Haiti, and often the first person down a new road finds potholes. Organizations interfacing with the Haitian government will uncover inconsistencies. We also learned that in extreme poverty, all food is shared, including RUTF. To compensate, we improved our patient education, describing Medika Mamba as medicine rather than food and discouraging sharing.
Despite these obstacles, we have been able to grow and forge relationships with domestic and international partners alike. We are proud of how quickly we have grown, because our increased capacity means more lives saved. In the early days of MFK, the Medika Mamba that we hand-produced would treat 10 children a month, or 120 children in one year. Ten years later, in 2013, by contrast, we were able to treat over 30,000 children. In that time, MFK became the first – and to date only – international organization in Haiti to have passed the international food safety audit of Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and the World Food Programme.
We strive to maintain a positive vision of cooperation and collaboration for the good of the targeted stakeholders, keeping in mind that our work isn’t about us. Our work is instead about improved nutritional status of vulnerable children, enhanced food security for all Haitians, decreased exposure of the population to aflatoxin and creating jobs in local production of nutritious food products.
Funders: Environmental Resources Management (ERM), Friends of Children
Primary Contact: Hannah G. McClellan, Grants Manager/Development Officer
Country: Haiti Project
Dates: 2003 to present
Interventions: Incorporate explicit nutrition objectives and indicators, Assess the context at the local level, Target the vulnerable and improve equity, Facilitate production diversification, Improve processing, storage and preservation, Expand markets and market access for vulnerable groups, Incorporate nutrition promotion and education,
Target Population: Children under 5, Farmers,
Project Stage: Ongoing activities
Geographic Coverage: National