Postscript: Local purchase of ingredients for RUTF in developing countries?
By Steve Collins
Steve Collins is a medical doctor with a doctorate in nutrition. He has been working in humanitarianism since 1985 and is the originator of the CTC/CMAM model for the management of severe acute malnutrition. Since 1999 he has been working with Valid to develop and roll out this model worldwide. He is the non-executive chairman of Valid Nutrition.
The manufacture of Ready to Use Food (RUTF) in developing countries, using ingredients purchased from local farmers, has always been a central element in the Community-based Therapeutic Care (CTC) model (see ENN special supplement #2 on CTC - 2004)1. Improving the food security of vulnerable groups, by providing small holder farmers with stable markets for their crops at guaranteed prices, and linking this with the cost effective treatment of undernutrition has great potential to drive development and reduce poverty. The local production of nutritional products in developing countries creates positive economic cycles, increasing the efficiency with which aid funding produces sustainable positive change. By contrast, importing nutritional products manufactured in Europe or America results in the majority of aid funding staying in developed countries, providing employment to 1st world workers and profits to businesses and shareholders in the industrialised world. Worse, the importation of food into developing countries undermines markets for local farmers and food manufacturers, increasing dependence and depressing economic development.
Marta Ortiz Nunez's research on Valid Nutrition's (VN) work to purchase ingredients from small holder farmers in Malawi draws attention to the benefits of this approach and highlights some of the challenges that we face. Despite the positive impact of this programme, we still have a long way to go to maximise the impact of our purchase of local ingredients. Currently Valid Nutrition has an extensive operational R&D programme to further develop our links with small holder farmers and research the impact that this has on their livelihoods and food security. At the time of this research, Valid Nutrition's production capacity in Malawi was approximately 700 MT /year. This relatively small scale limited the benefits of our purchase programme to hundreds rather than thousands of poor farming families. To reach more farmers, and also, vitally, to achieve the necessary economies of scale to bring down the price of RUTF, VN has now tripled the capacity of the Malawi factory to 2000MT/year, installing larger mixing and pumping machinery, a closed production line and a state-ofthe- art sachet packaging machine. However, to sustain these higher production volumes in a small country such as Malawi requires either the ability to export RUTF to neighbouring countries or an extension of the use of Ready to Use Foods into other areas such as supplementary and complementary feeding. Whilst there is huge potential for the appropriate use of Ready to Use Supplementary and Complementary (RUSF & RUCF) products to treat and prevent malnutrition, marketing of these products needs to wait for a sound evidence base. At present Valid and our research partners have several ongoing randomised controlled trials (RCTs) looking at the impact of RUSF and RUCF. If these prove to be successful, we will start to manufacture and sell these products.
Until this evidence exists, sustainable production of RUTF in Malawi is dependent upon export into countries such as Zambia, who currently import RUTF from Europe. For this to happen, a system of independent quality certification for RUF manufacturers is required. At present, no such independent mechanism exists, creating a major obstacle to sustainable local production. UNICEF has attempted to fill this vacuum with their own certification procedure and in the absence of other independent mechanism, most agencies and donors have adopted UNICEF certification as their standard. This is problematic, as with limited certification capacity, UNICEF focus on their own strategic needs rather than on a broader strategy of opening up the RUTF market to fair competition. The result is that RUTF suppliers in countries that are not a UNICEF priority are effectively prevented from entering wider markets. For developing country food manufacturers to compete on an even playing field with producers from the industrialised world, such issues must be addressed, and an independent and transparent certification system is now urgently required. Without this, the market will continue to be dominated by expensive imported products and the development benefits from producing quality nutritional products in developing countries will be lost.
Taken from Field Exchange Issue 38, April 2010