June 03, 2011
Ready-to-use foods have become an important weapon in fighting child malnutrition, since their early development in Malawi, and subsequent endorsement by major NGOs and UN agencies.
A new variant in production in Pakistan replaces a key ingredient, peanuts, with chick peas which saves money, stimulates the local economy and fits better with local tastes, according to the World Food Programme.
Child malnutrition is a long-standing problem in Pakistan, and according to the World Bank the number of children who are underweight or stunted “is of particular concern since Pakistan has long been considered self-sufficient in diverse agriculture produce and refined foods”.
A study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) early this year, following the devastating floods of 2010, found “critical levels” of malnutrition among flood-affected children. It also found significant evidence that malnutrition, one manifestation of acute poverty and deprivation, was linked to feudalism and the country’s class structure.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing a chickpea-based ready-to-eat supplementary food, known as “Wawa Mum” or “Good food, Mum”. The fortified paste is more acceptable to local people than those prepared with peanut butter, a food item rarely used in the country. [Note: the original version of this article - and its headline -wrongly referred to Wawa Mum as a therapeutic food, but it is better described as a supplementary food].
The paste contains a rich vitamin and mineral formulation blended with the cooked chick peas and each packet is designed to meet the daily nutrient requirements of children in the targeted age group.
“The chickpea paste is being distributed to children suffering from moderate malnutrition. It comes ready to use, in 50-gram packets, is produced locally and is meant for children aged 6-36 months and suffering from moderate malnutrition,” WFP spokesman Amjad Jamal told IRIN.
Three factories are currently processing 200 tons per month which is enough for four million packets of the paste. The WFP hopes to raise that number to 500 metric tons by June and to 1,000 tons by the end of the year, by contracting two additional factories.
The foods, he added, had been provided in four provinces through NGO partners and treatment centres such as government-run Basic Health Units (BHUs) since September 2010, when the post flood situation led to a greater focus on nutrition. Doctors and health workers at government health centres and those working with NGOs identify children in need of dietary supplementation.
“It is not uncommon to spot malnourished children in communities everywhere,” Faisel Aziz, who volunteers with the charitable Edhi Foundation in Balochistan, told IRIN.
WFP reports that the chick pea formulation may soon be available in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Ethiopia.