At the foot of an acacia tree in drought-stricken northern Kenya, children are devouring pasta made with fortified peanut butter, an indispensable therapeutic staple that saves them from malnutrition.
Easy to use, transport and store, these bars are vital to children in Marsabit County, where aid workers are alarmed that children are dying of near starvation.
“If we run out” of these precious foods, rich in calories, vitamins and essential minerals and especially distributed in the isolated village of Purapul, “we will record more deaths very soon,” fears James Yarso of the non-governmental organization World Vision.
But while 1.7 million children in the Horn of Africa are at risk of starvation, the price of this ready-to-eat pasta, known by the English acronym RUTF and whose Plumpy’Nut soars, from the French Nutriset, is the most famous brand. .
Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in late February, they have become more difficult to produce and extract, worries UNICEF, which buys almost 80% of the world’s supplies.
Ukraine is a major exporter of sunflower oil, wheat and other grains, and Russia’s incursion into the country has affected prices and availability of goods, but has also taken a toll on fuel prices and on supply chains already disrupted by the pandemic.
Children in the village of Parapul, in Marsabit, northern Kenya, on July 11, 2022. (AFP – Simon MAINA)
As a result, the prices of milk powder, vegetable oils and peanuts, three key ingredients of RUTF, have skyrocketed, explains Christian Rudert, nutrition adviser at UNICEF East Africa.
Even red-and-white plastic packaging has become more expensive and scarce, and its delivery has become more expensive due to rising fuel prices, she said.
– Historic drought –
Nutriset, whose Plumpy’Nut products helped 9.7 million children last year, told AFP in a press release that it has increased the price of its nutrition bars twice in a row since May 2021, a 23% increase.
Unicef forecasts RUTF prices to rise by 16% by November compared to pre-war levels in Ukraine.
These price hikes come at the worst of times, with more than 1.7 million children under the age of five suffering from some form of acute malnutrition in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, three countries that have suffered drought but have not had a drought for 40 years.
A health worker examines a malnourished child in Marsabit, July 12, 2022. (AFP – Simon MAINAH)
Distributing peanut bars will cost “$12 million more than it would have cost before Ukraine,” Ms. Rudert calculates. However, donations to the Horn of Africa are well below what is needed.
RUTF, which doesn’t need to be heated or diluted with water to consume, is “literally something that saves children’s lives once they’ve reached this advanced form of malnutrition. It’s not just peanuts, milk, sugar and butter, it’s therapeutic,” Rudert adds.
– Revolutionary product –
Developed 25 years ago in France, the product has been revolutionary in the treatment of severe malnutrition or acute acute malnutrition, the deadliest form of malnutrition and one of the main threats to child survival.
This allows women and children to survive, says Dr. Mohamed Amin, a mobile clinic employee at the Ministry of Health. He consults twice a month at Purapul. There, portions of supplements equivalent to two weeks are distributed.
Women and children gathered in Parapool to visit medical facilities on July 12, 2022. (AFP – Simon MAINA)
Aripokiro Nakujan is one of the beneficiaries. The youngest of her six children is malnourished. “We are hungry, we have nothing to eat,” she told AFP. Beside her, her six-month-old baby swallows peanut butter.
A price increase of 16%, or 600,000 doses less than RUTF, would be disastrous not only for the Horn of Africa but for many other African countries.
“There is no milk. There is no meat, there is no food for them, ”James Yarso insists. So these bars “save their lives.”