Peanuts in Humanitarian Relief

Sep 27, 2022

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Episode Description

Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear shells! When disaster strikes here at home, peanut butter is an important food source that’s sustaining, stable and easy to eat. Across the world, a peanut butter-based pouch brings severely malnourished children back from the brink for a happy and healthy future. In our one-year anniversary episode, we’ll delve into the stories of people and organizations that provide a helping hand to those in need through peanuts. You’ll hear from Gregg Grimsley of Birdsong Peanuts who heads Peanut Proud, Christina Taylor from American Peanut Council who leads Peanut Butter for the Hungry, Dr. Mark Manary of Project Peanut Butter, Maria Kasparian of Edesia and Jamie Rhoads of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Peanut at University of Georgia.

Peanuts and peanut butter have always been a pantry staple in American homes. But what about their use after natural disasters or helping people? Peanut butter is used for more than just a tasty snack – it has become a vital component in nutritional global relief and humanitarian aid. This shelf-stable and nutrient packed food can be used anywhere from areas decimated by hurricanes all the way to children suffering from chronic malnutrition. For the one-year anniversary episode of the Peanut Podcast, we’ve covered how the peanut industry uses and donates peanuts to those in need.

Dr. Mark Manary, pediatrician and founder and CEO of Project Peanut Butter, has dedicated his career to improving child health in Sub-Saharan Africa. Project Peanut Butter started in 2004 after Mark discovered the ease and power of peanut-based ready-to-use therapeutic foods, or RUTF. He knew there was a need for a food that wouldn’t spoil in tropical climates, didn’t need special refrigeration or preparation, was enriched with proteins and good fats, and wouldn’t be at risk for contamination. Instantly, Mark knew that peanut butter could be the answer.

“Why don't we take peanut butter and add things to it?” said Mark. “And let's try that as a therapy for malnutrition and treat children…And bear in mind, the children I'm talking about are severely malnourished children, children who are facing a more than 50% chance of dying within three months if they're not treated.”

Mark is excited about the future in the potential of using peanuts to help kids in schools. Currently, there is a project in Ghana that uses RUTF to feed children a school meal and measure their progress.

“They went for a year where we provided children with a packet of peanut butter based, complete meal every day,” said Mark. “And were very enthusiastic about it at the end of nine months of eating it every day…they take these packages of peanut butter food, they rip them open, and they lick the inside. So, there's not one drop left in there. And then they're back and ready to go to school at 10:15.”

Edesia, another non-profit dedicated to the treatment and prevention of malnutrition, produces and exports over 20,000 metric tons of products, which it has shipped to over 60 countries. Executive director and one of the founding team members Maria Kasparian started Edesia with the mission to end malnutrition, and to use social entrepreneurship as a model to do that.

In 2009, USAID was looking to improve the nutritional quality of their international food aid baskets, which led to them becoming Edesia’s first partner. Peanuts are a key ingredient in RUTF foods because they contain 7 grams of protein per ounce and the cost is relatively low and stable.

“And also, they are grown all over the world, and largely acceptable all over the world. So, they, for all of those reasons, they were chosen as one of the critical core ingredients of ready-to-use therapeutic and supplementary foods,” said Maria.

In addition to international relief, the peanut industry has also been working on relief efforts domestically. Peanut Proud was formed in 2009 to help improve the reputation of peanuts after a Salmonella outbreak linked to peanut butter shipped from a plant located in Blakely, Georgia. Peanut Proud’s president,Gregg Grimsley, explained how they create their own “Peanut Proud” peanut butter to send to help those in need during disaster relief situations.

“When we shipped peanut butter to Haiti… we shipped a couple of truckloads down to 60,000 jars to Haiti after the last after last earthquake,” said Gregg. “And then we shipped 60,000 jars to Moldova, for Ukrainian refugees.”

Gregg said Peanut Proud has upcoming plans and capacity to scale their production up. “This calendar year we should ship 600,000 jars and within the next two years we have the opportunity to ship over a million jars a year.”

Another peanut industry’s response to the 2009 Salmonella outbreak included the American Peanut Council managing Peanut Butter for the Hungry, which is an initiative to help malnourished children in places where resources are limited. Christina Taylor is the APC manager of PB4H in their initial aim of helping resupply food banks with the peanut butter that they need.

One of Christina’s favorite accomplishments is helping others start their own peanut butter drives to encourage donations to food banks. “It's mainly geared for schools and youth groups to put together their own drives, and it has information on there about, you know, what a valuable resource peanut butter is to food banks and how nutritious it is.”

Christina is hopeful for the future use of RUTF and peanuts being used in them. In July, USAID announced that they are giving $200 million to UNICEF to increase use of RUTF.

“And, you know, I firmly believe that once it [RUTF] starts being used more widely, it's, it's going to become the standard in terms of, you know, treating child malnutrition, you know, throughout the world,” said Christina.

Assistant Director of the Peanut Innovation Lab at the University of Georgia Jamie Rhoads is working on a U.S. government food security program managed by USAID called Feed the Future, described as a whole of government approach to handling global food security issues.

Like Mark, Jamie is another person working on the RUSF school project in Ghana. “This one is really an interesting area where I think the scale is there for helping a lot more people would be on the school feeding side,” said Jaime. “And peanut offers a lot of value there. I think one thing that we probably forget, in some ways is that peanut is almost like a universally acceptable flavor people just like peanut roasted peanut flavor almost everywhere you go. And so, adding peanuts to those kinds of foods makes them, you know, quickly acceptable to children.”

Jaime said the Peanut Innovation Lab isn’t only focused on short-term relief, but their ultimate goal is find long-term food security. “You also need to work on the long-term development, so that, you know, farmers and food processors and consumers are getting the economic development to really make it sustainable over time,” said Jamie.