Exploring a Market-Based Approach to Malnutrition

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Soon, low-income families in Kenya will be able to add to their diet a pre-cooked porridge product that is rich in proteins and vitamins and supplies the nine essential amino acids required by the human body.

The porridge will not be delivered under the auspices of an aid agency or a government-funded programme.

Most families will buy it as part of a revenue-based approach to attacking malnutrition.

The market-based approach to malnutrition is something being explored by large companies such as Unilever, PepsiCo and Danone, as awareness grows of the need to address malnutrition – something that affects not only the poorest communities but also higher income populations – and the potential of doing so through for-profit products. However, some believe that there is a role for smaller entrepreneurs in coming up with hybrid models that can address what is often known as “hidden hunger”.

It is for this reason that Acumen Fund – a New York-based social venture fund that provides financing to enterprises using market-based approaches to addressing poverty – has invested in Insta Products, a Kenya-based private company that supplies organisations such as the World Food Programme and Unicef with emergency relief food.

“The majority of their revenue is going to come from the big aid contracts,” says Omer Imtiazuddin, health portfolio manager at Acumen Fund, which is working on these types of food products with the Geneva-based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a non-profit group that promotes public-private partnerships to fight malnutrition. “But for Insta this could be a significant source of revenue.”

The food product Insta is developing – known locally as uji – is particularly well suited to Kenyan tastes, as the porridge is eaten by 80 to 90 per cent of the local population across all age groups and income segments.
The fortified version is badly needed. Many women in Kenya suffer from low micronutrient intake during pregnancy, making it hard to gain the necessary weight for the development of their babies.