Haiti is a country keenly familiar with instability and hardship from natural disasters to rampant poverty. Adding to the country’s distress are Haiti’s high child mortality rates for children under age five. Over the past decade, the international aid organization, Partners in Health (PIH), has been working to alleviate these pervasive problems by cutting to the roots and by creating solutions to countrywide degradation.  In 2002, PIH founded the Zanmi Agrikol Project (Haitian creole for “Partners in Agriculture), which collaborates with PIH to effectively utilize Haiti’s local communities in tackling these centralized issues.

Malnutrition is the brute ravaging the health of young Haitians by weakening their bodies and preventing them from fending off the common childhood ailments:  diarrhea, pneumonia, an measles. To address malnutrition, Zanmi Agrikol (ZA) administers Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods or RUTFs. The World Health Organization broadly define’s RUTFs as a generic term for different types of foods, such as spreads or compressed products suitable for feeding severely malnourished children. Typically, RUTFs require no cooking and are easy to administer. RUTFs are comprised of energy-dense food components such as lipids, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. In 2006, PIH began administering the RUTF, Nourimanba, which consists of peanut butter, vegetable oil, milk powder, sugar, and a nutrient-rich vitamin mix. Because Nourimanba is imbued with the peanut butter fat soluble base, it contains low water content and high resistance to bacterial growth that can easily decay food in the humid climate of Haiti. Therefore, Nourimanba can be safely stored for longer periods of time. Nourimanba is provided to severely malnourished children while moderately malnourished children receive the RUTF, Nourimil, which is a milled grain/legume mixture of rice and beans or corn and beans.

Since many of the ingredients in Nourimanba and Nourimil are  grown in the parts of Haiti where the RUTFs are being administered, PIH incites the ZA operated farms to supplant some fruit and vegetable crops with  corn, beans, and rice crops. As a result, the production of Nourimil is now in the hands of the local farmers. Similarly, peanuts sourced by local farmers are used in the Nourimanba RUTF mixture. This agricultural change not only empowers Haitian’s toward self-nourishment, but it provides increased financial venues for struggling farmers.

Digging deeper into the malnutrition issue, ZA unearthed the reasons for Haiti’s impoverishment. With limited access to fertile lands for cultivation, paltry seed supplies, and insufficient tools, many Haitians have been powerless to adequately support their families. ZA addresses these challenges through their Family Assistance Program, which provides all of the ingredients and tools families need to increase sustainable food production for themselves and for economic profit. ZA further promotes the long-term protection of Haitian land through sustainable heating sources and diminution of deforestation.

Through the local ZA Project, PIH not only addresses the urgent issue of child mortality through malnutrition and Haiti’s distress from countrywide poverty, but it promulgates the notion that solutions to local issues can be sustained from within.

*Children image from The Christian Science Monitor

* Peanut butter and peanut crop images from Plumpy’nut Press