Product made in Fitzgerald saves children’s lives worldwide

Here’s an article published in the Herald Leader on November 23, 2011
By Sherri Butler

While people all across south Georgia are settling into a feast of turkey and dressing Thursday, children in Africa and South America and other parts of the world will be feasting, too, on a peanut product made here in Fitzgerald that will help them win the fight to survive.

MANA — Mother Assisted Nutritive Aid — is a paste made of south Georgia peanuts, milk and nutrients and is a key weapon in the fight against starvation for the world’s youngest citizens. The Fitzgerald factory that produces MANA employs 20 people, with plans to double that work force next year as the plant adds a second shift, CEO Mark Moore said in an interview Friday.

Moore says he visited many communities in Georgia, Kentucky and elsewhere before settling on Fitzgerald as the site for MANA’s manufacturing facility. The big draw? Fitzgerald’s American Blanching plant and innovative owner Allen Conger

“American Blanching makes our peanut butter paste,” Moore explains. “They make 60 percent of the product. We mix in other portions and package it.”
That mix includes milk, vitamins and other nutrients. It has a shelf life of two to three years.

At present the MANA plant here, built adjacent to American Blanching in the industrial park, can produce as much as 46,000 lbs. of the product per day. That’s enough to feed more than 1,500 children suffering with severe acute malnutrition. That production level could more than double in the coming year.

The final product is purchased by UNICEF, USAID, World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse, and those organizations distribute it to children in Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda and Guatemala. MANA is also scheduled to be sent to Burundi and Ethiopia.

“If you look at a map of the world, those are the poorest countries, where kids are suffering,” Moore says.

While poverty and food shortages affect an entire population, “kids suffer the most,” Moore says.

Twenty million children are currently estimated to suffer from severe acute malnutrition, according to MANA figures. This malnutrition accounts for 35 percent of the deaths among children under age 5. At that age, from infancy through 5 years, children’s brains are still developing and the need for good nutrition is absolutely critical.

“Lots of factors contribute to making a child malnourished,” Moore says. He likens a child in danger of severe acute malnutrition to a penny at the edge of a desk. “A lot of kids are right on the edge. They live there every day. It only takes a little thing to put them over the edge.”

Malnourished children who receive MANA are not only saved from immediate starvation and death — they have an enhanced chance of survival even if the conditions they live in are not changed, Moore says. “The product moves them so far from the edge of the desk. It puts them back toward the center.”

Moore explains that in a group of, for example four kids, the youngest aged 5. If the family is very poor and food is scarce, the three older kids will get thin. “They might be struggling,” he says, “but it is the child under 6 who is likeliest to die. By the time a child is 6 years old, his brain is 90 percent finished growing.”

Malnourished children can be readily diagnosed in the field. A simple measurement of the circumference of their upper arms is a good indicator of how malnourished they are.
MANA is given to the mother of the malnourished child. She is instructed in feeding the peanut product to her child three times a day, seven days a week for a period of weeks. Depending on the severity of the child’s condition and the speed at which his body responds, he will receive the product from six to eight weeks. The child may consume from 22-33 lbs. of MANA in all.

Moore says that MANA, which is a non-profit company, sells its product for “close to what we’ve got in it. It’s expensive, with milk and peanuts in it, but we make it as affordable as possible.”

Donors can help make it more affordable, and MANA now accepts donations through its website at mananutrition.org.

Moore sees MANA as a reactive product, an emergency product. He compares it to the emergency response to the recent earthquake in Haiti, when so many were buried under buildings. “I sent a rescue team to dig, and they saved 14 people. That’s an emergency response — you’d rather have people digging than planning right after something happens. But a few days later, you have to think about what is the best way to use our resources? The answer would be to build better buildings.”

When he thinks about the future of MANA, he thinks along these lines. “I want to see us move into prevention, where we can reach kids with cheaper, smaller amounts — 50 g instead of 90 g, for kids who are not in such bad shape.” Reaching kids earlier would mean saving more lives at a fraction of the cost.”

To do that might require a new product, tailored to different needs, but possibly still made of peanuts. Moore thinks of the educator and inventor George Washington Carver. “He took a little peanut and made amazing things with it by being creative. That’s what we can do if we use more imagination.”

The Fitzgerald MANA plant made headlines recently, seeking peanuts to keep the plant in operation. The summer’s drought has meant a lower yield in south Georgia and the price of the nuts has been about three times what it was last year, Moore says. But, he notes, “We have been blessed. People in the peanut industry are very generous and they want to help kids.”

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