Experts Debate Merits of Plumply'Nut in Fighting Global Hunger

Plumply’Nut, the fortified peanut paste usually included in food relief kits, is not in any way a silver bullet that will solve global hunger and malnutrition, an economist and two health experts have noted.

Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, Biodiversity International scientist Jessica Fanzo and Dr. Sonia Sachs of the Millennium Villages Project are reacting to a recent New York Times Magazine article, which they say could propagate a “very serious misunderstanding about the solutions to global hunger.”

The New York Times Magazine article, titled “The Peanut Solution,” explores how Plumpy’Nut could end malnutrition. It details how Plumpy’Nut was invented and eventually found its way into the international development and humanitarian scene. The peanut paste, the article notes, is widely used by the World Food Program and other aid agencies in their feeding programs in poor countries such as Haiti.

In an article in The Huffington Post, Sachs, Fanzo and Sachs laud journalist Andrew Rice for writing about the topic but add that it is “extremely important to correct certain ideals left dangling by the article.”

“Plumpy’Nut is not a miracle cure for global hunger or for global malnutrition,” the three write in a joint article. “Plumpy’Nut addresses only one kind of hunger – acute episodes of extreme food deprivation or illness, the kind mainly associated with famines and conflicts. Plumpy’Nut is not designed for the other major kind of hunger, notably chronic hunger due to long-term poor diets. Nor is it designed to fight long-term malnutrition that is due to various kinds of chronic micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron, zinc and vitamin-A deficiencies. “

They also comment on the patent status of the fortified peanut paste, which Rice also discussed. Sachs, Fanzo and Sachs argue that a patent should not give any company the right to use the product to fight acute hunger. They explain that the ingredients of the product are simply enough and that the nutritional value of peanuts has been known for ages.

“Only the worst misuse of patent law would grant a broad monopoly claim to such knowledge,” the three add.

The three also agree with Rice’s argument that “it is a standard solution of global intellectual property law that urgent public health needs supersede patent rights.”

“Poor countries should exercise their full right of ‘compulsory licensing’ and other legal protections to produce or to import urgently needed low-cost nutritional supplementation in the face of famines, just as they do to obtain low-cost AIDS medicines,” the three explain.

Sachs, Fanzo and Sachs outline two recommendations: “In cases of acute malnutrition, UNICEF and other agencies should promote locally produced, quality-controlled, ready-to-use fortified foods and should resist claims of patent protection that impede local production or low-cost imports, as needed. In cases of chronic undernourishment, rich and poor governments in partnership should promote improved agriculture and dietary diversity.”

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.