By Amanda Stone
photo credit: Bernard Pollack
Check out this New York Times Magazine article written by Andrew Rice, a contributing writer for State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet and author of “The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget,” about a Ugandan murder trial. The article details the story behind Plumpy’nut, a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) that could be an answer to significantly reducing malnutrition in developing countries like Haiti, Malawi and others across sub-Saharan Africa. But this small ‘miracle’ product that could help the millions of starving children around the world pack on the pounds has caused a big stir in questions of property rights and profit.
Plumpy’nut is a registered trademark product of Nutriset, a private French company that originally manufactured and marketed the paste and is protective of its intellectual property. But some rival manufacturers factions are claiming that such a valuable product shouldn’t have a patent. According to Navyn Salem, the United States’ sole manufacturer and promoter of Plumpy’nut, doctors, foreign-aid organizations and agribusiness are all staking competing claims to own a bit of the fortified peanut-butter-like substance.
More recently Nutriset has taken a more liberal stance on licensing its product by expanding its affiliate network into 11 countries, mostly in Africa, They are also looking to expand into other countries like Congo, Mozambique and Niger, with the hope of keeping large-scale industrial producers out of the game, bringing down shipping costs and prices, and also bringing jobs to local farmers and processors. Opponents, however, still want the patent invalidated, claiming Nutriset is just trying to avoid competition. Meanwhile, there is a burgeoning industry seeking to develop products that serve not just to treat malnutrition but also to prevent it. Unfortunately, the economic and legal issues often complicate the business of alleviating hunger and poverty.
To read more about Plumpy’nut and its potential not only to treat malnutrition but also to improve local agricultural capacity and food security see: Innovation of the Week: Fighting Global Malnutrition Locally.
Amanda Stone is the Nourishing the Planet Communications Assistant.