Life-saving peanut paste for children unlikely victim of Ukraine war

MARSABIT, – Under an acacia tree in Kenya's drought-ravaged north, malnourished infants feed on sticky mouthfuls of a nutrient-dense peanut paste long used to child starvation in disasters across the globe.

This wonder food can mean the difference between life and death for a child in hard-hit Marsabit, Kenya, where aid workers say young children are dying in conditions that border on famine.

“If we ran out of these, more deaths would be recorded very soon,” Mr James Jarso of aid group World Vision said of the sachets being distributed by charity workers in the parched and isolated village of Purapul.

But just as 1.7 million children face starvation in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa, the cost of these life-saving supplements is skyrocketing because of another crisis unfolding thousands of miles away.

The conflict in Ukraine is making ready-to-use therapeutic food more expensive to manufacture and procure, says the United Nations children's agency Unicef, which buys almost 80 per cent of the world's supply.

Ukraine is a major exporter of sunflower oil, wheat and other grains. The war has affected the price and availability of staple foods, driven up fuel prices, and disrupted supply chains already off-kilter because of the pandemic.

A knock-on effect has been higher prices for powdered milk, vegetable oils and peanuts – all key ingredients in ready-to-use therapeutic food, said Ms Christiane Rudert, a nutrition adviser for Unicef for southern and eastern Africa.

Even the materials used to make ready-to-use therapeutic food packaging have become scarcer and costlier, she said.

Unicef, which purchases around 49,000 tonnes of ready-to-use therapeutic food every year, is starting to feel the pinch.

“The cost has definitely gone up already, which affects our orders,” Ms Rudert told AFP.

French company Nutriset told AFP it raised the cost of its leading ready-to-use therapeutic food product “Plumpy'Nut” twice in the past year, including a 13 per cent hike in May.

It could not attribute this directly to Ukraine but a confluence of factors, including the war and also the pandemic, higher shipping costs, and environmental disasters, Nutriset said in a statement.

Overall, the price of “Plumpy'Nut” – which reached 9.7 million children last year – had risen 23 per cent since May last year, it said. Unicef forecasts that by November, prices for ready-to-use therapeutic food will have risen 16 per cent from pre-war levels.

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