MANA Nutrition is Saving Lives With a Simple Formula
This dense mixture of peanut butter paste, vitamins, milk, oil, and sugar comes in a small squeezable packet about the size of an iPhone. Administered three times per day for six weeks, it can rescue a young child from the nutritional cliff which is poised to take his or her life.
Called RUTF, ready-to-use therapeutic food, this is the product that Charlotte-based MANA Nutritive Aid Products, Inc. manufactures and distributes under the leadership of founder and CEO Mark Moore. The company’s headquarters is appropriately located in a former grist mill that helped to feed people for over 150 years.
The MANA product is used to treat severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and has been proven effective in saving millions of lives around the world.
Severe Acute Malnutrition
SAM is defined as a weight-for-height measurement of 70 percent or less below the median, by visible severe wasting, or by the presence of nutritional oedema. An estimated 20 million children currently suffer from severe acute malnutrition. Most are in south Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Approximately one million children die each year as a result of SAM, which can be a direct cause of death or can compromise a child’s immune system, leading to other fatal diseases. Malnutrition accounts for 35 percent of deaths among children under five years of age.
MANA was founded in 2009. The name stands for Mother-Administered Nutritive Aid and is a reflection of the company’s dedicated belief that moms are the best and most trustworthy allies in fighting malnutrition.
Prior to the use of RUTFs, the protocol for treating SAM was to get the child to a health care facility, a process that was severely limited by logistics. Many countries don’t have a set of national health policies or a health infrastructure in place to treat severe malnutrition.
If a mother is able to bring their child to a hospital, she is more than likely leaving other young children behind in similar condition. With RUTFs, mothers can directly feed their children.
“RUTF is like peanut butter on steroids. It’s an amazing product.” exclaims Moore. Approximately 94 percent of the children who are treated with RUTF are successfully pulled back from the nutritional cliff.
“It’s for kids beyond hunger; they’ve ceased to be hungry due to nutritional deficiency,” says Moore. “When you cease to be hungry—physically, mentally, spiritually—you are dying.”
A child dies every 10 seconds—more than malaria, AIDS, TB combined times three—according to Moore. “SAM is a huge killer of children, dying for no reason…dying simply because they don’t have a little peanut butter and powdered milk.”
Many factors can contribute to children facing the nutritional cliff such as drought, bad government, war, and parents losing a job. “In Sudan, most children born today will be born on a nutritional cliff—born hungry to hungry moms, living hungry, and, in too many cases, dying hungry,” says Moore.
RUTFs can be used starting with children as young as six months old. While breast feeding is always preferable, in many cases mothers are unable to produce and provide breast milk. In order to determines who needs RUTF, Children are assessed using a special band that measures the upper arm
“Sometimes they are just measuring the bone,” laments Moore. Six months to two-to-three years is a window of opportunity for good nutrition. The RUTF treatment comes as part of a six week program of community management of acute malnutrition education and counseling, or CMAM. RUTF is a key element to treatment as it helps prevent a return to the nutritional cliff.
MANA is basically a peanut butter product. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders already had a powdered milk formula.
“The problem with that,” explains Moore,” is that it has to be reconstituted. In many cases, there is a lack of clean water to mix it with and dirty, polluted water may kill the child.”
Additionally, Moore says, mixing such small and precise amounts of powdered milk is often challenging for mothers.
“When the stomach of the kid is the size of a ping pong ball,” Moore acknowledges, “small mistakes can throw the treatment way off.” Also, there are no refrigerators so storage and spoilage are serious problems.
“The formula is effective treatment for a child in a medical facility,” comments Moore, “but isn’t scalable to help the many in need. To solve the problem, the milk formula is stabilized, without water, in the peanut butter.
“Kids can tear the end off the package and squeeze the formula into their mouths. They can feed themselves. It’s sanitary.”
Moore refers to himself and members of his staff as The MANA Village, a community that just happens to be a company. “We imagine the MANA Village to be a forum for other businesses, trade associations, or non-profits to join forces to save children from severe acute malnutrition,” he says.
“The revenue we generate in excess of expenses is re-invested in things like new equipment and additional personnel, which allow us to produce more MANA and save the lives of more children. We not only make a special fortified peanut butter, we also seek to play a wider role to spread awareness of SAM and the 20 million children it affects each year.”
Moore’s knowledge of this crisis runs deeps. He has experience working on the ground in Africa as a rural development worker and also working on Africa-related issues as the Africa Specialist (deleted and added) in the US Senate and other NGO’s in the Washington DC area. In addition, Moore co-founded Kibo Group, which is a development organization that includes many Africa projects.
From the Farm Abroad
MANA manufactures its RUTF in a 35,000-square-foot facility in Fitzgerald, Ga., in the heart of peanut country.
“There was already a big peanut processing culture and facility there,” says Moore, who became acquainted with the company called Golden Boy Foods that makes peanut butter under private labels.
“We told them we wanted to buy bulk and we built our factory right across the street. They take peanuts, roast them, grind them and turn them into peanut paste. They send it across the street where we add other ingredients and package it with nitrogen flushing for a long shelf life.
“The MANA factory currently employs 55 local Georgia workers and turns out more than 32,000 packets per hour, enough to feed 11,000 starving children per day. In all, we’ve made 150 million packets since we started, and we’ve treated 1.4 million children with our product,” touts Moore.
MANA has two primary clients: the United Nations (UNICEF) and the U. S. government (USAID).
“We’re part of the supply chain. Tenders come out from these two clients and we seek to be the company that fills those orders.” There are three other companies in the U. S. that make RUTF. The U.S. government is one of the biggest funders of the product.
“UNICEF and USAID have wide distribution networks and established reputations in our target countries to make sure that MANA ends up in the right hands,” describes Moore. “They partner with local governments or non-governmental organizations working on the ground.”
MANA has shipped RUTF to 35 countries, including Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Chad, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, and Guatemala, to name a few.
The need for RUTF is enormous, but the marketplace has its limits. “As a business, we have very little power in the market; we tend to just respond to it,” says Moore, explaining that the U. S. and UNICEF budgets together are capped at about $160 million. “But it’s a billion dollar problem.
“No business wants to have just one or two customers,” explains Moore. “If UNICEF couldn’t buy our product for some reason, it would be bad for us right now,…and more importantly bad for kids. We’re trying to plan ahead for the future and hedge against changes that might adversely affect both our business and the kids we serve such as changes from an election that might cut budgets.”
Through the establishment of a new non profit organization in 2014, Moore’s team has developed a way to generate more funds for MANA and pump out more RUTF. It’s known as Calorie Cloud (www.caloriecloud.org) and it trades on the enormous fitness and weight loss market in America—a $100 billion industry—to generate money for starving children.
MANA works with American corporations to provide incentives for a more fit and healthy labor force which, in turn, reduces insurance and health care costs. Corporations happily share in their savings by using a small percentage of those saving to produce RUTF.
“The whole world is in a battle with a dysfunctional relationship with food. In the U.S. that manifests in obesity,” says Moore. “We thought, ‘What if we could go to these people and ask them to give us their extra calories, and then we turn around and give those calories to a hungry child?’ That’s a big deal…a real incentive to losing weight and keeping it off. It’s a win-win-win for hungry children, MANA, and corporations.”
Moore believes the Calorie Cloud concept has huge potential. The Calorie Cloud platform already has one large partner in UNICEF US fund, where they have launched UNICEF Kid Power, billed as the first ever wearable for good platform. Kid Power is an effort to fight childhood obesity and inactivity in the USA and malnutrition in Africa as well.
The bands are in Target Stores and are backed by great partners like Star Wars and Lucas Films. Moore points out, “The Kid Power launch is proof of the wider concept, that people right here in the USA can get active and help others.”
After graduating from Harding University, a small Christian college in Arkansas, Moore lived in eastern Uganda for nine years serving with his wife as missionaries.
“Because my wife is a registered nurse, we tended to see a lot of people needing health care. Malnutrition was not our reason for being in Uganda, but we certainly saw malnourished children. Looking back we saw them every day and many times did not even know it.
Upon returning to the United States, he earned a master’s degree at Georgetown University and then served as a Legislative Fellow and Africa Specialist in the United States Senate. It was there that Moore was exposed to food aid issues and first learned about RUTF.
Moore started MANA with the help of friends Bret Raymond, David Todd Harmon and Brett Biggs. Biggs now serves on the board, Harmon leads the MANA operational team and Raymond championed acceptability studies and other efforts in Rwanda before starting another hunger-related non-profit in Arkansas.
Moore chose Charlotte as the company’s headquarters, relatively close to the Fitzgerald factory. A main consideration was the accessibility to a major airport. Moore now lives in Charlotte with his wife and four children.
In the beginning, raising the money was tough, according to Moore. The Halbert Harmon Foundation provided $1 million. The people of Fitzgerald, Ga., wanted the jobs so they backed the effort by assisting on a $2 million loan. The biggest funder was the Children’s Investment Fund in London, which provided $13 million dollars in loans and grants.
MANA is still growing strong. A new construction project is in the works will expand their Georgia factory from 35,000 to 50,000 square feet. Production there will double within three years time, according to Moore.
MANA won’t solve the problem of world hunger. But it will help a desperate mother feed her starving child. And to that mother, and that child, that means everything.
“I love my job,” says Moore. “It’s an honor to go to work every day and know we are making a difference. Someday, we hope, the scientists and the economists and the politicians will find a comprehensive solution to the problem of world hunger. And we hope that day comes soon. But until then…there’s MANA.”
MANA Nutritive Aid Products, Inc. dba
130 Library Lane
Matthews, N.C. 28105
Principal: Mark Moore, Founder and CEO
Locations: Headquartered in Charlotte; facility in Fitzgerald, Ga.
Employees: 5 in Charlotte; 55 in Fitzgerald, Ga.
Business: Nonprofit manufacturer and distributor of ready-to-use therapeutic food to the global marketplace.