Edesia: The Goddess of Food is Intervening to Fight Irreversible Damage in Africa
Climate change in Africa has led to widespread malnutrition across the continent. Edesia, a Rhode Island based non-for-profit with limited resources, looks to maximize its production of nutritional supplements in order to help alleviate the impact of this humanitarian crisis.
Africa, a rapidly changing landscape…
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that Africa will be the most vulnerable region to warming temperatures globally. The increasingly unpredictable and erratic nature of weather systems have placed an immense burden on food security and have emerged as a major impediment to agriculture development on the continent. Projections of crop yield indicate a reduction of up to 50%, with crop revenue forecast to fall as much as 90%, by the year 2100. Simply put, climate change will lead to less food availability and lower income for the millions of people in Africa that rely on farming for their livelihood.1
Intervention from the Gods…
In 2005, Navyn Salem, a Rhode Island mother of four, watched an Anderson Cooper segment on a revolutionary food called Plumpy’Nut that was saving the lives of severely malnourished children in Niger. This segment hit home for Navyn after witnessing the same problems amongst children living in her father’s country Tanzania. By 2009 Salem had founded Edesia, a non-for-profit named after the Greek Goddess of Food, that became the first producer and exporter of Plumpy’Nut in the United States.2
Plumpy’Nut is a peanut-butter like nutritional supplement packed with micronutrients, which provide the essential vitamins and minerals needed by children for physical growth. Receiving these micronutrients allow a child faced with malnutrition, and on the brink of death, to recover to stable health within a seven-week timeframe.3 Aside from fatality, another catastrophic issue of children not receiving micronutrients is their inability to develop mental capacity, which has an irreversible effect.2 Because Plumpy’Nut is a ready- to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), it doesn’t require fresh water or refrigeration, which are unavailable in Africa’s developing regions.4 This has allowed Edesia to deliver its RUTFs to over 4 million malnourished children since the organization’s inception in 2009.5
Climate change has already hit development in rural Africa extremely hard. Variations in temperature and precipitation are causing droughts and heatwaves, which have led to an increase in pests and lower soil fertility levels.7 The impact of this was exemplified by a 30% reduction in crop yields and famines in 2010, 2011, and 2016.8 The conditions have contributed to the number of undernourished people in Africa climbing from 182 million to 232 million over the past ten years, with the expectation to increase in the years to come.9 This leaves Edesia with an insurmountable challenge, how does it use its limited resources to get Plumpy’Nut into the hands of as many children as possible?
Increased efficiency is a life or death matter…
During my interview with Navyn Salem, she stated that the organization’s main constraint is its annual operating budget, which has grown from $2 million in 2009 to its current level of $30 million.10 Despite this increase, Edesia’s annual production levels are consistently restricted by its access to funding. Therefore, Salem looks to free up capital for the generation of incremental volume by increasing efficiencies in the production process, as every box shipped represents the potential to save a human life. Edesia has been able to mitigate some of its operational challenges by taking the following strategic actions:
Continuing the fight…
I recommend that Edesia take the following actions to further its goal of increasing production volume and maximizing efficiency:
- Gain Access to Additional Funding: Based on the Edesia’s recent success in receiving donations linked to consumer brand sales, the organization could amplify this effort by partnering with large US Food producers such as General Mills and Mondelez. These types of companies would benefit from positive public sentiment generated by making a social impact through the organization
- Increase Expertise in Commodity Markets: In 2015, Edesia’s largest annual operating expense of ~$15 million was related to the purchase of commodities (primarily ingredients and packaging materials).11 The organization states that it could generate significant cost savings if it became more sophisticated in making these purchases. Therefore, I suggest it looks to hire a procurement officer with experience in the food industry. This action has the potential to increase gross margins, allowing additional capital to be reinvested in production. I also believe that the incremental salary expense would be more than offset by realized cost savings
- Vertical Integration: Another opportunity for Edesia to lower production costs is for the purchase of an in-house peanut roasting machine. Currently ~$2m per year is spent on a third-party that roasts peanuts so they can be used in the production of Plumpy’Nut.11 Moving this process in-house, will allow Edesia to receive direct peanut shipments from suppliers and reduce expenses paid for ancillary services
With the humanitarian crisis in Africa expected to intensify, what else can be done by Edesia to strengthen its position in the fight against malnutrition?
1. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “Climate Change in Africa: The Threat to Africa” ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/ak915e/ak915e00.pdf
2. CCTV America, “Navyn Salem: Peanuts Saving Lives”
3. Edesia Nutrition, “Malnutrition Facts”
4. This Bar Saves Lives, “What We Give”
5. Edesia Nutrition, “In times of crisis, Edesia’s ready-to-use foods have a life-changing impact”
6. Image Credits: Edesia Nutrition
7. Harvard Business School, “Indigo Agriculture Case Study”
8. Harvard Business School, “Climate Change is a Threat – and an Opportunity – for the Private Sector”
9. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, “State of Food Insecurity in the World”
10. Forbes, “Technology’s Role in Ending Child Hunger: Edesia and SAP Business One”
11. Interview with Navyn Salem (11/2/16)
Student comments on Edesia: The Goddess of Food is Intervening to Fight Irreversible Damage in Africa
Super interesting and touching article, made me feel very uncomfortable realizing that Africa suffers the most from a problem caused mainly by the modern world.
I find this company very inspiring: the product itself, the cooperation with organizations like the UN and the fact Salem leverages the challenges of the organization to contribute more by hiring refugees. This is amazing.
On the other hand, looking at the solution, this is obviously not a solution that will be accepted to help children in wealthy countries (in theory), since this is still not substitute for a proper and healthy nutrition. Aren’t those kind of solution preserves the legitimacy of governments not to provide Africa with “actual” answers, those that fall under the standards of the western world – produce actual crops and food as any other place in the world, and provide African children the full nutrition they deserve?
I think it is interesting that malnutrition is not necessarily related to lack of food, but bad nutrients (ie. parts of Sub-Saharan Africa don’t have access to diversity of nutrients). Finding about this endeavor is fantastic! It would be interesting to not only consider the impact on African continent, but what Salem can do locally to minimize carbon footprint. It could start with production (you mention vertical integration, which is awesome and the question is what type of roasting machine they would use), transportation (how can we minimize shipping) etc.
As the organization is growing, it would be also interesting to target the malnutrition issue at a macro level: how can they partner up with governments to 1. deploy the products 2. educate farmers 3.helping the government to adapt to these new challenges (acknowledging that this is not part of the core operating business).
Awesome job! truly truly inspiring article!
Tim, thanks for the inspiring post. I really appreciated that you took time to interview the founder. One thing that struck me while reading your post is that climate change will not only exacerbate the problem Edesia is trying to solve, but it could also drive supply chain issues for Plumpy’Nut. This article (https://www.climate.gov/news-features/climate-and/climate-peanut-butter) talks about how climate change-induced droughts could reduce peanut yields. Is this something you think Edesia should be thinking about and/or planning for?
This is very interesting. I agree with your recommendations so far as gaining additional funding and increasing expertise in additional markets. While Plumpy’Nut has deemed to be very successful, I wonder whether the organization itself can invest funds to research alternative ingredients with similar nutritional benefits. For example, instead of nut based products, I wonder whether investigating lentil or bean based alternatives may help mitigate issues related to procurement and forecasting given challenges of climate change.