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close this bookFood Chain No. 08 - March 1993 (ITDG, 1993, 16 p.)
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View the documentTargeting the vulnerable Malawi
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Targeting the vulnerable Malawi

A project arising out of a joint World Food Programme/Ministry of Health initiative in Malawi and funded by the Dutch Government is producing food supplements for 1400 malnourished children each year, and a market for local farmers' maize and soya beans. Dr John Knowles describes the weaning food Sister Trinitas development for children under her care at Likuni hospital.

One of the World Food Programme's (WEP) objectives in the tiny land-locked country of Malawi is to supplement the food intake of vulnerable groups. Children, one of the targeted groups, receive the supplements through the Integrated Family Health Clinics: the project aims to provide 6kg of supplement to each child each month.

In Ekwendeni, the local Ministry of Health authorized the construction of a production unit at Likuni Hospital, to meet this food supplement target The unit's design is based on one developed by the Royal Tropical Institute in the Netherlands, which has been copied in many parts of Africa. The total cost of the building was £16,500, the equipment cost an additional £10,300 and production began under the corregated roof in May 1991.

The food supplement, called likuni phala, is given to malnourished children under five and ocher children at risk as determined by the fact that their weight remains static for more clan three months. The production unit can produce some 100 tons of likuni phala per annum; sufficient supplement for 1400 children for a year.

In the short term the output will be used to reduce distribution costs of the WFP programme. In the longer term the project is expected to improve self sufficiency, generate employment and stimulate farmers to produce more maize and soya beans around Ekwendeni.

Figure 1

At present seven staff work in the unit: a working manager, clerk/storekeeper/worker, handyman/miller, three workers and a watchman. Five of the staff are female, in line with the project's policy to improve opportunities for women.

The formulation used to make likuni phala varies a little depending on the availability of raw materials In 1987 the hospital used to make the product by manually mixing eight units of maize to one unit of groundnuts and one unit of soya beans. This was then taken to a local mill for grinding. The product was not roasted, which meant that anti-nutritional factors in the soya were not destroyed, and the food had to be used within three weeks or it developed a rancid flavour.


Now due to a lack of groundnuts, eight parts of maize are mixed with two parts of soya beans. This gives a food with a slightly different nutritional value; lower in energy and fat but higher in protein. A typical analysis is shown in figure 1.


Raw materials are either bought uncleaned from farmers or cleaned from a merchant

Cleaned material costs 20 per cent more than uncleaned. It is then stored in a pest-proof building in which fumigation can be carried out if any infestation is found.

Figure 2

After winnowing, the maize and soya are hand cleaned, and any foreign matter removed. They are then gently roasted in revolving drums over a wood fire for 20 minutes. This is an important step because the heat inactivates an anti-trypsinogen factor which, if present, can result in poor digestion of the protein in the food by making part of it unavailable for absorption Heating also inactivates enzymes which cause the development of rancidity in the fat in the product.

After heating, the product is milled and then packed into either 3kg bags or 25kg paper sacks with liners. A 3kg bag provides a standard supplement for a malnourished child for two weeks (i.e. 200g/day) under the WFP. The product will last six months if stored under good conditions.


The cost of producing likuni phala is £0.22 per kg. Previously, supplies were brought in from Blantyre, some 700kms away and, due to transport costs and other factors, were up to ten times more expensive. In general, about 50 per cent of the total cost is for the purchase of raw materials. A typical cost breakdown is shown in figure 2.


We see the main benefit to be that the hospital can now produce its own supplies of weaning food and have a constant supply for distribution to malnourished children Farmers are also benefiting by being paid the full price for the soya beans they grow; about 15 per cent more than they normally receive.

We know that one day the WFP must stop; it has been running for 17 years and has helped Malawi avoid a dramatic worsening of the nutritional situation of the children. Malawi has seen a rapid increase in population which has doubled in the last 18 years, and children in rural areas continue to be some 10cm smaller than their friends from higher income groups in urban areas Such stunting, affecting 50-60 per cent of children has, according to Government statistics, remained constant for the last 10 years.

At least we can now produce a low cost, nutritional supplement using simple methods that can help combat child malnourishment in our country without having to depend on outside help.