Malnutrition: Vitamin A Weaning Formula To The Rescue
MALNUTRITION is an acute health challenge in developing countries, and has been described as a raging silent crisis. The condition not only limits the growth and development of children, it impacts on their wellbeing and ability to contribute meaningfully to society later in life. In Nigeria, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimates that about 2300 children die daily from malnutrition, an indices that is alarming and calls for urgent attention.
While government may be looking for a grand design to tackle the menace, Victor Sylvanus Udoh, is determined to take on the crisis head-on, starting from his home state, Akwa-Ibom. He runs Vig and Berry Production Company, which makes pro vitamin A weaning formula for children.
Alarmed by the effects of malnutrition, he decided to tap into the nutritional content of vitamin A cassava to produce what he hopes would “tackle the challenge of malnutrition.”
“I went into business because I wanted to explore the opportunities in vitamin A cassava. It gave me the idea for the formula. Having a food that is high in vitamins and minerals and that satisfies hidden hunger is tremendous gift to our communities. My primary focus is the children, most of whom are malnourished. I saw vitamin A cassava as a solution to that challenge,” he averred.
He said he has vitamin A cassava as the major ingredient for the formula, adding, “The ratio of vitamin A cassava that goes into the weaning formula depends on the volume of the production. I usually have a ratio of 1 to 2 to 3, combining it with cereal and other grains. I use vitamin A cassava as the sweetener and also as the major source of vitamin A. Besides that, the colour of the vitamin A flour enhances the colour of the finished product; it makes it more appealing. Many mothers say their children like how the product looks.”
The major production activity required, according to him, is to make the product into the required standard and also reduce the anti-nutrients in the cereals and grains used in fortifying the formula.
“When we use soybeans, we fry it before we add it to the baby weaning formula. We also balance it with other food substances such as protein, carbohydrate and vitamins,” he said.
He has had to compete with conventional, artificial weaning formulas, but has devised a clear cut marketing strategy to win over pregnant and nursing mothers, cashing on the demand for natural, cheaper products.
“The response to the product has been encouraging. Many parents complain that their children do not like artificial food substances, so they needed something natural. We take the products to health centers to introduce them to pregnant mothers when they come for antenatal classes. This is to tune their reasoning towards what they should use. We made them understand that the inputs are purely organic and that we don’t add any artificial substance,” he said.
On the economics around the product, he said, “We grow the vitamin A cassava, which reduces the cost of production and makes the profit margin very high. In every one ton we produce, we make at least 30 percent profit. So, it is highly encouraging. In fact, with N10,000 investment, one can make about N20,000 profit.
“The product is sold in Lagos and Port Harcourt. We send it to them and, in some instances, where they want to get into the production, we have been invited to train people in those states.
The market is available, in as much as babies are born every day. Though the economy is tough and people may find it difficult going for the more expensive artificial products, which goes for about N1000, ours goes for N500 for 1kg. Depending on the eating habit of the child, it lasts for 10 days to one to two weeks.”
He said the business is designed a manner that allows it to easily scale up and expand to accommodate more people in the production, as marketers and others involved in the chain of production are encouraged to learn how to make the product, noting, “everyone is carried along. The marketers are not only mandated to sell to people; they are encouraged to learn how to make the weaning formula.
But Udoh is not only seeking to conquer the Nigerian market. After attending exhibitions and placing the product on the Internet, he has gotten requests for linkages with some International Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) involved with nutrition.
“We want to improve on the packaging and get nod from the National Food and Drug Administration and Control Agency (NAFDAC). We also want to address issues of packaging working with our partners. With those, we would be on the right pedestal to scale up and meet international demands,” he said.