In my work leading USAID’s global nutrition project, Strengthening Partnerships, Results, and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING), diverse partnerships are key to lasting improvements in global nutrition. Over the past six years, we’ve partnered with agricultural training institutes, local mothers’ support groups, health facilities, and government ministries to reduce malnutrition from many different angles. But in Ghana, our project was in the sweet spot of a public-private partnership between USAID, the NGO Project Peanut Butter, and The Hershey Company to provide protein-packed foods to school children.
Ghana is the second-largest cocoa producer in the world and needs a strong workforce to produce and export the cash crop to companies like Hershey’s, one of the world’s largest chocolate makers. However, nearly 33 percent of children in Northern Ghana are stunted or short for their age—an indicator of malnutrition that can have lasting physical and cognitive effects on the adult population. SPRING promoted infant and young child nutrition and improved hygiene in the first 1,000 days between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday in 15 districts in the Northern and Upper East Regions. Although school-age children are generally beyond the 1,000-day window, we recognize that for many of these children, a daily meal at school can mean not only better nutrition and health, but also increased access to and achievement in education.
As a USAID corporate partner, Hershey’s provides nutritional supplements made from groundnuts (think peanuts) to school children in six districts in Ghana, as part of the Ghana School Feeding Program. In September 2017, SPRING helped launch the use of highly specialized groundnut processing equipment for efficient shelling and roasting of large quantities of groundnuts. Although we are a multi-sectoral nutrition implementation program, our role in this partnership was to procure the various components of the equipment while conforming with U.S. government regulations—a complicated process that took more than two years to come to fruition! Project Peanut Butter, Hershey’s local partner in Ghana, will use the nut roasting equipment to boost production of ready-to-use therapeutic food and safe and nutritious supplement for schoolchildren.
This activity is tied to the communities of northern Ghana that SPRING served. While groundnuts are readily grown in Ghana’s climate, they are susceptible to aflatoxins—toxic compounds caused by mold that grows when groundnuts are not properly harvested, dried, or stored. When consumed, aflatoxins can cause serious illness and affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, resulting in poor nutrition even when diets are well-balanced.
To decrease aflatoxin contamination, SPRING trained nearly 20,000 mostly female farmers in safe management of groundnuts through farmer field schools. One participant from each farmer field school group donated a plot of land so that the sessions could take place on a farm and participants could practice their new skills, including pre-harvest best practices such as site selection, planting, and weeding, as well as harvest and post-harvest techniques like proper handling, drying, and storing.
SPRING-supported efforts in these farming communities pave the way for high-quality groundnuts for local consumption and eventually for export to international markets. For Hershey’s, investing in better nutrition will result in a strong workforce in the future to source Ghana’s cocoa, the country’s leading cash crop. SPRING’s training taught families to spend a portion of the cash raised through groundnuts on health, food, and care—a critical step to ensure a sustainable cycle of improved nutrition.