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Investing in nutrition gains a lifetime of returns on human capital for children in war-torn Yemen

A healthy productive life requires adequate nutrition. Yet around the world, millions of people are undernourished and hungry.

Since the outbreak of civil war in Yemen in 2015, malnutrition in the Middle Eastern country has reached critically unprecedented levels. According to UNICEF, the United Nations’ children program, nearly a half a million Yemeni children are currently suffering from malnutrition and another 2.2 million people require urgent care.

Severe acute malnutrition, the depletion of the human body from a lack of food and nutrients, has quickly become one of the most common causes of death for children across Yemen. There is an urgent need for more supplies of therapeutic food that could help save some of these young lives.

In a factory on the outskirts of Nairobi, Insta Products, produces ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF), a high calorie fortified peanut based food product. The product is made from a mix of peanut paste, milk powder, sugar, vitamins and minerals and is packaged in life-saving individual sachets that deliver a powerful 500 kilocalories to those suffering from acute malnutrition.

Insta sells these sachets to relief organizations including UNICEF, which distribute RUTF in conflict affected areas and other emergency zones, particularly across the East African region and Yemen. Insta is currently the only manufacturer of RUTF in East Africa, and a top five supplier to UNICEF globally. 

In 2016, IFC made a $7 million investment in Insta Products to help the company expand its RUTF capacity, and more than double its sales on the back of an increased supply. The $7 million loan, half of which was contributed by IFC and the other half through the Private Sector Window of GAFSP, will be supported by an additional $4 million loan from IFU, a Danish government fund.

This investment will help support timely delivery of 310,000 additional cartons of RUTF and help treat 300,000 more people from acute malnutrition. Coming on the back of another Private Sector Window nutrition investment in AIFL Rwanda, a fortified cereals manufacturer, this latest investment represents an exciting expansion for GAFSP into the nutrition space.

Nutrition is fundamental to an individual’s cognitive and physical growth, and is also the cornerstone of all development efforts, whether improving education, health, income or equality, at home or abroad.

Increased RUTF capacity through GAFSP will help Insta reach more children and help prevent stunted growth and vitamin deficiency, which can harm cognitive development, learning capabilities and economic productivity into adulthood, reinforcing the cycle of poverty.

GAFSP’s investment in Insta is an investment in “gray matter infrastructure”—the young brains of children. It will ultimately be as important for national and global economic growth, as is investing in roads, schools and ports.

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