15 February 2017

Dropping the price of healthy diets: 2 SMEs that are helping to do this because it is good business

Earlier this week I was in Maputo working with the dynamic GAIN Mozambique team under the excellent leadership of Katia Santos Dias.  It was the first time I had been to Mozambique in the past 20 years and while many things have changed rapidly, the rate of stunting has changed very slowly indeed.

Why has stunting declined so slowly?  There are lots of ideas: rapid economic growth which has bypassed all but those on high incomes, high levels of corruption, El Nino of 2015-2016, the collapse of the national currency, the return of civil unrest in the north, poor donor coordination and performance, and low levels of supporting public services (for example, 75% of the population have no access to improved sanitation, only 25% of girls are enrolled in secondary school and only 1 nurse or midwife for every 2500 people—see the Global Nutrition Report for more data). 

In a context such as Mozambique, where leadership to improve nutrition is patchy, it was really refreshing to meet with two of the Marketplace for Nutritious Food grantees that GAIN works with.  

Neither of them is primarily driven by a desire to improve nutrition, but they are driven by a desire to be a successful business, and that means finding a way to get their products (meat patties and peanut butter) to a price point where even very low income families can afford them.   I took the picture (left). It is from the wall of one of the grantees and, effectively, it is their mission statement: how to get the price point of their food to a place where low income consumers at the “bottom of the pyramid” can afford them.

In a context where trust in public agencies is low, perhaps we should put more faith in supporting small and medium businesses (including farmers) as an engine of growth.  

Yes, they will have their fair share of untrustworthy characters, but I really don’t see where else widespread inclusive growth is going to come from.  If they grow, these businesses will employ more people, drive wages up, stimulate the demand for other products, eventually generate more tax revenue to spend on public services and, if they are producing foods that are compatible with a healthy diet, they will improve nutrition status.

It seems to me that a key priority for the Government of Mozambique and their development partners is to make it easier for businesses to do business, finding the businesses that want to do positive things for nutrition—and then backing them.

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