Market exists to turn hunger into '$10bn opportunity'
THE world's hungry people may not seem like an investment opportunity, but that is exactly how Irish nutrition expert Dr Steve Collins wants them to be seen.
Dr Collins, who has been a key figure behind the development and expansion of "ready-to-use" foods (RUFs) in the developing world, is in talks with leading multinational companies as he seeks $2m (€1.4m) in working capital for his latest venture. It will be a non-profit business, with earnings re-invested in the programme, but it will be a business. As Dr Collins controversially puts it, hunger is a $10bn (€7.1bn) opportunity.
"It is not just about hunger, but malnutrition," he says. "Many malnourished people are not in extreme poverty. They have mobile phones. They pay for food, but they get the wrong food."
Statistics show that some 240 million people suffer from serious malnutrition, with a further 60 million not receiving the nutrition they require. Dr Collins believes the best way to get RUFs to them is to use existing trading patterns in villages, towns and cities.
"It should be delivered as if they are customers, not recipients of charity," Dr Collins says. "Some will require subsidies because they cannot afford to pay, but the principle should be the same."
"People can't spend 30 days in a feeding centre until they or their children have been properly treated. If we can use the existing distribution methods, they can buy RUFs in their own villages. They can already get detergents or Coca-Cola this way. That is the network we want to use," Dr Collins says.
His own company, Valid Nutrition, developed an RUF based on milk, oil, sugar and peanut paste. Use of such products has almost quadrupled in the last three years to more than 35,000 tonnes per year.
"Most of the production is based in France. It is a commercial business, so there is a lost opportunity for long-term benefits to the African economy," he says. "We are establishing production in Africa and there may also be opportunities for the Irish dairy industry. I have been talking to them."
"Good nutrition for children under three is an investment which both governments and large companies should be interested in. Because of better brain development, the research shows that children who got good nutrition have a 40pc higher earning capacity than those who didn't," he says.
"The multinationals are beginning to be interested. We have to show them the evidence that the market is there."