NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — With the coronavirus pandemic taking a toll across the globe, a Rhode Island company that makes ready-to-use food for malnourished children is gearing up to meet an expected spike in demand.
Edesia Nutrition, a nonprofit social enterprise named after the Roman goddess of food, has invested $500,000 in a new production line that will allow it to produce another 324,000 packets per day of Plumpy’Nut, a fortified peanut paste that treats severe malnutrition in places like Chad and Sudan.
The pandemic is wreaking havoc on the economies in developing countries, driving millions of people to the brink of starvation, founder and CEO Navyn Salem said.
“It’s a life or death situation in those areas,” Salem said. “So this critical food aid is even more essential to keeping people alive and healthy.”
On Thursday, the deputy administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Bonnie Glick, took a tour of the Edesia factory in the Quonset Business Park.
Glick said USAID is planning for the secondary impacts of COVID-19, which is destroying economies, forcing people to migrate, and leaving many people without reliable access to food. She credited Salem with being “almost prophetic” in taking steps to prepare for the coming crisis.
“She is not sounding like Cassandra — she is sounding like a realist,” Glick said. “The needs will increase, and let’s plan for that.”
She underscored the importance of providing foreign assistance in the face of a global crisis.
“If we have learned nothing else from COVID, we have learned that the world is a very fluid place and borders are porous,” Glick said. “What happens here impacts the world, and what happens in the rest of the world impacts the United States. So the more assistance we can provide to the rest of the world, the more limited the impacts are on the United States.”
Salem said the new production line will provide food products both within the United States and in countries around the world. For example, Edesia provides peanut butter products that are distributed across the West Coast to school food programs and food banks.
Edesia had $41 million in contracts with USAID last year and $20 million in contracts so far this year.
Glick said Edesia is one of USAID’s most important partners in protecting the lives of infants and young children with nutritional supplements. She said that during her tour, she saw a sign in the factory that tallies the number of lives saved by Edesia products, and that number now stands at 12 million.
“That is concrete,” Glick said. “You can point to 12 million children who are not only alive but are thriving because of early interventions in their nutrition.”
On Friday, Glick plans to visit the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She will discuss some of the ongoing partnerships between USAID and MIT, including innovative pilot projects to track humanitarian aid and use solar-powered recycling to reduce packaging waste.
Salem said Edesia will be hiring seven new employees as it ramps up production. Candidates can apply online.