January 9, 2014

Meet the Experts: Navyn Salem

Navyn Salem is the founder and Executive Director of Edesia, a non-profit producer of Plumpy’Nut and other peanut-based, ready-to-use nutritious foods used to treat and prevent childhood malnutrition. Since March 2010, Edesia has reached 1.6 million malnourished children in 36 countries. We sat down with Navyn to learn more about her efforts to end malnutrition around the world.

Could you describe your work with Edesia?
We make a range of products that are used to treat the whole spectrum of malnutrition—from treatment of the severest cases of malnutrition to prevention of undernutrition. We try to intervene with targeted solutions that address specific nutritional deficiencies. For instance, we work on preventive programs in countries like Guatemala, where stunting, or chronic undernutrition, is a problem. We also work on initiatives that address emergencies such as in the Philippines or in other natural disaster areas.

What is in Plumpy'Nut?
Plumpy'Nut is a fortified peanut paste, made from peanuts, milk powder, sweet whey, vegetable oil, sugar, vitamins, and minerals. It effectively treats a child with severe acute malnutrition in four to ten weeks, for a cost of about $50. It is revolutionary because it does not need to be mixed with water or refrigerated, two things that are very difficult to come by in developing countries. Plumpy’Nut can also be distributed to mothers so that they can treat their children at home.

Why is nutritional intervention so critical for children especially within the first 1,000 days?
Relatively small investments in good, adequate nutrition in the first 1,000 days of life yield extraordinary benefits, because children's brains and bodies are given a chance to develop normally. A healthy child is more likely to succeed in school, which eventually leads to a job and more earning potential for life.

How do you partner with other companies and groups to empower local communities?
We are a member of the PlumpyField Network, which was organized by the French company Nutriset several years ago. Nutriset and Edesia produce Plumpy'Nut for export, and assist businesses in developing countries to produce Plumpy'Nut in the areas hardest hit by malnutrition, including Sudan, Haiti, India, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Niger. There are nine factories now operating in developing countries, creating important economic opportunities for local workers and farmers. Edesia provides technical and procurement support to our network partners when needed, and we frequently share best practices with each other through forums and meetings.

What are some of the unique challenges that your company and others in the PlumpyField Network face?
In a business driven by humanitarian emergencies, one of the biggest challenges we face is being unable to accurately forecast demand. With the natural ebb and flow of our business, we take on a lot of risk, and managing production flows requires some measure of creativity on everyone's part. Quality control is also a big concern, and we all work very hard to ensure our products are absolutely safe for children here at home and in developing countries. With customers such as UNICEF, the World Food Program, and USAID the quality controls are extremely rigorous yet attainable when given the right guidance, tools, and techniques.

What are some new and exciting projects that you are working on currently?
Edesia is very focused on innovation, and I think this is what sets us apart. We work with Nutriset in this arena as well. Last year we researched and developed a new product for schoolchildren ages 4 to 11. We trialed it in schools recently in Haiti and are now awaiting results. We are also about to launch a new product that will provide nourishment to pregnant and lactating mothers.

About Navyn Salem
Navyn Salem is the founder and Executive Director of Edesia. In 2012, Navyn was named New England Business Woman of the Year by Bryant University, received the Roger E. Joseph Prize from Hebrew Union College for being an outstanding humanitarian, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in social sciences from Boston College, her Alma Mater. In 2013, Navyn received an honorary degree in business administration from Bryant University.


The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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