By Jennifer Browning
The final pieces are being put in place to finalize the Akamil Production Facility in Thomonde. Ground breaking began June 2007 for the construction of the facility, but construction and final equipment installment was delayed after the January 12 earthquake. When production begins, it will mean so much to rural Haiti and those Project Medishare serves in the commune of Thomonde.
Three years ago Center for Disease Control (CDC) Senior Fellow Mike Kaiser met with then Project Medishare Executive Director Ellen Powers and began brainstorming about producing Akamil, a fortified nutritious supplement created by locally grown ingredients. Since then, with the combined support of Project Medishare President Dr. Barth A. Green, Co-founder Dr. Arthur Fournier, Country Director Marie Chery along with numerous supporters, the production facility became more and more of a viable reality. Today, Kaiser and Chery are putting the final touches to the plan.
The CDC’s role in the project is to research and document whether the Akamil project is successful or not.
Kaiser said the Akamil Production Facility is a great grassroots effort and supports Project Medishare’s mission in the Central Plateau.
“It has the value of creating jobs for the farmers……and you are going to fortify something they like to eat, instead of something you are trying to make them eat,” Kaiser said. “[Akamil] is an indigenous food that [the people] already like and know.”
Akamil when mixed becomes a porridge that people can mix sugar and fruit with in the morning or can mix with salt, vegetables and meat in the evening.
“It becomes a staple food that can be fully nutritious, but the full-circle idea is that you are creating jobs for the farmers to then grow the crops and they now know that someone will purchase the crops if they grow more than what they need for just themselves,” Kaiser said. “The Akamil plant can buy it from them.”
To help make the Akamil project successful, the University of Florida provided technical assistance through Project Medishare’s agriculture extention agents by providing training at Project Medishare’s demonstration farm and local farms around the community.
But Kaiser pointed out that it isn’t just the community farmers who benefit from Akamil. Women in the community, benefit as well.
“The other part is that you are creating jobs in the factory, creating jobs in the sale and distribution of the product,” he said. “We’ve talked about microlending with women—creating opportunities for women, which is a real big deal in Haiti, because right now the women don’t have the rights and the respectability that they deserve.”
Kaiser added not only will Akamil benefit the community Project Medishare serves, but more importantly, that same community fully supports the project.
“The enthusiasm that has been generated locally is incredible,” Kaiser said. “This is all being done locally.”
The sale of Akamil doesn’t stop in the commune of Thomonde.
“The international community has said they will purchase Akamil to use in school feeding programs,” Kaiser said, “and thanks to all the donors who have contributed to this project, there is no overhead and the plant will be able to produce and sell the product at cost as a not-for-profit enterprise.”
One of those contributors is DSM who has donated the vitamin-fortified pre-mix for the Akamil product.
The pre-mix for Akamil contains Vitamin A and B complex (Thiamin B2, b12), Iron and Zinc making it a complete formula that can be consumed by the whole family from children to adults. Iron and zinc helps with anemia as well as the immuno process, and additionally these nutrients help to improve the growth rate in children.
DSM manager Marienella Mendez said her company became involved with Medishare through AzkoNobel, a supplier of iron. AkzoNobel contacted DSM and asked to assist Project Medishare with the vitamin supply and pre-mix.
But DSM not only decided to donate the pre-mix, they wanted to participate further by providing technical assistance.
“We wanted to participate in the complete process to be sure the pre-mix is going to be used in the right way,” Mendez said. “We have a social responsibility with our products. We need to make sure that the people taking these vitamins that their bodies are absorbing them the right way. We have the responsibility to ensure the product is being used correctly. In order to obtain the right product we are helping make sure that the vitamins and minerals are created at the right levels.”
After this Mendez and DSM will join Kaiser and the CDC in formulating a nutrition survey, which will be managed by Project Medishare’s community health agents.
Mendez said the goal is first to give Akamil to 300 families and six month later these same families go in for blood tests to monitor the levels of iron and other nutrients. Community health agents will continue to test the families once a month to monitor nutrition levels. Afterward, Akamil will be offered to the whole community and will also be available for other NGOs to purchase for their programs.
Mendez said the nutritional survey is an important part of the process.
“This kind of test has to be done to sort of close the circle because when the kids or the families eat the Akamil we need to ensure the levels are good for them and will produce positive changes in their body and in their metabolism,” she said. “This helps us continue to make sure the right levels of the vitamins end up in the body and actually helps improve their nutrition.”
The nutritional surveys, according to Kaiser, are an essential part of Akamil’s business plan. And thanks to AutoGov and Motion Computer for donating data software, Blackberry’s and digital tablets, information collected by the community health agents will be available immediately.
“That information is creating electronic medical records which can be communicated to the local doctors, local clinics and it is immediately provided to the Ministry of Health,” Kaiser said. “People don’t have to wait two or three years for the results of a nutrition survey, which is typically how it is done. All of this information will be available immediately thanks to AutoGov and Motion Computing.”
In addition to the local medical community having instant access to information, the Ministry of Health will also receive these electronic medical records.
“[The Ministry of Health] are really excited that they are going to receive electronic medical records and they are going to have this way to collect information,” Kaiser said. “For Medishare, because we have done this nutrition survey, someone else can come in and conduct future health surveys because all to the equipment is there.”
“And now they are collecting their own data, and they don’t have to rely on the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to collect it for them, which always takes time,” Kaiser said. “Now [the Haitian people] can do it themselves, if we can teach them….and they can, and this is happening right here. We really are taking this concept of don’t give them a fish, but teach them to fish. That is what we are really doing from the beginning.”
Kaiser, who is conducting research on grassroot approaches in problematic countries, like Haiti, said Akamil is a perfect example of how a grassroots community effort can be successful.
“The idea is if you can’t go into a developing country and work top-down [through the government], then what about going in and working bottom-up? You go in and you focus on a single community,” Kaiser said.
Mendez agreed saying the sustainable nature of the project is special.
“With this project you involve the local community, the international community and private industry all together in a project that has sustainability,” Mendez said. “It is difficult to find projects like this that involves the entire community.”
Kaiser added that the community leadership and involvement in the project amazed him.
“The community leadership and the community involvement in this project is something we didn’t count on,” he said. “They did a lot of work. Here we saw self-determination where people take on the problem as their own and want to solve it themselves, not because they were told to…and not because the international community comes in and does it for them, but because they want to solve it themselves. This whole grassroots approach is very cost effective when people understand that it is their problem. They try to solve it, and they find the resources locally.”
Project Medishare’s grassroots efforts regarding the Akamil Production Facility have been supported by private donors, Nick Caporella, MaxCorp, the Port-au-Prince based support group, South Florida Rotary Clubs, and Rotary International.
The Akamil Production Facility is scheduled to open in February.