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Justin Smith worked as a journalist before joining WFP in 2010. He tweets at @justin_eugene
An innovative new food product made entirely in Pakistan is helping to protect the youngest of that country’s flood victims from malnutrition. Made from locally grown chickpeas, Wawa Mumshows that supplying technical knowhow can be the key to finding local solutions to malnutrition. Watch video
ISLAMABAD— As Pakistan recovers from the floods which forced millions of people from their homes last summer, thousands of affected children are receiving the nutrition they need thanks to rations of a nutritious chickpea paste produced at factories within their own country.
The paste, designed by WFP nutritionists and called Wawa Mum, is the latest addition to WFP’s toolbox of specialised food products. It wraps a day’s worth of vitamins and nutrients into a single 50-gram serving and can be eaten straight from the packet.
“Wawa Mum has a number of advantages during emergency situations like the floods in Pakistan,” explained Dominique Frankefort, Deputy Director of WFP’s operations in Pakistan. “It’s light, you can eat it immediately and it’s made right here in Pakistan from an ingredient that people know and like.”
According to Frankefort, the idea for Wawa Mum arose out of the growing demand and tight supply of other ready-to-eat foods (RTFs) already on the market.
“At the onset of emergencies, we often have problem getting as much of these products as we need,” said Frankefort. “They’re also expensive and have to be shipped, which adds to the cost and to the amount it takes to get them where they’re needed.”
Rather than see that as a problem, Frankefort saw it as an opportunity. “The other RTFs we use are mostly peanut pastes. So it occurred to me that if we could find a similar ingredient more available in places like India and Pakistan, then we could develop our own product right where we needed it.”
“That’s tasty, mom!”
That ingredient Frankefort was looking for turned out to be the chickpea, an energy-rich legume which forms the basis of countless South Asian dishes from chana masala to humus. Roasted, ground and fortified with vitamins and minerals, the final product was a nutrition-packed baby food custom tailored to local palettes.
Its very name testifies to its popularity among the Pashtun children of northwestern Pakistan, who were fed Wawa Mum when violence along the Afghan border forced their families from their homes.
In Pashto Wawa means ‘good food’, and wawa mum is what the children would say to their mothers when they wanted some more.
A bright future
Just after Wawa Mum was developed, the catastrophic flooding across Pakistan gave rise to an urgent need for ready-to-eat foods. Six months on, three factories are now pumping out over 200 metric tons of Wawa Mum per month. That translates to around 4 million highly-nutritious meals.
But Frankefort says it’s still not enough. “We hope to raise that number to 500 metric tons by June and to 1,000 metric tons by the end of the year. In order to that, we’ll be contracting two more factories between now and December.”
That has obvious benefits for Pakistan’s food processing industry, which is creating jobs at the height of an emergency when the country needs them most.
And because Wawa Mum is produced close to where it’s needed, from an ingredient cheaply available on local markets, it costs WFP around 10 per cent less than other RTFs.