Primary school, Plumpy Nut and peri-peri sauce in Malawi

Today, we made some site visits in Blantyre, Malawi to learn more about the country’s efforts in education, the challenges facing small-to-medium size businesses and a public-private partnership that produces a nutritious peanut butter paste to combat malnutrition.

We began our day at Nsoni Primary and Secondary Schools. The secondary school was recently renovated as part of a joint project by the Ministry of Education and the African Development Fund to improve infrastructure, including classrooms, libraries, water and sanitation, teacher homes and power supply. Managed by Malawi’s Ministry of Education, the project covers 60 schools, or 10 percent of Malawi’s 600 secondary schools.

Pulling up to the primary school, we were greeted by hundreds of smiling students and George, the headmaster. With more than a thousand students and only eleven teachers, Nsoni is representative of many of the schools here lacking adequate toilets, books and desks. With free primary education since 1994, schools have seen a huge increase in student attendance, which has taxed resources and impacted quality.

Nsoni Secondary School, right next door, was renovated in 2008. The school offered a real contrast to the primary school, complete with desks, a laboratory and library. With school fees of about $45 dollars a year and students selected from seven or eight of the area’s primary school, the 320 students were quiet and serious with hopes of a university education in their future.

After a few hours, we were back on the road to meet Edward Khoromana, the managing director for Nali, one of Malawi’s most popular peri-peri hot sauce companies. Over lunch, Edward talked about Nali’s efforts to expand into European and American markets and credited USAID’s sales program and Southern Africa Trade Hub as critical to helping him navigate the FDA certification process for his new factory. Once complete, Nali will be able to increase its production to meet the demand of US and European buyers.

Our last stop of the day was Project Peanut Butter, a USAID-supported factory that produces Plumpy Nut-Chiponde, a sweet peanut butter-based ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) chocked full of vitamins and proteins that has become a key ingredient in Malawi’s fight against acute malnutrition. With peanuts and sugar bought from local farmers, the factory runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to feed more than 15,000 severely and moderately malnourished children as well as 30,000 people beginning ARV therapy for HIV/AIDS.

It was a jam-packed day that was inspirational and educational, and reinforced the important work that advocacy plays in educating Americans and Europeans about the life-saving impact that our efforts have here. Looking forward to tomorrow’s visit with Partners in Health in Neno. Signing off for now.