Fleshing out details of Japan's huge aid package to Africa during TICAD last year. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe singled out Koko Plus, developed by the Ajinomoto foods group, as a particularly important component of Japan's aid philosophy--human development.
I met the company's director of nutrition improvement projects, Yasuhiko Toride, when he was in London for a meeting with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and he filled me in on their project in Ghana.
Ajinomoto is one of the world's largest food companies specialising in producing protein-rich amino acids as supplements.
Toride told me that research in Ghana had shown clearly that the traditional koko, a porridge made using maize and fed to weaning children between six months and two years old, was deficient in essential nutrients.
"The first 1,000 days after a baby has stopped taking mother's milk, are the most critical for its physical and mental development," he told me.
The lack of sufficient nutrients, particularly proteins in the koko. has resulted in 30-40% of two-year-olds suffering stunted growth. It is very difficult to reverse this trend once it has set in and it has implications in mental development.
The company developed a supplement, called Koko Plus, which, when added to the traditional porridge, supplies all the nutrients the infant needs to grow into a normal, healthy child.
The project, which is still in the study phase, began about two years ago. The aim is to establish the nutritional effects of Koko Plus, local tastes, preservative stability and distribution models before rolling out later this year and expanding production (which at the moment is limited to the needs of the study) in 2015.
The company is working in close collaboration with a host of local and international organisations including the University of Ghana. the Ghana Health Service, USAID. JICA. the World Food Programme. the International Nutrition Foundation, the Dutch DSM and others.
Local production, which marries Japanese technology and life...