Peanut Butter: Potential to Save Millions

John Harrell, Chairman, National Peanut Board
While working as head of the pediatric department at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi in 1994, Dr. Mark Manary knew there had to be a better way. Only 25 percent of acutely malnourished children were surviving using the clinical-based treatment methods that relied primarily on milk. He committed medical heresy and emptied the clinic. He supplied the mothers with a peanut butter-based product called Ready-to-Use-Therapeutic Foods, or RUTF, that they could administer at home while still caring for theirother children.   


RUTF, in addition to peanut butter, includes powdered milk, oil, sugar and a mixture of vitamins and minerals. The product is truly ready to eat and does not require adding local water, which can be contaminated, or refrigeration. Manary was amazed to see that 89% of these acutely malnourished children made a full recovery- while at home under the care of their mothers.

Many organizations like Project Peanut Butter, Peanut Butter for the Hungry, Breedlove Foods, and MANA have sprung into action to spread the use of RUTF across the African continent, Haiti, and other places in the world where millions of children are at risk of dying from malnutrition. As a testimony to its medicinal qualities, RUTF is the only food-based product that UNICEF purchases.

Back at home, peanut butter is the number-one most sought after item for many food pantries. Not only is it a highly nutritious source of plant-based protein, it is shelf-stable and has a flavor that children and adults alike never tire of.

The next time you look at a humble peanut or jar of peanut butter, remember that you’re not only looking at a favorite that can be found in over 90 percent of American homes, you’re also looking at a food with the potential to save millions that the more than 7,000 peanut farm families of America take great pride in growing.

John Harrell lives on land that has been in his family for six generations. He farms peanuts, corn, and cotton with his wife, brother and son near Whigham, Georgia.