hershey logo 421If there’s one thing the company that makes Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups should know, it’s that chocolate and peanut butter go pretty well together.

So it should be no surprise that Hershey, the largest chocolate maker in North America, is partnering with Project Peanut Butter, a non-profit organization that makes special peanut butter packets that combat starvation.

The organization was founded by Dr. Mark Manary in 2005, who was trying to create something to help combat childhood malnutrition in Africa.

Since then, they have successfully built processing facilities for the peanut butter packets in Malawi and Sierra Leone in Africa.

Now, Hershey has agreed to fund all these costs related to building a facility in Ghana and also to provide technical assistance and help with peanut sourcing.

“They began talking to us in the spring of 2012, we did an exploratory trip there to assess the needs,” Manary says. “Hershey has a long standing history in making major contributions to humanitarian efforts, and Ghana is, in a way, part of the Hershey community. It’s one of the principal countries that they get cocoa from.

Jeff Beckman, a Hershey spokesman, says the company sees the partnership as an extension of other sustainablity efforts it is already doing on the ground in Ghana.

“There’s nothing more fundamental and important to that mission than to address the issue of malnutrition in those very villages,” he explains.

The packets are made with a peanut butter base, and also include vitamins and minerals, as well as milk powder and vegetable oil. Kids who eat the packets have a 90% recovery rate from malnutrition, compared to a 33% chance for those who don’t.

“Malnutrition is the biggest enemy of children, even though we hear about malaria, TB and AIDS,” says Manary, adding that malnutrition kills two to three times the number of kids as those diseases combined.

The packets have some specific advantages over other treatments for malnutrition. Specifically, they can survive in the home environment, without needing to be cooked or refrigerated, so the children don’t have to go to a hospital for care. They’re also full of fat and protein because the peanut plant is about 50% oil.

The organization relies on local peanut farmers and local labor and then sells the packets to other aid agencies such as Doctors without Borders and governments.

The goal for each production facility is to eventually be self-sufficient. So, for example, Project Peanut Butter started in Malawi in 2005, and since 2009 the organization has not needed to put any money into the ongoing operations.

Manary adds that the packets have made a real difference in the country. Specifically, he points to data from UNICEF, which puts out color-coded maps of the world that show how difficult life is for a child in a particular country. For example, red and brown represent a country that’s not doing well, while green would represent the opposite.

“And when you look at Africa in 2011, you see Malawi as an island of green in a country of brown and red,” Manary says.

It’s not clear yet exactly how much Hershey will be contributing to the facility in Ghana, but Manary says it costs about $800,000 to $1 million to build the facility in Sierre Leon. However, that project was different since it involved the added cost of putting in electricity, something that won’t be necessary in Ghana.  

“Everyone is very interested in seeing a big impact in real life,” Manary says. “[Project Peanut Butter] doesn’t cure AIDS, it doesn’t do a lot of things, but it makes it a huge impact.”