The days of soft porridge, lesheleshele, which is some mothers’ first choice for children at weaning stages may soon be over! That is if Mrs Mpho Letsie, a fourth year student in the Department of Nutrition at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) succeeds in commercializing a low cost but effective food product. The product will save Lesotho’s younger compatriots.
According to Mrs Letsie, local hospitals’ pediatric wards are becoming flooded with malnourished children mostly parented by HIV positive mothers and teenagers. Children affected are between six months to two years. These are the usual weaning ages.
Having been in hospitals settings, and having watched these young souls suffer from poor feeding methods. Mrs Letsie was motivated. She decided to develop a simple but powerful weaning product.
The problem that necessitates this product begins at home, she observed. “Children are often weaned with leshelehele (soft porridge), motoho (sour porridge), papa and kholu. These are hardly the best material for weaning if used alone,” she mentioned.
She said parents of these children either lack knowledge on the best children weaning diet. Or they cannot afford weaning products in market.
That is where Ms Letsie steps in. Her ingenious product is deceptively simple. Yet, in its simplicity, therein lays its beauty. The product, is a constellation of beans, maize and sunflower seeds. These ingredients are roasted at different temperatures then crushed and mixed together.
With an eye on affordability, her choice of crops used to make the product was on those grown in the country, where possible. No doubt maize and beans were a better into the description. They are grown every year in the country and sold at affordable prices. While few people grow sunflower which they use for animal feeds, it can still be imported at lower prices.
“When most of the main raw materials are purchased within the country, products tend to be more affordable,” she said. “But the added value of processing, manufacturing and testing locally makes the product even more of an ideal choice.”
The product’s catch is also in the method of preparation before feeding a baby. Since the product is already roasted, it can be instantly used. Mixing the powder with warm water makes the product ready for use. Thus it saves time and fuel for preparation, another cost saving plus for the poor buyers.
As an added advantage, the ingredients used in the product are acceptable as they are popular in traditional dishes. “Even the preparation method is culturally acceptable. This is because Basotho often mix everything in one pot or bowel,” she showed.
But there is a bonus a well! Preparing this product for final use does not need special skills. Any caretaker or mother can prepare it anytime anywhere as long as warm water is available.
Even with all the benefits, it is actually the nutrition factor of this product that sets it apart. Ms Letsie specified that this product is unfortified. Thus it contains all natural vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and other nutrients.
The high content of protein, a body building material, is notable in this product, in contrast to its conventional counterparts. This high protein content is attributed to the presence of beans, and also sunflower seeds in the mix.
For starters Mrs Letsie aims to sell her product in rural shops. Such as Fraser’s shops to be available in places where it is needed the most. “The product needs to reach the needy,” she emphasized. “You can’t take it to Shoprite or Pick’n Pay for instance. Lesotho’s needy don’t frequent such places, which appear to be for the elite in their eyes.”
Looking forward, Mrs Letsie envisions a time when people will differentiate her academic programme from Consumer Sciences. “People should know that Nutrition is not about cooking,” she said. “It’s about food chemistry and food science.”
She is also looking forward to a time when she sets up her own business, manufacturing this product. She wants it to grow so that she can create employment for herself and some of her colleagues.
Quizzed on the issues of costs, market, food testing, approval and manufacturing. She said she is already working on some of those. She also envisaged a team of a few fellow nutritionists. She thought such a team would have all it takes to meet all the requirements.
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations