The Taimaka ProjectAzurit Foundation, a nonprofit organization that focuses on fighting injustice, has a quote on its website that reads “Taimaka combines the rigor of academic research with the dynamism of a startup to help reduce seasonal hunger and poverty of smallholder farmers.” The Taimaka Project, a Nigerian-American nonprofit organization, was established in 2019 to improve the living conditions of poor people. Initially concentrating on implementing a proven program to assist agricultural communities in managing seasonal transitions, the project redirected its efforts in 2021 toward innovation and addressing malnutrition as a more economically viable approach to combat food insecurity.

Post-Harvest Loans

The Taimaka Project’s first success was inspired by randomized controlled trials in Kenya and Tanzania. There, researchers found that post-harvest loans generated a 29% and 40% investment return respectively, making these loans around twice as effective as cash transfers for raising incomes in times of need and hunger. In northeastern Nigeria, where Taimaka operates, smallholder farmers frequently find themselves compelled to sell their produce shortly after the September harvest. This arises from their inability to cover expenses and the fear of potential crop losses. The resultant price spikes equally impact consumers, exacerbating food insecurity during this difficult season.

Crowdfunding success allowed Taimaka founders to raise $10,000 and provide post-harvest loans and Purdue Improved Crop (PICS) bags to 50 households in northeastern Nigeria. As a result, farmers could capitalize on the 55% rise in crop prices over subsequent months. Within the first three years of this program, more than 1,000 families benefitted from an estimated $50,000 in additional income.

Community Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM)

Of the more than 45 million children suffering from malnutrition worldwide, estimates suggest that less than a third receive treatment. Those who survive the approximately 10 times higher mortality rate for children with severe acute malnutrition often go on to suffer from persistent health problems. Typically, these problems include neurodevelopmental complications and disruptions to academic development. Gombe, a state in Nigeria where the Taimaka Project operates was recently named “Nigeria’s poverty capital”, with 70% of its citizens living in poverty. The state has one of the “highest rates of stunting and malnutrition for under-five children” worldwide. According to a Taimaka report, approximately 32,000 children under 5 years old in Gombe suffer from the condition.

The Taimaka Project tackles the problem of malnutrition through a two-pronged approach. The first approach involves Taimaka’s CMAM program. This program offers community-based treatment services that alleviate the burdens of caregivers’ transportation, travel and hospitalization costs. Additionally, it provides weekly food and medication packages, with partnerships established with nearby hospitals for severe cases. Secondly, the Taimaka Project emphasizes innovation by conducting feasibility studies that aim to enhance treatment methods and reduce expenses.

CMAM Program Solutions

Some of the strategies that Taimaka uses in its CMAM program are as follows:

  • Phone calls and dropout rates: CMAM programs worldwide report an average dropout rate of almost 20%. This means that just under a fifth of patients leave treatment before fully recovering from malnutrition. In comparison, this figure can reach up to 50% in Nigeria. Without weekly screenings and provisions of food and medicine, children, in particular, are at a greater risk of early death. Working alongside researchers at the University of Florida to tackle this issue in a cost-effective manner, Taimaka has set about organizing automated phone calls reminding caregivers of the importance of CMAM treatment and dispelling the misconceptions that lead to high dropout rates.
  • Complementary food: Recognizing the different needs between those with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and those with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM), Taimaka introduced treatment with complementary foods. This approach did not require ready-to-use therapeutic foods (RUTF). In 2022, the Taimaka Project drew inspiration from the successful efforts of Catholic Relief Services, which demonstrated an 89% recovery rate in patients with MAM. In a bid to reduce expenses and alleviate the challenges associated with importation, Taimaka introduced the utilization of cost-effective, locally-produced food sources such as groundnut, soya beans and maize for its MAM cases.
  • Inpatient/outpatient care: The Taimaka Project is also focusing on “[co-locating] outpatient and inpatient care in a single facility” in order to bypass the challenges of inpatient referral. These are often essential for children seeking outpatient care due to the detrimental effects of malnutrition on the immune system. But often, delays occur due to inexperience or geographical distances. With Taimaka’s intervention, continually available and fully trained medical staff can identify complications and provide diagnoses before symptoms deteriorate.

The Taimaka Project hopes that the expansion and application of these innovations can result in the prevention of up to 1,000 statewide deaths annually.

Cost Efficiency

The intertwined nature of malnutrition and poverty, as outlined by a 2020 study, suggests that both are “cause and consequence of each other.” Often, poverty leads to malnutrition, which in turn, affects the economic potential of a population. The Taimaka Project’s emphasis on malnutrition, alongside cost-effectiveness, enables the organization to address both issues simultaneously. Having already reached the WHO standard of a “very cost-effective” treatment, Taimaka set a goal in 2020 to reduce the cost-per-life saved by a further 10% by 2025. According to the organization, a 1% reduction in treatment costs would “free up over $3.4 million currently spent globally on treatment. And this would also facilitate the treatment of an additional 50,000 children.”

Looking Ahead

In just a few years, the Taimaka Project has gone on to earn funding and acclaim from organizations like the Founders Pledge and USAID. It also won the D-prize in 2020 for its first project, pledging to “put ideas to the test and confidently share them with others.” These events inspire hope and suggest that Taimaka’s success can be replicated around the world and lead to more progress in the alleviation of malnutrition and poverty.

– Helene Schlichter
Photo: Flickr