Saturday, January 3, 2009

Please Send Milk

As many of you know I just returned from the most amazing trip to Ethiopia. Over the the next few weeks I may share more details about the trip but there is one thing that I wanted to put out pretty quickly and that is about the need for baby formula and milk.

Before leaving on the trip I saw a few post on the big ET board that there is a milk shortage. I'd like to add a little bit about what I learned spending time with the orphanage director at Hope for the Abandoned Children.

The milk of choice is a Nestle brand called NaN. It comes in two formulas one for infants and one for older babies. It's my understanding that the distributor or Ethiopian supplier is (threatening) to stop supplying Ethiopia with NaN formula and so the price has gone sky high. I drove around with the director stopping at several places to purchase milk. She explained that the price for the 12oz powdered formula had risen from about $8-10 per can and is now being sold for $25 per can US dollars. She told me before we headed out that the shop keepers will tell you that they have no formula at all and that it is being kept off the shelves and hidden that is why it seems people believe their is a shortage when the truth is the milk is there but by making it seem so unavailable they can jack up the price.

As I said I went with her. We drove around to four places and they all told her there was NO NaN milk. At the last place she told me she knew that it was there and that we would sit until the shop keeper admitted it. Some 30-40 minutes later the man said that he had it at $250 birr per piece (12 oz can) but that we could only buy it by the case at 60,000 birr or $600 US dollars. She tried to talk him down but all he said was that she might try going up towards the mountain some 30 km away.

We kept going and she just explained to me the pressure that the prices put them under. Children need milk and if they are forced to pay those high prices it means that they can not spend on other things. We kept going and stopped at one more place and went through the same type conversation and negotiation. The shop keep decided to sell it to us for 140 birr or $14 per can. I bought 15 cans of formula for the orphanage but instantly wondered how far that would go. They only had the NaN 2 or the formula for older children. So what I bought did not include infant formula or even milk for the older children.

It was very upsetting and frustrating for me to see this. Hope is a very small orphanage. There are nine older children and about 10 babies. Imagine what this is like for the larger facilities. So I ask that if you go over or know families that are going over please send milk!

As I understand to transport more, you can buy the powdered forumla and pour it into large ziplock bags to make it easier to carry. It is important to place the labels from the cans inside the bags to get through customs. If you can't take or send milk, please take or send money to purchase milk while you are there. Maybe we even need to start a letter writing campaign to Nestle for donations. I know that something more can be done.

There were so many amazing things that I saw while on my trip. The 3+ hour hunt for milk was the most eye-opening. Do what you can!

This story is from another part of Africa but it shows the seriousness of the situation.

Make sure to check this out.


Angela said...

Is this Hope Adoption agency out of Missouri Valerie?

If so, God has already led me to donate money to this agency last week. I have not signed up with them but this is what I was led to do.

VALARIE said...

Hi Angela. It is not the Hope adoption agency. Hope for the Abandoned Children is a small orphanage run by a woman named Gedaye. She is not associated with any one adoption agency and the children go to the U.S., Holland, and Denmark but mostly to the U.S.

Angela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela said...

Thanks for the clarification. There's a greater need than I imagined to donate funds to these agencies. I can't comprehend someone asking $600.00 a case for milk. That's awful.

Robbin said...

Welcome back. No really Welcome BACK. I miss your writing, your insight and your spirit. It is so frustrating to know that it is not shortage but politics that are affecting demand. To be hungry cause of this is just devastating. If it was the US we would boycott, picket, protest and make demands. Hmmmm, how many Nestle products do I use. Its not the distributor, but the manufacturer that would be affected by this call to service. Although our cans of formula will feed the orphans, who will feed the poor? This further perpetuates abandoning of children. It is sad.

I will be angry for 2009. About things that matter.

Again, welcome home friend!


VALARIE said...

Robbin. I've been doing a little more reading because I just was not clear on the shortage. I've found several articles now that point to an international shortage of Nestle NaN and it is because of manufacturing cost, worker strikes, and raw cost for Nestle. So it seems that Nestle knows about the problem and is trying to remedy it. The question is with this being a problem in China, India, and all parts of Africa how long does it take for things to change in Ethiopia?

I can't tell you how frustrating this experience was, how hard it was to watch Gedaye as we went from place to place. When that man told us $600 a case with a smile on his face, I was just disgusted.

kristine said...

This has me so sad I have to think on it a bit.

$600 for milk? How much did he pay for it himself?

I agree with Robbin, it perpetuates the poverty that makes parents look for other caregivers for their children.

Thank you for sharing this experience.

Can the formula be shipped directly to Hope?

VALARIE said...

Kristine, I'm trying to figure out how best to help keep a steady supply of milk going to Hope. I just checked and there is a shipping company that will ship for a flat rate of $99 rather than by size or weight. I'll have to check further. I told Gedaye that my fear is that if people pay the $25 per can that the price will continue to rise. I'm sure if we all put our heads together we can come up with something.

Angela said...

Hi Valerie,

I was thinking along the same line. Why can't we ship directly to the agencies? With something as valuable as formula has apparently become, there may be a a risk of theft and black market demand once our formula donations reach Ethiopian soil by commercial shipment.

There are other brands such as Similac and Good Start. I know switching formulas isn't idea for infants who are succesfully digesting a particular formula, but sometimes it's economically neccessary. For instance, at our hospital, goverment assisted families are going home with Good Start vouchers instead of Similac which is what we use in our Well Baby Nursery. As a matter of fact Similac donates the formula to our hospital because it's a safety net facility.

It seems Nestle has quite a demand throughout the continent of Africa. This is a good time to introduce other brands to their market.

Anonymous said...

Be aware that shipping into a country can take quite a bit of time. I know the agency I used tried to ship in diapers (I believe) and it took 4 months to get them out of customs.

I agree about starting another brand, if necessary. It may not be ideal but it can be done.

Welcome back Valerie. Good to hear from you.


Bennett said...

Thank you Valerie for posting this info. Our Agency is on it and will be sending donations.


Anonymous said...

Welcome Back...
I look forward to reading your blog.
Please keep us updated with information about the milk shortage.
I am sure that a company the size of Nestle can send milk but we as citizens must not wait on them. It's sad to think that they are charging $600 for a case of milk but from what I've read a lot of thinks are sold at sky rocket prices. CNN read a story that show children living on the streets eating rats because they have no food. Not only is that disgusting but it breaks my heart.
I hope you enjoyed your time and Happy 2009.

Kelly said...

Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention! I will definitely do anything I can to help!

Jennifer said...

"Good Start" formula is by Nestle. I wonder if that would be the best brand to bring as it is closest to NaN that we can buy here in the States? I remember Carnation powdered milk from my childhood. I will bring that for the older children. Thank you for sharing this situation with us.

kristine said...

Great about the shipping. I'm wondering about wholesale also? Direct shipping from the manufacturer? Sorry if these make no sense - I know nothing about international exports of any type.

Lost my job in November so financially I have nothing to offer (have a lead on a possible job though) but perhaps a co op of people supplying formula?

I don't know - I'm grasping at straws - but anything to cut out the middle men and get these children fed.
Thanks Valarie - maybe the most important post I've read all year.

Debbie said...

I heard something about a possible milk shortage, but had no idea how bad the problem is.

Although I don't know this for sure, it seems to me that NAN, made by Nestle, is the brand used in countries other than the U.S. It is the formula our daughter was getting in Guatemala, but is not readily available here in the U.S. Most families will have to switch formulas when they bring their children home. What is typically recommended is that families bring a few cans home with them so they can start mixing it with the formula they will be switching to, but that may not be possible if it's difficult to get in Ethiopia. Since Nestle is not the only company that makes formula, maybe it would be a good idea to contact the companies who make Infamil and Similac to find out if they would be willing to assist in some way.

I will not sit back and allow this to happen. If our baby hasn't already been born, someday she will need formula and I want to make sure it's available for her as well as the other children.

Anonymous said...

"but that we could only buy it by the case at 60,000 birr or $600 US dollars. "

there seems to be a typo 60,000 birr is about $6,000 USD not $600.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]