Basil Kransdorff is an Ashoka fellow and creator of e’Pap, a revolutionary pre-prepared foodstuff packed with nutrients. Kransdorff and his wife, Rose, developed e’Pap, which rapidly improves nutrition, energy, and productivity for those consuming it. e’Pap offers repletion based on nutrients rather than empty calories from processed foods with fortifications. About two million servings of e’Pap are distributed throughout African countries every month. Food Tank recently interviewed Kransdorff to learn more about e’Pap.
Your experience in Zimbabwe and witnessing the effects of the HIV epidemic firsthand in South Africa were naturally motives for your development of e’Pap. Were there any additional issues that sparked your interest in nutrition? How did you realize that food fortification has not been an effective solution?
When we started 12 years ago, we were helping an NGO called CARE (Community Aids Response) to set up an NGO at the Johannesburg General Hospital where AIDS patients were flooding in, before there was any medication available. The doctors were telling the patients to go home to where their ancestors were buried to prepare to die and to eat a healthy well-balanced diet. For poor people wanting to be buried with their ancestors, [which] sometimes was in other countries [in] Southern Africa, eating a well-balanced diet was like telling them to fly to the moon. The cost of taking their bodies back necessitated them going home by a taxi or bus to help stop bankrupting their families wanting to return a body.
It was around this issue that e’Pap was born. We wanted to create an affordable food portion to deliver many of the important nutrients found in a well-balanced diet in a single meal portion. It was what medical doctors were telling their patients [to do] without any understanding of the practical issues and the implication this advice had [on] a poor malnourished person.
As a social responsibility project, we had access to some of the best brains in the world. Overnight, we got up to speed with key issues of nutrient interaction, oxidation, bio efficacy and absorption. It was to address these issues that we created a formulation objective to help create a nutrient replete person, rather than a product that delivers a low-level [partial] solution, as is common practice. It is these [partial] solutions that [are] common practice that makes most fortification approaches fail and is now part of the problem.
E’Pap has made remarkable advances, and we understand that NGOs including the SSVP and SANTA have assisted in distribution and nutritional interventions. Can you tell us a little more about accessibility in other African countries? What types of difficulties have you encountered in administrating e’Pap? Has there been any political resistance met in the areas where e’Pap has already been distributed? What about local resistance?
The technical key issue that needs to be understood [is that] a human body requires a daily intake of nutrients biologically in pathways that the body can use. If an intervention is done that is a person’s only source of nutrients and if that intervention delivers less than the daily biologically absorbed amount required, then that person’s daily deficit will increase…and they will become more malnourished daily.
It was this understanding in a world where mainstream experts and international NGO’s were and are still dumping millions of dollars of nutrients onto our continent in products like CSB [Corn Soya Blend] and PLUMPYNUT (30 percent sugar for children). The science is clear – refined isolate nutrients cannot be effectively absorbed. It is this crazy situation that drove us and made us angry social entrepreneurs, focused on creating nutrient replete physiologically functional human beings.
The visual impact of our unique approach on extremely malnourished people was so startling – [that] the impact became known as the “5 day e’Pap effect.” It is through word of mouth marketing that has taken e’Pap into over 15 countries across Africa.
We quickly understood that people were not dying from HIV, but rather opportunistic diseases like TB, [which was emerging] because their nutritional status was reduced. It explained for us just why effective nutrition and not stomach filling was so important. Because we [do not understand] the cause of the problem and [are] not articulating it correctly, people are starting to believe that TB is caught from HIV. Eight percent of HIV patients are [co-infected] with TB. Our work has allowed us to understand very quickly the importance of addressing “hidden hunger” as the priority to address poverty. We quickly separated food security [from] nutrition security.
You ask about the difficulties we encountered. .
We came under attack from the medical profession who refused to work with us because in the [South African] context, our politicians were promoting silly solutions to HIV of garlic and beetroot. The nutrition agenda was being accused as promoting a substitute to medication by the medical profession who arrogantly believed they had exclusive rights to health. Other difficulties was the stigmatization of the little yellow packet that e’Pap comes in when wrongly implemented especially by corporates who only wanted to give it to those living with HIV. I have even been accused of “fraud” because in the mind of an accuser…we were not allowed to make a profit to fund our business when helping poor people.
More difficulties: mainstream medical doctors and so-called international experts that use specification guidelines that have dictated tender processes to only purchase mainstream isolate refined nutrients promoted by UNICEF, WHO, and the WFP have been one of the biggest problem.
In a world where the so-called experts have got it wrong – the waters get muddied quickly. A proliferation of “copycats” [has] risen off the back of e’Pap. These copycats only use cheap chemical isolates that undercut our pricing…We have been approached by big international organizations…[which] then proceed to make their own “copycats” behind our backs using “mainstream” academic experts.
Do you envision the adoption of e’Pap in other regions either in Africa, or Asia or Latin America? Would you alter the composition of the e’Pap to make it better suited to cultural “taste and tradition” if it were to expand globally?
Through word of mouth and the Ashoka program to globalize us, we are already investigating and preparing to do projects in Nigeria, India, the UK, and even the USA! We have already developed new processing equipment to process other cultural grains like sorghum wheat, oats, rice etc. We have developed an Indian recipe book that uses the e’Pap flour to blend into traditional Indian recipes, making new products.
Our biggest challenge is to ensure the “greed factor” does not create even more “copycats” that ride off the impact that e’Papcreates in a world and markets where there are large, well-resourced companies…As social entrepreneurs, our focus is to ensure our social business grows and continues to make a big impact in communities. It is also there to ensure our concept is not hijacked with [partial] solutions that confuse and waste valuable resources.
Many countries, particularly in the developing world, are experiencing what has been dubbed the “double burden” – excessive malnutrition, but also, rising obesity and chronic health problems associated with consumption of processed foods. The United States has also seen this pattern, mostly due to the over-consumption of “empty calories.” Based on your work, how do you think the US can target this type of problem? Would you suggest a public awareness/education campaign and outreach? Do you think it should start in schools, for example?
We would use initially the same e’Pap model. [The impact of] word of mouth…and then [exploiting] the powerful media…The one asset we would use would be the now famous “e’Pap story of hope in Africa”…We use the e’Pap story and show people the link between their health and social challenges and what they are eating so that we all focus on “fixing the food chain” and using new technologies that are focused on an objective of nutrient repleteness that will result in a NUTRITION-based ECONOMY. The lights will go on as understanding unfolds (seeing is believing) and then the first world forms of e’Papwith its new culturally based taste profiles and branding will fly.
I would start with pregnant mothers, pre-schools, primary and secondary and even ternary [tertiary] schooling, and of course the clinics and old age homes and hospices.