Let’s get this bread: Los Baños locally makes Nutribun

by: Gabriel Jov T. Dolot

MALNUTRITION AND THE PANDEMIC. Nanay Baby and Bjorn, 3, who is suffering from malnutrition and who is one of the beneficiaries of the Nutribun Program of the Municipal Nutrition Office of Los Baños, Laguna.

The Nutribun, the iconic 70’s staple school snack, is now making a comeback, and is being locally made in Los Baños especially for malnourished children.

One of the beneficiaries of Los Baños NutriBun Project is Bjorn, 3, from Barangay Bayog who is the second youngest among eight children. Bjorn is one of the more promising beneficiaries of the project who is experiencing undernutrition, according to Mr. Julius Gibas, one of the coordinators of the program from the Municipal Nutrition Office (MNO) of Los Baños.

According to Baby, Bjorn’s mother, the pandemic has hit their family hard as it has indefinitely halted their livelihood. Baby and her husband plant and harvest flowers to be sold to the Dangwa Flower Market in Sampaloc, Manila. But due to logistical restrictions caused by the pandemic, they stopped planting and harvesting.

“Di bali ngayon ay wala na po kaming [hanapbuhay] kasi nalugi na  di bali wala na po siya ngayong nakakapag [bili] ng bulaklak kasi po hindi na nakakapag buwis ng lupa,” she laments.

We no longer have our main source of income because there is no one  to buy flowers from us and so, we are unable to prepare the soil for planting.

Bjorn has been a beneficiary in this program for almost four months now since March 2021. He is making gradual progress.

According to Baby, Bjorn’s weight usually fluctuates. Her son doesn’t get sick often, but when he does get sick, such as diarrhea, his weight is affected immediately.

Another beneficiary from Barangay Bayog is Jhon Drew, 5, who has been with the program for five months now since January 2021. Jandrew is the youngest of five children. According to Jandrew’s mother, Laini, their livelihood mainly involves ‘doing extras’  such as collecting garbage and selling plants. The pandemic has further worsened their already unfortunate state of living.

According to Mr. Gibas, Jhon Drew is one of the more difficult cases when it comes to showing improvements. Jhon Drew is a bit picky when it comes to food. She said she usually feeds Jandrew what he wants to eat. Jhon Drew sometimes doesn’t finish the Nutribun at times so she adds sugar so that he could finish it, according to his mother

“Masarap naman po. Kaya lang siya tumamis kasi nilalagyan ko ng asukal. Nilalagyan ko ng sugar kasi hindi masyado kinakain ni Jandrew kapag walang asukal,” she explains. She also said that they also plant some vegetables, including sitaw which is what they usually eat.

Localizing the Nutribun

LBAKERY. Los Baños now locally produces nutribun with varying flavors (Photo from the Municipal Nutrition Office of Los Baños Facebook page)

Just like the local governments of Manila and Marikina, Los Baños has developed its own recipe for its Nutribuns. It was supposed to be sold in schools, but they had to change their initial plans due to the pandemic.

In Los Baños, the Nutribun Project was  launched in November 2020 by the MNO-LB during the term of the late Mayor Caesar P. Perez. According to Ms. Madeleine Alforja, Los Baños Nutrition Officer, the goal of the project is to address malnutrition among children aged 0-59 months in Los Baños.

The initial plan was to sell the Nutribun in schools for a cheaper price so that the students could benefit from its nutritional value and perform better in school. But due to the pandemic, it was decided that their main beneficiaries will be children affected by malnutrition all over Los Baños, according to Alforja.

The 100 gram bun is distributed to 182 beneficiaries, aged  to five years old,  three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. It is produced in a small bakery, the first of its kind in Laguna, within the Los Baños Municipal Hall’s vicinity.

The beneficiaries are evaluated through the Operation Timbang Plus (OTP) report barangay nutrition scholars to keep track of the children’s overall health status. Those who are determined to be undernourished, stunted, wasted or underweight are given the nutribun.

The MNO endeavors to include malnourished children from all the barangays in Los Baños in their program.

The key ingredients used for their nutribun recipe is the Micronutrient Powder (MNP) and Malunggay powder. The MNP is a nutrient dense supplement containing vitamins and minerals which can be added directly to food. According to the Nutrition Center of the Philippines, the MNPs were developed in response to the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) challenge to find more innovative solutions to micronutrient deficiency among children worldwide.

So far, the Nutribun Project has been a success. According to Ms. Alforja, out of the 182 beneficiaries only 17 did not exhibit signs of improvement in terms of nutrition status. They were able to determine the child’s nutrition status by measuring their weight, and upper arm circumference.

Nutribun: Then and Now

According to the report by Dr. William Engel, Chief of Party of the  U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the nutribun was originally developed by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the United States in the 70’s to address malnutrition in the Philippines. It was implemented by the Nutrition and Population offices of USAID in Manila under the “Targeted Maternal Child Health Program” in which school children from grades one to six were fed the nutritious bun.

The remnants of the Nutribun project from the 70s slowly faded out and the last batch of these generational buns was distributed in 1997.

The Department of Science and Technology’s (DOST)  Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FRI) introduced its Enhanced Nutribun or E-Nutribun in July 2020.

LOS BAÑOS MNO. Ms. Madeleine Alforja (leftmost) with staff from the LB-MNO.

According to Ms. Alforja, the DOST-FNRI’S Nutribun or E-nutribun formula was adopted by LB LGU to create a variety in the products they provide for their beneficiaries. Currently, Los Baños has four flavors for the nutribun which are plain, ube, pandan, and chocolate. They are also planning to come up with other flavors, such as carrot and squash.

Malnutrition Amid the Pandemic

According to the Philippine Summary Report of the World Food Programme, “1/3 of Philippine households are not able to afford a diet that meets the nutritional needs.” The pandemic also has worsened the accessibility of the most vulnerable FIlipinos to basic needs such as nutritious food.

Despite Los Baños having a low malnutrition rate with only less than 200 children affected, Ms. Alforja believes that they can still lessen and hopefully maintain the low levels of malnutrition.

Indigent children like Bijorn and Jandreware in dire need of projects like the NutriBun because they are the ones most vulnerable to malnutrition even before the pandemic due to poverty.

Having a healthy lifestyle is of utmost importance nowadays as the COVID-19 pandemic persists to strengthen the immune system so it will be able to fight any disease that comes its way.

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