Nutriset fiercely protects its patent, but mostly in Europe and America, where the competition is stiff. Indeed, Edesia, which obtained a license from Nutriset, is the only maker of the paste in the United States. In the less-threatening poorer nations, Plumpy'nut factories, with Nutriset's blessing, are popping up here and there. The "plumpyfield network" now covers 11 countries, including Niger, Malawi, Mozambique, the Congo, and India.
There are other complaints about the food. For one, critics say, it does nothing to improve local agriculture for poor people so they can feed themselves and become self-sufficient. Some question whether it is smart to push a peanut-based food in countries unsuitable for growing peanuts.
Salem would like to see countries become more independent, but says that can only happen if there are big changes in the US farm bill. Now the $2 billion set aside for food aid each year must be spent on American-grown food rather than, say, projects to improve agriculture.
FROM GUINEA TO EDESIA Shipping supervisor Andrew Kamara.
Salem prefers to stay out of the patent dispute. Edesia is not listed as a defendant in the lawsuit. She does say that the company is breaking even and that if there are any profits in the future they will go back into the organization.
Besides running Edesia, Salem is also trying to raise awareness about hunger through public speaking and networking sites, including the company's Facebook page. Donations to the non-profit are welcome, and tours can be arranged.
Salem's concern for social welfare started in Bloomfield, Connecticut, a bucolic suburb outside of Hartford, where her father works as an actuary in the insurance business. Brought up as a Quaker, she was taught at an early age to "get out there" and right wrongs.
She graduated from Boston College, worked in marketing and advertising for monster.com and tmp.worldwide, and eventually married. She and her husband have four girls: twins Halle and Zara, 9; Maya, 6, and Jolie, 4.
After years at home with her children, Salem started exploring ways to return to work. The trip to Tanzania helped her decide: She would start a business that would combine her interests in children, hunger, and marketing. Edesia, named after the Roman goddess of food, was born.
The factory opened seven months ago, attracting Dr. Charles McCormack, chief executive officer of Save the Children, to its ribbon-cutting ceremony. Using Salem's own money, as well as a $2 million grant from the US Agency for International Development, work started immediately.
"I think it's terrific to have a local product serving a global cause," says Linda Sebelia, a nutrition professor at the University of Rhode Island who has toured the plant. "All my students have heard about is that manufacturing is dead. It's nice for them to see a startup — a startup led by a woman — and it has a humanitarian reach."
The company's philosophy of goodwill extends to its staff. Most of its 30 workers — hired through the International Institute of Rhode Island — are new immigrants from Eritrea, Somalia, Liberia, Guatemala, and other poor countries.
Andrew Kamara, 33, supervises the plant's shipping. Not too long ago, he was living in a hut of palm fronds in a filthy, snake-infested refugee camp in Guinea, where he fled to escape a bloody civil war in his homeland of Sierra Leone.