As humanitarian crises grow across the world, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is increasing food aid with one simple solution: bag redesigns.
Before getting into the solution, it is imperative to diagnose the problem first.
The world currently faces six qualified food emergencies, as stated by the World Food Program. Between civil wars and the environmental effects of the recent El Nino, civilians in Syria, Iraq, southern Africa, Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen are all in dire need of food assistance. If lives are to be saved, agencies like USAID must increase food aid.
USAID is considered to be one of the world’s most significant food aid donors. Yearly, it donates around $1.5 billion in rice, sorghum and wheat to countries in need all around the world. These shipments are ordered to port in one of three chosen locations: Djibouti, Ethiopia or South Africa. However, under law, this food aid must be bought within the U.S. and half of all aid must be transported via U.S. ships. Realistically, this process takes around four to six months to ship. This donation process can be tedious and, in emergency situations when food is needed in less than a week (like the Haitian earthquake), deadly.
Not only this, but it is estimated that one percent of food donation cargo spoils along the way. While the percentage appears insignificant, the repercussions are fierce. One percent of USAID’s food donation is equivalent to 10,000 tons of food, costing up to $15 million. And so, when one percent spoils, an estimated 200,000 families will go hungry for an entire month. For some, one percent is the difference between life and death.
Alongside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USAID sought out the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to tackle this mission last year. MIT researchers will assess how food aid is packaged in present-day and then research alternative packaging systems that will both delay the food aid’s expiration and decrease the cost of making the package. Should they find an alternative, USAID and MIT could be responsible for increasing food aid around the world.
MIT is currently testing bags that will avoid water damage and slow insect infestation, two leading causes of food aid spoiling. Currently, these newly design bags are carrying $1.7 million worth of food aid to Djibouti and South Africa. Only time will tell if USAID and MIT have found success in the redesigns. Regardless, for 200,000 families, the world of food aid is growing a little brighter.
– Brenna Yowell