Working through the World Health Organization (WHO), a team of scientists and programmers have created a new software that is capable of analyzing a person’s diet and determining what in their geographic area can be used to supplement nutritional deficits cheaply. The software is currently undergoing USAID-approved trials in Guatemala, with promising results.
According to the Food and Nutritional Technical Assistance III Project (FANTA), malnourished children in the two studied Highlands communities of Huehuetenango and Quiche can be adequately fed for 25-50¢ US each day. The study consists of randomly selected children in the two communities between the ages of 9 and 11 months, and suggests that in addition to breastmilk, potatoes, beans, eggs, tortillas, and fortified cereal, a local powder called Chispitas would complete the children’s diet. Currently, Chispitas is only available to some communities in Guatemala.
With the average Guatemalan woman giving birth to three children, and the average Highlands household earning US$3.15 per day, even Optifood’s findings will require effort to become reality. Most families simply cannot spend 8-15 percent of their income feeding a single baby. And despite the fact that the ingredients in Chispitas can be found locally, the finished product is most available in urban areas where poverty is more severe than in the Highlands.
Whatever the practical limitations, Optifood takes a great step forward by simply identifying, in almost real time, what the nutritional problems are and the optimal, if ultimately impossible, solutions. With workshops being offered in Guatemala and a handful of other countries, to educate local aid workers in the use of the software, hard data can begin to emerge from poor areas and provide international agencies like the WHO the information it needs to assess priorities. It also gives national programs, such as Guatemala’s Zero Hunger Initiative, with a clear set of objectives to accomplish.
As one of the major criticisms of aid organizations is the uncertainty about what funding can actually accomplish, Optifood is able to provide a nutritional “before and after” comparison, elucidating the problem and demonstrating the effects of policy changes or investments.
– Alex Pusateri