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Researchers identify opportunities to improve quality, reduce cost of global food assistance delivery

Food assistance delivered to the right people at the right time and in the right place can save lives. In 2016 alone, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) delivered over 1.7 million metric tons of food assistance to over 30 million people in 50 countries around the world. However, USAID estimates that over $10 million of that food never made it to the plates of people in need due to spoilage and infestation.

Proper food assistance packaging can be a major contributing factor toward preventing spoilage and infestation. The right kind of packaging can also reduce the need for costly fumigation — which also has the potential to harm human and environmental health if misapplied — and diversify the types of commodities that can be shipped to communities in need, improving recipient satisfaction and nutrition.

MIT researchers have just released a new report detailing an experimental study examining how different packaging approaches and technologies can reduce cost and improve quality of food assistance procured in the United States and shipped abroad.

The report, “New Packaging Types as Innovative International Food Assistance Instruments,” details the study design and findings of the latest experimental evaluation implemented by the Comprehensive Initiative on Technology Evaluation (CITE), a program supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by a multidisciplinary team of faculty, staff, and students at MIT.

Innovative study design

Rather than conducting studies of these technologies in a lab, MIT researchers worked together with USAID and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to run a pilot study on a real procurement of food assistance headed for Djibouti, Djibouti and Durban, South Africa, major points of entry for food assistance in Africa.

Food assistance was shipped in eight different types of packaging, then carefully tracked, monitored, and inspected to determine effectiveness of the packaging. In…

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