Project: CBA of Improving Tracking and Traceability of U.S. Food Aid

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) provides food commodities grown by American farmers when partner country food supplies are limited or inaccessible. In the fiscal year 2019, U.S.-sourced products accounted for approximately 41 percent of USAID’s $4.38 billion food assistance budget and over 1.7 metric tons of food. 

As U.S.-sourced commodities move along the supply chain, stakeholders use their information technology systems for sending, validating, and reconciling food aid deliveries. In many instances, data is shared in paper form, spreadsheet, or email. The result is a supply chain structure in which fragmented information flows impede the full potential of effectively managing and tracking food aid commodities. Disparate systems also present challenges with tracing food commodities when there are recalls or food quality issues, resulting in high administrative costs and the expiration of food incorrectly included in the initial recall. 

In 2020, under the LEAP III contract, Limestone led a technical and economic feasibility study to provide decision-makers with a thorough understanding of the required investments, institutional procedures, and the costs and benefits of implementing a system that improves tracking and traceability across the U.S. food aid supply chain.

Given the large scale of transportation and warehousing of food commodities, even a minor efficiency gain could lead  to significant savings. The study found that over 15 years, the efficiency gains that result from the implementation of this system is equivalent to the amount of feed needed to 67,000 people for 12 months.

Interested in the underlying technology? Created in the 1990s, QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that can efficiently hold data in a compact format and can be read instantly by scanners or mobile phones, even if partially damaged or warped.  Based on discussions with USAID and secondary research, the team is considering the use of QR codes over several other technologies due to issues of affordability, availability, and the amount of information that can be stored on a QR code.  Specifically, QR codes provide more information than a barcode, yet the implementation costs are similar.  In addition, the underlying infrastructure required to operate an alternative technology like radio frequency identification (RFID) is costly and unavailable in many countries.  

Timeline

2020

Improving the Tracking and Traceability of U.S. Food Aid: A Feasibility Study