International Food Assistance:

Better Nutrition and Quality Control Can Further Improve U.S. Food Aid

GAO-11-491: Published: May 12, 2011. Publicly Released: May 12, 2011.

Multimedia:

  • GAO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 1: Domestic (A) Food Production, Making Food AidVIDEO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 1: Domestic (A) Food Production, Making Food Aid
    The video shows corn being processed through several machines into cornmeal. Once whole corn kernels are milled, the corn turns into a thin powder. The facility appears clean and sanitary. This video has background sounds only.
  • GAO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 1- Domestic (B) Port Delivery, Loading Food Aid at JacintoportVIDEO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 1- Domestic (B) Port Delivery, Loading Food Aid at Jacintoport
    The video shows a man directing white bags of food aid from a circular spiralveyor into an ocean vessel. The bags drop into the hull and can be damaged upon impact; emphasizing the importance of durable packaging. This video has background sounds only.
  • GAO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 2- Ocean TransportVIDEO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 2- Ocean Transport [silent]
    The video shows an example of a large ocean vessel used to ship U.S. food aid from the United States to a foreign port. This video is silent.
  • GAO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 3- Foreign (A) Discharge at Foreign Port- Offloading food aid at Durban PortVIDEO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 3- Foreign (A) Discharge at Foreign Port- Offloading food aid at Durban Port [silent]
    The video shows the process of discharging food aid from the ocean vessel onto trucks for inland transportation and distribution. It also shows the storage of bags of bulgur in a foreign port warehouse. Source: SDV. This video is silent.
  • GAO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 3- Foreign (B) Food Distribution, Providing Food Aid in EthiopiaVIDEO: U.S. Food Aid Supply Chain: Stage 3- Foreign (B) Food Distribution, Providing Food Aid in Ethiopia
    The video shows a food aid distribution in Ethiopia where households share their rations. It also shows the rugged conditions where food aid packaging is expected to perform, as recipients drag the bags through dirt. This video has background sounds only.

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For more than 50 years, the United States--which accounts for about half of global food aid supplies--has played an important role in alleviating malnutrition and hunger, especially during emergencies. In fiscal year 2010, the United States spent about $1.5 billion on emergency food aid that reached about 46.5 million beneficiaries. To preserve the nutritional value of food aid, quality controls are in place throughout the supply chain. GAO was asked to assess U.S. efforts to (1) meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients and (2) maintain the quality of commodities throughout the food aid supply chain. GAO analyzed program data, interviewed agency officials and their implementing partners, and conducted fieldwork in the United States and four countries in Africa..

U.S. food aid provides crucial life-saving calories and nutrients to vulnerable populations during short-term emergencies, but food rations designed to address short-term food insecurity may not provide adequate nutrition during long-term food emergencies if the recipients rely solely on food aid. Furthermore, specialized food products designed for the most vulnerable groups are costly and difficult to target to the intended recipients. U.S. food aid provides essential calories and nutrients during short-term emergencies, but many food emergencies extend beyond 1 year, with multiyear feeding programs now accounting for more than half of U.S emergency food aid funding. To address the nutritional needs of vulnerable groups, including young children and pregnant and lactating women, specialized food products can be used in addition to the commodities normally used for general distribution. However, these products are also more costly than the commodities used for general distribution. As a result, U.S. agencies and implementing partners face challenges with the costliness of specialized food products and the trade-off between reaching more beneficiaries and improving nutritional outcomes for some. Within a fixed budget, distributing the more costly specialized products would reduce the overall number of beneficiaries served. The relatively higher cost of specialized food accentuates the importance of targeting efforts to ensure that the food reaches its intended recipients. However, USAID provided implementing partners with limited guidance on how to target the specialized food products to ensure they reach intended recipients. The quality of blended and fortified U.S. food aid procured has generally improved; however, problems still occasionally arise, and vulnerabilities in quality controls--such as data collection and food packaging--make it difficult to ensure that the quality of commodities is maintained throughout the supply chain. In 2007, GAO found long-standing concerns about food aid quality, specifically with corn soy blend (CSB), a nutritionally enhanced product intended for vulnerable populations. To mitigate such quality problems, in September 2009, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) resumed quality assurance activities for CSB and wheat soy blend, including vendor facility inspections and commodity sampling and testing. According to FGIS officials, virtually all (approximately 99.5 percent) of CSB lots procured by KCCO in the first quarter of fiscal year 2011 met acceptable specifications and discount ranges. Even with testing, quality problems may still arise due to ineffective quality controls within the supply chain, particularly in data tracking and food packaging. U.S. agencies and implementing partners track data only on food aid damage and losses, even though they are an imperfect indicator for quality. Without systematically tracking key quality indicators, such as elapsed time between major points within the food aid supply chain, agencies and implementing partners may not be aware of the full extent of quality problems. Furthermore, quality problems and losses have resulted from food packaging that is not sufficiently durable for the rugged conditions encountered throughout the food aid supply chain. GAO recommends that the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Secretary of Agriculture issue guidance on how to address nutritional deficiencies that may emerge during protracted emergencies, evaluate the performance and cost-effectiveness of specialized food products, issue guidance on the use of these products, identify and systematically track key quality indicators, and evaluate food packaging specifications for durability. Both USAID and USDA generally concurred with our recommendations and provided examples of recent efforts to address them.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: As of May 2012, USAID had not completed its evaluation of new reformulated food products and therefore, new guidance had not been provided to implementing partners. The 2012 Food for Peace Act authorized USAID to use funds for fiscal year 2013 and subsequent years to periodically update program guidelines on the recommended use of agricultural commodities and food products in food aid programs. H.R. 6083 ? 202(h), 7 U.S.C. 1722(h)(1)(E). As of March 2013, USAID published on the Food for Peace website new fact sheets for wheat flour, cornmeal, fortified vegetable oil, corn-soy-blend (CSB), soy-fortified cornmeal, bulgar, and soy-fortified bulgar. These commodity fact sheets include guidance on how to use the product, according to USAID. However, USAID has not established guidance for the new formula of CSB+, which the agency plans to publish after it finalizes the new Commodity Requirements Document.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for U.S. food aid that provides the sole source of diet for recipients of emergency programs that extend beyond a year, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to provide clear guidance to implementing partners on how to address nutritional deficiencies that may emerge.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2012, USDA was reviewing the performance and cost-effectiveness of new products in a field setting through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Food Aid Nutrition Enhancement Program (FANEP) and the Foreign Agricultural Service's (FAS) Micronutrient-Fortified Food Aid Products Pilot (MFFAPP). USDA funded the development and field testing of new or improved micronutrient-fortified food aid products in eight countries and said the results of this field testing would be evaluated closely to determine if these products should be included in future programs. However, USDA's field testing of new food aid products was not yet complete. As of March 2013, USDA officials said that the FANEP-funded pilots in Burundi and Bangladesh will end in June 2013 and April 2014, respectively. However, formal evaluations and final reports for the pilots are not due until early 2015. Under MFFAPP, FAS has provided $10.6 million in funding for six pilot programs, started the pilots on schedule, and begun field-testing food aid products in three of the new programs. However, formal evaluations and final reports are not due until late 2015.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for new specialized food products designed to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to evaluate the performance and cost-effectiveness of the products in achieving their nutritional goals in an appropriate program setting before they are included in the agencies' approved list of commodities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2012, USDA had not yet worked with USAID to develop new guidance for implementing partners with extensive information on targeting and nutrition in emergency and non-emergency situations.As of March 2013, USDA told us that as it receives results of field trials conducted through its pilot projects, scheduled to end by April 2014, it will share this information with USAID and develop new guidance for implementing partners on targeting and nutrition in both emergency and nonemergency situations.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for new specialized food products designed to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to provide clear guidance on whether and how best to use new specialized food products, including guidance to the agencies' implementing partners on targeting strategies to ensure that the products reach their intended recipients.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: As of May 2012, USAID had not completed its evaluation of new reformulated food products and therefore, new guidance had not been provided to implementing partners. The 2012 Food for Peace Act authorized USAID to use funds for fiscal year 2013 and subsequent years to periodically update program guidelines on the recommended use of agricultural commodities and food products in food aid programs. H.R. 6083, 202(h), 7 U.S.C. 1722(h)(1)(E). As of March 2013, USAID provided guidance to implementing partners on new fact sheets for Ready-to-use Therapeutic Foods and for Emergency Food Products. However, USAID has not finalized guidance for corn-soy-blend plus (CSB+). According to USAID, an information bulletin containing links to relevant guidance will be circulated to stakeholders on the use of CSB+ and modified fortified vegetable oil. In addition, USAID will update guidance on targeting specialized foods after it analyzes the results of a field study in Malawi on packaging size and targeting strategies, which is expected to be completed by September 2014.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for new specialized food products designed to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to provide clear guidance on whether and how best to use new specialized food products, including guidance to the agencies' implementing partners on targeting strategies to ensure that the products reach their intended recipients.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2013, USAID reported that it collaborated with implementing partners to develop the Quarterly Web-Interfaced Commodity Reporting (QWICR) mechanism to facilitate reporting on damaged and/or misused commodities. Appropriate USAID staff in Missions, regional offices, and Washington, D.C., can review QWICR for food quality issues that occur. While tracking damage and misuse of commodities is important, QWICR is reactive, rather than proactive, and does not track indicators of poor quality throughout the delivery process. The Food for Peace Act authorized USAID to establish and implement appropriate protocols for quality assurance of food products procured by the Secretary for food aid programs. H.R. 6083 ? 202(h), 7 U.S.C. 1722 (h)(1)(D)

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. food aid programs' efforts to maintain the quality of commodities throughout the food aid supply chain, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to strengthen agencies' monitoring of commodity quality by identifying and tracking key quality indicators to ensure that agencies and implementing partners are aware of the full extent of quality problems, including emerging concerns, throughout the supply chain.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  6. Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2012, USDA continued to track food product quality by identifying and archiving quality complaints within its Web Based Supply Chain Management system (WBSCM). While tracking quality complaints provides useful information, GAO recommends that various key quality indicators also be tracked. As of March 2013, USDA told us it is working with USAID to explore the possibility of developing a comprehensive quality control system for food aid programs within existing budgetary resources.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. food aid programs' efforts to maintain the quality of commodities throughout the food aid supply chain, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to strengthen agencies' monitoring of commodity quality by identifying and tracking key quality indicators to ensure that agencies and implementing partners are aware of the full extent of quality problems, including emerging concerns, throughout the supply chain.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USAID's implementing partners now have options to select more durable packaging for vegetable oil. In addition, in order to better withstand rigorous handling and transportation, in January 2013, USAID increased from 90 to 100 percent its use of high performance multi-layered 25 kilogram bags.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. food aid programs' efforts to maintain the quality of commodities throughout the food aid supply chain, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to evaluate packaging specifications to ensure food packaging is sufficiently durable for conditions encountered throughout the supply chain.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As of February 2012, USDA and USAID had begun working with FACG's Packaging Working Group to examine potential weaknesses and explore improvements for current standards of existing food aid packaging specifications. As a direct result of this collaboration, the containers used to ship vegetable oil were changed to improve the seal and durability of cans. Additional alterations in packaging include changes to markings describing how the contract and lot numbers were applied. For example, in response to revised USAID program requirements concerning overseas inventory issues, USDA also increased the utilization of "best if used by dates" on all packaging. In January 2013, the FACG recommended USDA and USAID switch to 100 percent high performance bags for all commodities packaged in 25 kilogram multiwall paper bags. Based on a study performed by the FACG Packaging Working Group, it was determined that the switch to these high performance bags would further reduce commodity losses and simplify inventory control procedures and costs for commodity and bag suppliers. These packaging changes became effective with the March 2013 purchase and could potentially result in reduced commodity costs.

    Recommendation: To improve U.S. food aid programs' efforts to maintain the quality of commodities throughout the food aid supply chain, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to evaluate packaging specifications to ensure food packaging is sufficiently durable for conditions encountered throughout the supply chain.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  9. Status: Open

    Comments: As of February 2012, USDA continued to support USAID's efforts to evaluate new reformulated food products for emergency food aid programs. However, since USAID's evaluation had not been completed, the agencies had not established new guidance for implementing partners. In March 2013, USDA and USAID held an interagency meeting and discussed the creation of a task force to develop guidance for implementers and to resolve technical issues in food aid products, programs, and processes.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for U.S. food aid that provides the sole source of diet for recipients of emergency programs that extend beyond a year, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to provide clear guidance to implementing partners on how to address nutritional deficiencies that may emerge.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  10. Status: Open

    Comments: As of May 2012, USAID had not completed its work with USDA and WFP to develop test protocols to assess the cost effectiveness of new food products. The 2012 Food for Peace Act authorized USAID to evaluate, as necessary, the use of current and new agricultural commodities and products thereof in different program settings and for particular recipient groups, including the testing of prototypes. H.R. 6083 ? 202(h), 7 U.S.C. 1722(h)(1)(C). As of March 2013, USAID, in coordination with its partners, developed two field trials examining the cost effectiveness of new products for treating and preventing moderate malnutrition. USAID is in the final preparatory stages for a treatment trial in Sierra Leone and prevention trial in Burkina Faso. By summer of 2013, USAID will enroll children between 6 and 23 months of age in the trials, with results expected in approximately 3 years.

    Recommendation: To enhance U.S. food aid programs' efforts to meet the nutritional needs of intended recipients, and for new specialized food products designed to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable groups, the Administrator of USAID and the Secretary of Agriculture should work together to evaluate the performance and cost-effectiveness of the products in achieving their nutritional goals in an appropriate program setting before they are included in the agencies' approved list of commodities.

    Agency Affected: United States Agency for International Development

 

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