Piyush Kanel and Ankit Sood both work at the World Food Programme in India. They work with the government and shopkeepers to distribute food to more than 800 million people each month through the Targeted Public Distribution System.

In 2013, the government passed the National Food Security Act, which made access to food a right under the law. In addition to guaranteeing access to food, the Food Security Act aimed to transform the entire food distribution system to improve transparency and efficiency.

During a visit to a “fair price shop” where beneficiaries can receive their allotment of food, Kanel and Sood saw that despite the new law, people were still going hungry. After looking at the data, they found individuals were receiving 10-20% less food than they were entitled to.

SEE: Special Feature–The Future of Food (ZDNet)

The current distribution system is very manual. Shopkeepers distribute wheat and rice during store hours only. Store managers also determine the amount of grain given to each person regardless of the benefit allowed by the government to the individual.

Kanel and Sood are building the GrainATM to make sure no one is denied access to food. The unit uses both high and low tech to dispense the right amount of food to the right person at the right time.

Their invention takes advantage of the biometric ID system India has been building over the last decade. The government is scanning the fingerprints, eyes, and faces of the 1.3 billion residents to use this biometric identificaiton for accessing welfare benefits, opening bank accounts, and taking school exams.

An individual will use her thumbprint to access food benefits via the GrainATM.
The dispenser holds about 200 kilograms of wheat and rice–that amount will serve between 10 and 15 people per day. An individual can take from 5 kilograms to up to 35 kilograms at a time. The new system also allows the individual to vary the amount of grain in each allotment.
With the existing system, it takes about 10 minutes for a person to receive a portion of grain; the new dispenser reduces that time to about 3 minutes.

“Ultimately, this will be an unmanned system,” Kanel said, allowing people to get their food rations on their own schedule instead of during store hours only.

This system also can be used during natural disasters.

“You could put this on the back of a truck and drive it to wherever it’s needed,” Kanel said.

Kanel and Sood are looking for $250,000 to expand their 15 pilot sites to more fair price shops in India.

Piyush Kanel is developing the GrainATM with his World Food Programme colleague Ankit Sood to improve the food distribution process in India.
Image: Veronica Combs