World Food Programme seeking high and low tech solutions to hit Zero Hunger by 2030

Innovation Accelerator projects are taking on food waste, supply chain challenges, and disaster preparation and response.

Google hosts World Food Programme data and device startups Six project teams won a spot in the Innovation Accelerator and the chance to pitch to Silicon Valley mentors and funders.

There are 821 million people around the world who don't have enough food to eat. The World Food Programme feeds about 90 million people each year. To meet the goal of ending hunger by 2030, the organization will have to reach a lot more people.

"We can do that one of two ways, with technology or by building more sustainable models that don't depend exclusively on donations to feed people," said Bernhard Kowatsch, the head of the Innovation Accelerator at the World Food Programme. 

Kowatsch started the accelerator four years ago. The program has worked with 190 teams and runs 21 boot camps so far. This year the WFP team picked six finalists out of 1,900 applications. This is the first year that the boot camp and pitch night was held in the states.

The WFP helps almost 90 million people every year with direct food assistance or cash payments to buy food. The WFP also provides emergency assistance and development aid. 
 
Over the last several years, the non-profit has shifted its mission from simply providing help to developing and supporting long-term solutions. This includes supporting local economies, helping refugees develop job skills, making the supply chain more efficient, and working with farmers to reduce crop loss. The accelerator program has helped the WFP in all these areas.

Five accelerator projects are scaling up their products, and six are getting ready to launch. All of the teams presented at a pitch night at Google headquarters on Tuesday. GrainMate, a moisture monitor that keeps harvest fresh until it gets to market, won the "most impactful pitch" award. The six startups can apply for $100,000 in funding in the next phase of the accelerator.

SEE: Digital Transform Road Map (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Helping people

About half of the project teams in the Innovation Accelerator Boot Camp and Pitch Night are working on products and services to help individuals directly.

EMPACT

In addition to feeding people on a daily basis, the WFP develops long-term solutions to help refugees, and other groups become self-reliant. The EMPACT project is designed to train refugees for digital jobs such as data entry, data cleaning, photo editing, and image annotation. Students start with a basic, six-week course on fundamental IT skills and then move on to advanced training, apprenticeships, and online work.

At nine campuses in Lebanon and Iraq, the EMPACT team has delivered more than 4,000 classes to about 2,700 students. The goal is to reach 20,000 students by the end of 2020, and 100,000 people over the next five years.

Fenik

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This device uses evaporative cooling to keep fruits and vegetables cool in communities with no electricity.

Image: Veronica Combs

This portable mini-fridge uses evaporative cooling to keep fruits, and vegetables fresh without electricity. The company started with a KickStarter project aimed at people who go camping. The World Food Programme wants to get the device into desert groceries and homes.

Grainmate

In 2018, the World Food Programme bought 3.6 million metric tons of food. One of the supply chain challenges is spoilage. This moisture monitor will help farmers keep their harvest fresh until it gets to market. The unit costs $100, and farmers can trade grain for the device.

GrainATM

The Indian government feeds 830 million people per month at a cost of about $20 billion per year. The National Food Security Act of 2013 started the modernization process of the distribution system to increase efficiency and transparency. Two WFP team members in India have created an automated dispenser to make it easier and faster for people to get their allotment of grains. 

H2Grow

Taleb Brahim has lived in a refugee camp in Algeria since 1975. He has developed a hydroponic growing system to allow people in desert communities and refugee camps to grow vegetables and food for animals. In Algeria, individuals are using 200 hydroponic units to grow fodder and boost the milk and meat production of goats.

SharetheMeal

The WFP's donation app makes it easy for individuals to donate a meal. A gift of 50 cents covers three meals for one child for one day. In 2018, users donated about 11 million meals. Since launching, SharetheMeal has distributed 43 million meals from 1.5 million donors. WFP directs the donation to the people most in need and reports back on where the food was distributed. The WFP is funded entirely by donations. The next goal is to integrate ShareTheMeal's API with GrubHub and other online purchasing platform. The idea is to 

Improving the system

In addition to working with individuals in communities around the world, the WFP is looking for solutions to improve food distribution, decision-making, and supply chain efficiency.

HungerMapLive

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Francesca Caldari and Elisa Omodei of the World Food Programme  are using cloud services and predictive analytics to monitor food insecurity around the world.

Image: Veronica Combs

The WFP's Hunger Monitoring Unit in Rome is building this map to track hunger, and its causes around the world. The new map provides a global view as well as detailed information on each country. Decision makers at all levels of the organization will be able to use the map to get a real-time readout on food conditions in a particular country. A user can turn on data layers that show conflict, weather conditions, and political issues in a particular country. The WFP is working with Alicaba Cloud services to build the map. It will be available to the public by the end of the year.

Tamwini - My Food Ration

Iraq distributes flour, rice, oil, and sugar to hungry citizens through a paper-based system. This team wants to replace that system with Tamwini, a digital identity platform to will allow individuals to update their personal information on Iraq's national ID system. The  digital identity platform will make it easier to prioritize aid to the most needy people and to improve interoperability with other government programs.

PLUS School Menus

One of the WFP's goals is to make sure children have healthy food for the first 1,000 days of life. Another priority is to buy food from local producers. This platform supports both efforts by calculating the most cost-effective school feeding menus for children of different ages and prioritizing local procurement. WFP buys about 75% of its food from local small-scale farmers. The tool simplifies the decision-making process to ensure more nutritious food for children and support local farmers at the same time.  

Prism/Vampire

This platform supports WFP's work to help communities deal with climate change. The software provides information on climate risk and population vulnerability before, during, and after drought or flooding. 

Roambee

On any given day, WFP has 5,600 trucks, 20 ships, and 92 planes on the move, delivering food and other assistance. This team is developing an Internet of Things (IoT) platform to track goods, equipment, or valuable assets that are located indoors, outdoors, and in-transit. Roambee wants to increase the transparency and predictability of the WFP's supply chain.

Also see

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Piyush Kanel and Ankit Sood of the World Food Programme are building an automated grain dispenser that uses biometrics to give people access to food allotments.

Image: Veronica Combs