Tech for the Hungry: Why Technology is Key for Feeding the World

What a great irony it is that we live in a world where there is more than enough food to feed all seven billion people, yet statistics show that 870 million people go hungry every year. One person out of every nine lacks the daily nutritional requirements to “be healthy and lead an active life.” At this point, ending world hunger depends not on getting more food, but on improving technologies that identify where it is needed most, and get it distributed there quickly and efficiently. New big data technologies such as cassandra vs hadoop are saving impoverished, starving populations especially in eastern, central, and southern Africa. Research shows that half of those in need are in Asia and the Pacific, and another quarter are on the African continent.

The technology that organizations like UNICEF, UNHCR, and the World Food Program use include cell phones, satellites, and debit cards to collect important data, provide security and fraud prevention, and real-time detailed surveillance. An assessment is the first tool used to determine if a population is in need of services provided by non-profit, non-governmental organizations that give out free or reduced price food. Thanks to cell phones, every month the organizations can contact individual people to see what their food situation is like. Families report what they have eaten and how much. People who do not have access to a cell phone are contacted face-to-face. Volunteers and employees take their tablets and smartphones with them on home visits. It is important to determine if and how recently both children and adults have consumed staples such as eggs and milk. And, if they have not, the next step is to determine where and when they can get those rations. International programs hope to adjust their tactics from long lines outside designated food stations to providing the food directly to the community by distributing it to local markets and stores.

These markets and stores are getting help from technology by the way of debit cards and card readers. In order to teach the populations to be self-sufficient both as individuals and as a community, experts are shifting to plastic cards. These cards reveal the person’s identity, how much money they have been given in order to purchase food, and, of course, they keep all private information extremely secure. This is better than long lines and flimsy pieces of paper that can easily be lost or forged.

After devastating tragedies such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, and man-made catastrophes like wars, food distribution programs work hard to get supplies to the survivors. Tracking technology like satellites (with help from software defined storage) are vital tools for identifying where the surviving populations migrated to. Satellite images of groups of people are sent to the first responders so that they can be found, and the obstacles in their way are forwarded as well, enabling the forces to avoid traps like rockslides blocking roads. These direct shipments not only get food into the mouths and stomachs of those who need it, but they reduce costs because packages only need to be transported once. Shipping costs add up to a very high percentage of these organization’s budgets — percentages of money that could be used on the families, instead of on correcting errors.

The WFP (World Food Program) feeds 80 million people every year. Rations are only made up of cereal, beans and / or peas, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, cereal blends, high energy biscuits, bread and, of course, water. Ideally in the coming years as technology continues to improve, distributing food and saving lives will happen more often, and even faster.