Food Aid Information System

Advantages and Limitations

The proposed indicators have certain limitations. Although the basic idea behind them is rather simple, the indicators themselves are not. There is a trade-off between simplicity and usefulness. The proposed indicators try to strike a balance between keeping as close as possible to a simple idea and trying to capture as much information as possible. For this reason, there are three indicators rather than one.
The indicators provide only information on the nutritional content of the delivered food aid in comparison to average nutritional requirements. They do not provide information on whether the nutritional needs of actual beneficiaries are met and do not infer a judgement on the quality of the food aid. The quality of food aid refers to a much broader set of issues, which include targeting, timing, safety, shelf life, local preferences/acceptability, usability in terms of preparation requirements, nutritional content and the extent to which food aid addresses nutritional requirements of the beneficiaries. The proposed measures focus on only one – limited – aspect of the quality of food aid, namely the nutritional content of the food aid.

Some of the advantages are:

• Relative easy concept: The basic concept to compare supply and requirements is rather simple.
• Universal applicability: The indicators use a universal yardstick and can be applied to all food aid types.
• Applicability independent from needs: Needs vary; the indicators are independent from needs, keeping them relatively simple and comparable.
• Accounting for new nutritious products: The indicators can account for new nutritious products that contain significant amounts of micronutrients, even if they contain no energy, fat or protein.

Some of the limitations are:

• Too many indicators: There is not one indicator that captures the nutritional value of food aid. IRMAt and IRMA are calculated for each nutrient. Some of the comments received during the workshop [LINK] and from the reviewers [LINK] suggested that one indicator would not be possible and encouraged the use of indicators at the nutrient level.

• Too many or too few nutrients are included and the nutrients are not weighted: There is no consensus among nutritionists about which nutrients are the most important or which weights should be attached to them. The choice of nutrients is limited by the availability of data on nutrient content (the Food Composition Table) and a consensus on average requirements.

• The indicators do not reflect nutritional gaps or needs: For a measurement of the effectiveness and quality of food aid, one would want to compare the nutritional needs of beneficiaries and the food aid delivered. That is not possible with the proposed indicators. If comprehensive information on the actual nutritional needs of beneficiaries becomes available in the future and can be linked to distribution data (rather than deliveries to a country), this would be an area of further development. Using a universal yardstick in terms of nutritional requirements also has some advantages in terms of comparability and simplicity. Moreover, the universal yardstick allows the indicators to be applicable to all kinds of food aid, whether emergency, project or programme food aid, irrespective of their specific objectives.

• The indicators only account for selected food aid deliveries: The indicators include nothing but the selected food aid deliveries. Other sources of food, for example bought or grown by beneficiaries or other food donations, are not taken into account.

• Average population vs. individual requirements: The indicators are based on average requirements for a representative population, which is different from the requirements of the actual beneficiaries of an individual, for example, because of age or diseases.

• Timing and geographical distribution: The indicators refer to a year and a country and do not indicate in which month or in which region of the country the food is delivered and targeted to a specific population group during a particular time of the year, for example, the hunger season. 

 • Complementarity: Different food aid deliveries are often complementary in the same country. This means that the under-supply of some nutrients in a certain food aid basket coming from one donor could be compensated by deliveries from other donors.

 Limitations also create possibilities for further developments: Further development is, for example, possible through:
i. Improvements in the Food Composition Table through higher reliability, better comparability and fewer missing values;
ii. Inclusion of more nutrients;
iii. Consensus on weighting among nutrients; and
iv. The user being able to change the Nutritional Requirements.