Food Aid Information System

A Guided Example

Let’s suppose the user is interested in emergency donations from the United States to the Sudan in 2007. The user can start by downloading quantity data on donations filtered as follows:


Donor = USA
Recipient = SUDAN
Year = 2007
Food Aid Type = Emergency


The output is: 311,983 metric tons of food were delivered by the United States to the Sudan in 2007.
Is this food aid basket nutritious?
FAIS data allows the user to get information on this basket from a nutritional point of view. By switching to the nutritional reporting, the user has access to three different indicators (IRMAt, IRMA and IRMAs), which summarize the nutritional information about this basket. These indicators refer only to the selected food aid basket, and do not take into account needs and other sources of food, such as bought or grown food by the beneficiaries or complementary food aid deliveries (see caveats below).



Interpreting IRMAt: How much of each nutrient is contained in the selected food basket


IRMAt (Individual Requirements Met on Average, Total) can be considered an alternative measure for food aid deliveries.
By knowing how many tons of which commodity are contained in the food aid basket, it is easy to compute how many micrograms of nutrients there are in the overall basket (see the Food Composition Table). But, a measure like that would not be easy to interpret. Furthermore, each nutrient is measured in a different unit (for example, vitamin C is measured in micrograms and fat is measured in grams). IRMAt “standardizes” the nutritional content of food aid by taking it as a percentage of human nutritional requirements. IRMAt of a nutrient is nothing but the number of individual requirements that could potentially be met on an annual basis by the total food aid deliveries selected.
Having a look at the output:

 Table 1.  IRMAt data

 1,485,415 yearly individual energy requirements could potentially be satisfied by the food aid delivered by the United States to the Sudan in 2007. The same basket could potentially satisfy 1,894,170 yearly individual iron requirements.

IRMAt values are descriptive of a food aid basket and are dependent on the absolute value in tonnage. They give information that reflects both nutritional content and the size of the food aid deliveries. From this point of view IRMAt can be considered a unit of measurement for food aid flows: it measures food aid basket by the number of average individuals that its nutritional content could potentially satisfy.


Interpreting IRMA: How to make the nutritional content of food aid baskets comparable


IRMA (Individual Requirements Met on Average) is computed on one representative ton of the food aid basket the user has selected. The “representativity” of the ton comes from the fact that the shares of the commodities are the same as those in the total selected food basket.
Therefore it can be used for comparisons among food aid baskets of different size and in understanding how much of their difference in nutritional content is due to the absolute value in metric tons of the donations and how much is due to the nutritional qualities of food delivered.
See for example the emergency food aid donated from the United States to the Sudan in 1990 and in 2007. The actual tonnage of food aid delivered strongly increased, being in 2007 almost three times the 1990 tonnage. What about the nutritional characteristics of this aid? Its energetic content has increased a little, while the average iron content has increased significantly: one representative ton of those donated in 1990 could potentially satisfy the iron requirements of 4.4 average individuals, but in 2007 one representative ton contained iron enough to satisfy the requirements of 6.1 average individuals.

 Table 2. IRMA data

Because IRMA values are computed on just one ton of the 311,983 donated, IRMA values are much smaller than IRMAt (more precisely, they are 311,983 times smaller). In fact, IRMA = IRMAt divided by the quantity of food aid selected. IRMA makes it easier to notice any imbalance in the nutritional content of the food basket: one ton of food aid could potentially satisfy 4.8 individual requirements of Energy but only 0.1 of Iodine and 1.2 of Vitamin A. The IRMAs value captures these imbalances in one number.

Interpreting IRMAs: On the nutritional balance of food aid


The energy intake of a human being is the only one among the nutrients that cannot in the short run be renounced without putting at immediate risk the possibility of survival itself. A lack of other nutrients increases susceptibility to infections and slows cognitive development and growth, contributing to poorer school performance and reduced work productivity. These effects are largely irreversible and long term, particularly when they occur at a young age. For these reasons, the IRMAs computation takes the content of Energy as a benchmark to compare with the other nutrients’ content.

For the calculation of IRMAs, we start with the IRMA values for each nutrient. IRMA of a nutrient counts the number of average individuals that could potentially be satisfied by the nutrient contained in a ton of food aid. The following graph shows the IRMA values for each nutrient, computed on emergency food aid delivered from the United States to Sudan in 2007. The IRMA energy is highlighted as a red horizontal line.


Figure 1. IRMA data


What is clear from the above graph is that Fat, Protein, Iron, Niacin and Thiamine are “more than sufficient “ compared to the energy content. Yet, the IRMA for the other nutrients are smaller and below the red energy threshold.

IRMAs captures the imbalance regarding some nutrients in the food basket, disregarding at the same time the “surpluses” in others. It is computed by taking for each nutrient (other than energy), its IRMA as a percentage of the IRMA for energy, capping the IRMA values above 100% at 100% and taking the average. See also the capped values in the spider graph below.


Figure 2. Capped scores for IRMAs

Turning back to the example, the IRMAs value for food aid deliveries from the United States to the Sudan in 2007 is 52.1%. You can see displayed also the IRMA energy to which it is referred.

IRMAs takes a value only in the interval [0%, 100%]. The closer the IRMAs is to 100%, the more balanced the food aid basket is. The closer it is to 0%, the poorer the nutrient balance is compared to its energy content.




The proposed indicators IRMA, IRMAs and IRMAt cannot provide any judgement on the “effectiveness” or “quality” of food aid deliveries. They do not provide information on whether the nutritional needs of actual beneficiaries are met. They provide only information on their “nutritional potential” of meeting average requirements. Even if the indicators are connected to the actual impact of food aid, the concept of potential should be distinguished from actual impact.
These indicators are a first attempt to put a quantitative number on the nutritional value of food aid. They hopefully will start a discussion and lead to improvements.
This section provides some warnings about the interpretation of the nutritional indicators.


The nutritional indicators provide a measure of the nutritional value of a food aid basket. Nothing but the selected food aid is taken into account. This means that any other source of food bought or grown by the beneficiaries or other food donations are not taken into account. Very often food aid is not the only source of food for the beneficiaries, even in an emergency context. Furthermore, there may exist complementarities among different food aid interventions. For example, the food aid selected might be low in Vitamin A, but other donors may provide food commodities rich in Vitamin A.


IRMAt, IRMA and IRMAs use the concept of average Individual Requirement Met, which is different from the requirements of the actual beneficiaries of food aid. The average individual requirement is the nutrient requirement of an average individual in a developing country for one year, while the beneficiary is the person effectively targeted by food aid interventions. Beneficiary requirements might be different because of age, pregnancy or diseases. The nutritional indicators do not refer to beneficiaries reached by food, but more properly to the “nutritional potential” of a food aid basket. Thus, if the IRMA is 5, the food aid might be able to meet the requirements of 7 actual beneficiaries – or maybe 3.


Computing nutritional indicators on the food aid delivered in a whole year is of course arbitrary. Food aid deliveries are often concentrated in a relatively short period of time, for example, during the hunger season or after a natural disaster. Shorter or even longer time intervals could be used with the same purpose without any substantial modification to the meaning of indicators. Furthermore, food aid is never presumed to be uniformly distributed over the considered year. A basket of food aid delivered, for example, in one shipment in January may have the same nutritional value of a basket delivered in monthly tranches throughout the year (but might have a higher impact because the timing in January was right at the time of the hunger season).


Similarly, uniformity in the geographical distribution in the recipient country is not to be assumed. Food aid is often targeted to a specific area or subgroup of the population, and one cannot assume that all the inhabitants of a recipient country or subregion within a country would receive the same food aid ration. This should always be taken into account when interpreting the nutritional indicators for a recipient country.


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. The IRMAs indicator calculated for one recipient, taking account of all deliveries from all donors, incorporates the fact that one donor may compensate for another.
The nutrients in the IRMAs are not weighted. The IRMAs gives the same importance to all the considered nutrients, even if their importance for human health and well-being is different. Read more about this in the Overview.