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Logistics

Desert, swamp or jungle, to get food to the hungry, WFP's logistics team has to negotiate some of the toughest terrain on the planet.

Every year WFP reaches more than 90 million beneficiaries in 74 countries. To achieve this goal, WFP relies on an impressive logistics capacity.

When the areas needing food are not accessible by road, rail or river, other methods are brought into play. An emergency may require a cargo drop from aircraft or a helicopter airlift, but there are other options too. Locally engaged porters, as well as teams of elephants, yak, donkeys and camels are also used when necessary. 

Always on the move

On any given day WFP operates an average of:

  • 50 aircraft
  • 30 ships
  • 5,000 trucks

The different ways WFP transports food can be grouped into three categories: surface transport, shipping and aviation

Rapid response

About half the food distributed by WFP is sourced directly within the country or region where it is needed. The other half, sourced internationally, is shipped by sea and unloaded in 78 cargo ports around the world.

Thanks to a range of strategies, WFP is always able to provide a rapid response to hunger emergencies. A key element in this response is the WFP-managed network of UN Humanitarian Response Depots. These are hubs, positioned near disaster-prone areas around the world, where emergency supplies are stored in readiness.

Serving the humanitarian community

WFP's expertise in logistics meant that in 2005 the agency was mandated to lead logistics operations whenever a humanitarian emergency requires a joint response from UN agencies and the humanitarian community. The group of agencies or organisations which work together is called the Logistics Cluster.

WFP also provides passenger air transport to the entire humanitarian community through the UN Humanitarian Air Service (see video on right), which goes to more than 200 locations worldwide.

Download the WFP Logistics brochure

Logistics Latest

Chances are, you might have seen this symbol before. --->

Originally designed in Japan, “Quick Response” codes are used to encrypt information such as web site URLs, phone numbers, text messages, and even geolocation. They are a digital step past the traditional barcode in that they can store and constantly update information, which can be accessed by just taking a picture of the code with your cell phone.

For an organization like WFP, GPS tracking capabilities have the potential to simplify and streamline the tracking of relief items, making this information not only more easily accessible to our own staff, but for the many humanitarian organizations for whom we transport cargo.

In Zambia, our logistics teams are using QR codes to track the movement of nearly five million mosquito nets currently being transported by WFP on behalf of UNDP and the Global Fund to around 1,000 health centres throughout the country.

These QR codes are linked to a centralized Relief Item Tracking Application (RITA), managed by logistics staff based at WFP Headquarters in Rome, Italy. Data collected from the local level is inputted by Zambia-based staff and superintendents who collectively monitor 48 districts on a daily basis. A different code is assigned to each independent batch of cargo that sets off for delivery.

Using a QR code reader installed on a cell phone, staff or partners can easily take a photo of the code above, and find out the history of a particular batch of mosquito nets.

The transporting of these nets is part of a larger effort by the Government of Zambia, together with international aid partners to ultimately eradicate malaria in their country. One part of this plan is ensuring that Zambians are able to access mosquito nets, lowering the rate of potential malaria cases.

This operation in Zambia is unique in that it’s the first time that WFP has implemented this type of technology for tracking relief items on a large scale – and it’s proving to be successful. Not only can individual cargo movements be tracked, but the progress of the entire operation can easily be seen via mobile phone or computer.

WFP has been contracted by the United Nations Development Programme through the Global Fund to distribute 4.8 million mosquito nets to 980 health centres across the country.

Originally designed in Japan, “Quick Response” codes are used to encrypt information such as web site URLs, phone numbers, text messages, and even geolocation. They are a digital step past the traditional barcode in that they can store and constantly update information, which can be accessed by just taking a picture of the code with your cell phone.

For an organization like WFP, GPS tracking capabilities have the potential to simplify and streamline the tracking of relief items, making this information not only more easily accessible to our own staff, but for the many humanitarian organizations for whom we transport cargo.

In Zambia, our logistics teams are using QR codes to track the movement of nearly five million mosquito nets currently being transported by WFP on behalf of UNDP and the Global Fund to around 1,000 health centres throughout the country.

These QR codes are linked to a centralized Relief Item Tracking Application (RITA), managed by logistics staff based at WFP Headquarters in Rome, Italy. Data collected from the local level is inputted by Zambia-based staff and superintendents who collectively monitor 48 districts on a daily basis. A different code is assigned to each independent batch of cargo that sets off for delivery.

Using a QR code reader installed on a cell phone, staff or partners can easily take a photo of the code above, and find out the history of a particular batch of mosquito nets.

The transport of these nets is part of a larger effort by the Government of Zambia, together with international aid partners to ultimately eradicate malaria in their country. One part of this plan is ensuring that Zambians are able to access mosquito nets, lowering the rate of potential malaria cases.

This operation in Zambia is unique in that it’s the first time that WFP has implemented this type of technology for tracking relief items on a large scale – and it’s proving to be successful. Not only can individual cargo movements be tracked, but the progress of the entire operation can easily be seen via mobile phone or computer.

Zambia-based Logistics Officer Edita Nichols has seen the impact first-hand:

“This type of technology is revolutionising the way WFP tracks relief items for its partners. It allows us to instantly learn where every single mosquito net is located in the supply chain.. whether it’s in a warehouse, on the move or at its final destination – all at the flick of a wrist! This is an important tool for our partners operating in remote locations without regular access to internet or power. With this technology, they can receive quick updates by scanning the QR code with their smart phone and make the necessary plans for distribution,” Edita explains.

This new technology not only increases the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations, but it also helps WFP to provide an improved logistics service to our humanitarian partners around the world, which grew from 63 in 2012 to 80 partners in 2013.

 

Chances are, you might have seen this symbol before. --->

Undoubtedly, this is a big statement–and one that brings about different sentiments depending on who you talk to: hope, scepticism, determination.

Simon is optimistic and committed. He’s been to a number of countries where WFP operates, and has been struck by the debilitating effects post-harvest losses are having on smallholder farming families across Africa. Inadequate storage and poor farming techniques are largely to blame for global harvest losses that can amount around 20% every year.

So when Simon had the chance to work on a grassroots level WFP ‘action trial’ in August 2013, aimed at teaching tried and true farming practices and testing improved storage technology with some 400 farmers, he jumped at the opportunity. The results were stellar to say the least; all participating farmers achieved at least a 98% reduction in food losses when comparing the results of old and new storage technologies over a three-month period.

Since then, news of these results gained traction around WFP, bringing some strong support along the way: from the deep field all the way up to Headquarters in Rome. If we could only scale-up, Simon explained, we could change the lives of many more smallholder farmers. The potential was soon to be realised, and efforts made by teams in Logistics and Purchase for Progress started to bear fruits in early 2014 when a project providing for a large scale-up was approved.

In March 2014, a 14-month Special Operation was launched. The ultimate goal: to establish food security amongst participating farmers. To reach it, WFP and local farming organizations have teamed up to provide trainings in improved farming practices, and most importantly, will give metal storage silos to 41,000 farming families across Uganda and Burkina Faso. Three months down the road from the launch, the future is bright, but funding is urgently needed. With enough support, positive change will come.  

Last but not least, did we mention that Simon has already dedicated over two years of his time for free to this project? That’s how passionate he feels about reducing post-harvest food losses. As the former CEO of a global logistics and agricultural organisation, he has brought extensive private sector expertise and great energy to this critical initiative.

Follow us on Twitter at @WFPLogistics and @WFP_P4P for updates on how WFP and partners are contributing to a food secure future! If you have questions for us, or would like more information, please write to WFP.Logistics@wfp.org.

Ask Simon Costa, the Project Manager for a new WFP Special Operation aimed at reducing post-harvest losses in Uganda and Burkina Faso. With the right tools and donor support, he’s confident post-harvest losses can be greatly reduced in our lifetimes.