Word had spread around the village that WFP would be trying to drop vegetable oil from the air. As the Ilyshin-76 cargo plane approached the village many people rushed out to see for themselves and there was excitement and cheers as the hatch of the plane opened releasing small orange parachutes attached to blue boxes.
Vegetable oil (fortified with vitamin A and D) is a key item that WFP provides to people it serves across the world, including in South Sudan. Normally, the agency moves this commodity by road or river to various parts of the country but when insecurity and poor roads hampers movement via land WFP resorts to moving this commodity by air.
Each month WFP has to move an average 300 metric tonnes of vegetable oil through helicopter airlifts into hard to reach areas, particularly in the states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile which have been most affected by the conflict that has been raging in the country since December 2013.
“Airlifts have worked well but the quantity of oil we move at once by helicopters is quite small when you look at the scale of the need,” said Peter Schaller, WFP Chief of Logistics in South Sudan. “We could vastly improve our efficiency and save a lot of money with the delivery of oil through airdrops.”
In a bid to cut the use of helicopters for air delivery of vegetable oil by 50 percent, saving the operation a potential $14 million per year, the WFP logistics teams began working with the US-based company SkyLife in late 2014 to develop a system to airdrop the vegetable oil out of a plane flying 200 metres above the ground.
The system that was tested in Ganyiel involved two or three tins or plastic containers of oil wrapped in a bag and placed in a box with padding. Twenty eight boxes were stacked on top of a palette in the aircraft and when the hatch of the plane opened all the boxes left at once and a 60 inch parachute opened for each box. The parachute ensures the boxes land safely on the ground with minimum damage.
“It was the first time we were delivering oil by parachutes and everyone was very nervous but I must say it has been quite some success,” said Adham Effendi, WFP Logistics Officer who supervised the test of the innovative system. “We still need to improve the system to ensure minimal losses and operational efficiency but I am hopeful that in the next few months we would be doing several airdrops of oil.”
South Sudan is one of the most challenging places where WFP works and movement of commodities by road or river are often hampered by poor infrastructure or insecurity. Therefore it is vital that WFP finds innovative methods of delivery that match the cost and efficiency of more traditional methods.
Last year, WFP logistics teams in the country successfully trialled the airdrop of Super Cereal Plus – a specialised nutritious food used to prevent and treat malnutrition in children. This has since become a viable option for delivering this critical commodity in hard to reach areas where insecurity and limited infrastructure stalls movement by road or river transport.