KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Tons of U.S. processed grains are going into food aid for malnutritioned and starving populations around the world. That message became clear during the three days of the USDA & USAID International Food Aid and Development Conference in Kansas City. The conference wrapped up Wednesday.

Accepted as fact during the conference was that 33 percent of child mortality in the world is related to malnutrition. Additionally, an uncounted number of moderately malnutritioned children are developmentally stunted.

As the fact sheet handed out during the conference noted, USAID is in the process of initiating improvements to “the timeliness and appropriateness of food assistance.” In general terms, it was noted that the changes “include advanced and ever improving early warning systems, new and more nutritious food aid products, state of the art preposition of commodities for timeliness of delivery, significant cash programming and new programming approaches.” All this sounds like a lot of beauracratic paperwork to accomplish feeding the hungry, and attending the conference probably wouldn’t dispel that thought by the average American.

It was professed by a Bread for the World Institute spokesperson that $11.8 billion in aid is needed each year in a total of 36 countries to counter 90 percent of the world’s malnutrition.

As for meeting a portion of the goals outlined by the USAID fact sheet, Paul Alberghine, program specialist (health and nutrition), Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) of the USDA, gave an overview and update of the Micronutrient-Fortified Food Aid Products Pilot (MFFAPP) program funded by Congress in fiscal year 2010. The $14 million funding was to develop more nutritious and micronutrient-fortified food aid products. In 2011 FAS funded six projects for $8 million out of the original funding.

FAS expects to identify new products that can be used in USDA’s Food for Progress and McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programs. This is where U.S. grains become important and new markets are being established.

The products being developed are classified in four general categories—emergency food products, ready-to-use foods, general food basket products and fortified blended foods. The emergency food products are meal replacement products for use at the onset of emergencies until traditional humanitarian food assistance can be provided. The ready-to-use foods are the biggest variety of products from ones that are nutritionally dense, highly fortified products for treating severe acute malnutrition to supplements or complementary foods. The general food basket reference is to processes and end products with vitamin and micronutrient fortification to conventional foods such as vegetable oil or milled flours. Fortified blended foods in general are ones that can be used as a basic food, often when cooked as a type of porridge, and in most cases, these contain blends of corn, soy and dairy protein.

Alberghine outlined the six projects funded in 2011. Some are multi-year projects that could rely on continued funding from Congress, which worries many of those involved in the programs, because of the budget cutting under way.

Kansas State University is working in Tanzania working with three fortified blended foods—sorghum and soy blend, sorghum and cowpea blend and corn-soy blend.

Joint Aid Management is working in Mozambique developing a soy-based vanilla flavored powder for mixing with water.

The organization of Meds & Food for Kids, associated with the University of Illinois, is working in Haiti to test Mamba Lespri, which translates from Creole as “smart peanut butter,” to provide supplemental food for school children.

The International Partnership for Human Development is proceeding with a dairy-based micronutrient fortified supplementary dairy paste in Guinea and Bissau.

The Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) is working in Cambodia to gain acceptance of an “enhanced strain of ultra rice” with high levels of iron and Vitamin A. 

Hormel Foods is working in Guatamala with its product “Spammy,” which is a canned poultry-based supplemental spread that can be flavored to the taste of different countries’ population preference, and is curry flavored in the initial stages of development.

All the products have to meet three main goals, cost effectiveness, nutritional value and quality assurance. Another factor to any product is the ability to assure its stability in the conditions of storage available within undeveloped countries. But the biggest end goal also has to be acceptance by the undernourished population.

The ultra rice project is an example of trying to gain acceptance by the public. Ultra rice actually is rice ground into powder, fortified with iron and Vitamin A, made into a paste, extruded into the shape of rice kernels and dried.  The fortified ultra rice is then mixed with conventional white rice in a one to 100 kernel ratio. Until cooked, the ultra rice has a slightly different appearance, and the concern has been that people who only eat white rice, but need more vitamins and minerals, have been known to pick the ultra rice out of the mix.

The cost of feeding the hungry has to be a major consideration in any program because of the limited resources and the large malnourished population. Again ultra rice is an example, in the small scale operations of today the cost to fortify rice is about $15 to $20 per metric ton, and the project director for the ultra rice project with PATH, Dipika Matthias, said the process has to be less than $10 per metric ton to be a competitive food source.

With the fortified blended foods, which are cooked into a porridge, an early product that has recently been improved is the corn-soy blend plus plus (CSB++) product, it is in a category of foods that can feed the moderately acute malnutritioned for 16 cents to 38 cents per day, according to presentations at the conference.

It was obvious from most of the presentations that processed foods and supplements are necessary and that whole grains or unprocessed commodities are not the most successful approach to treating extreme malnutrition.