More Bang for the Food-aid Buck

Friedman School researchers say nutrition is only the starting point in improving the lives of malnourished people

When the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) asked Friedman School researchers to take a look at the quality of the food the agency sends to malnourished people around the world, it was hoping for recommendations on how to tweak the fortified cereal mixes that are the foundation of its aid program.

After two years of research, Professor Patrick Webb and a team of colleagues came back with plenty of suggestions for improving the protein, fat, vitamin and mineral ratios in the existing mixes, and for developing new products to support pregnant women and children under age 2. But their advice didn’t stop there.

Their report, “Improving the Nutritional Quality of U.S. Food Aid,” also pushes for more research on which aid programs produce the best improvements in people’s health for the money invested.

The programming, Webb says, matters just as much as, if not more than, what aid recipients eat. “It’s not just about the food. It’s equally about what you do with that food,” he says. “Who you target—and how—matters. It’s been a hard sell to get that message across to people who just want to look at the nutrient composition of commodities used.”

In the end, USAID formally adopted all the recommendations made in the team’s final report (available on the project’s website), including the creation of an interagency committee of technical experts from USAID, the USDA, UNICEF and other groups involved in food-aid decisions.

“Let’s have a one-stop shop, a place where we can discuss and resolve problems in one place,” Webb says.

This article first appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Tufts Nutrition magazine.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at



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