Zero Hunger Challenge Gets Supply Chain Help

You think your supply chain is complicated—try managing elephants, yaks, donkeys, and camels as part of the logistics component. That’s what the United Nations World Food Programme has to do to deliver 12.6 billion food rations to 80 million people in over 80 countries—and why supply chain planning and optimization vendor Quintiq is donating its expertise to help the WFP get people the food they need.

The UN launched its Zero Hunger Challenge in 2015 to better the lives of the 795 million people—one in nine globally—who suffer from hunger. At any one time, the WFP’s 14,000-strong staff is marshalling 70 planes, 20 ships, 5,000 trucks, and the aforementioned pack animals to get food where it’s needed.

“The World Food Programme is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide,” said Corinne Fleischer, its director of supply chain operations. “When an emergency strikes, within 72 hours we deliver life-saving food assistance.”

The WFP is innovating across its supply chain. In Syria, where it supports up to 4.5 million people each month, it deploys “pop-up” staging areas with regional suppliers. It’s also optimizing food baskets, Fleischer said, delivering “the same nutritional and caloric content with commodities that cost less to reach these people, despite enormous funding challenges and increased conflict.”

The WFP is voluntarily funded, putting an additional strain on the supply chain. Because it does not know in advance what it will have available, forward-looking planning and optimization is that much more critical, to ensure it has a reliable, responsive, and cost-effective supply chain operation.

As part of this public-private partnership, Quintiq is helping the WTF create global sourcing strategies and delivery networks to increase that supply chain efficiency. In West Africa, it’s helping the WFP determine where and when to buy product for the food baskets; how to receive and disburse in-kind donations; how to reduce logistics costs; and how, when, and in which products to invest new funding.

Quintiq brings mathematical and constraint programming and path optimization algorithms to the task of helping the WFP build a flexible planning system capable of creating multiple, easily revised scenarios across different time zones. Rapid optimization and real-time visibility are crucial—lives are on the line, and changes must be broadcast quickly across the system to inform on-the-fly decisions.

It’s not unlike today’s business mandate—deliver what the customer wants, when he wants it, and where he wants it, all at low cost. Except the WFP supply chain is more complex—and the stakes are much higher.

“WFP has the world’s largest humanitarian supply chain puzzle—the scale of their work, the routes that they have to use, and the methods they employ to complete deliveries in some of the world’s most unforgiving territories are unlike anything else the logistics industry has ever seen,” said Wil Lamain, CTO at Dassault Systèmes, Quintiq. “WFP is doing great work. We want to help them do even greater work, and bring them closer to reaching Zero Hunger.”

John Martin

John Martin writes about technology, business, science, and general-interest topics. A former U.S. correspondent for The Economist (Science & Technology), he writes for the private sector, universities, and media, and can be reached at