How Food ATMs Can Revolutionize Food Provision for Refugees


SEATTLE, Washington — Food insecurity plagues a majority of refugees and their families due to their inability to readily access inexpensive and nutritious food in refugee camps, according to the World Food Programme (WFP). Most refugees lose their capacity for self-sustenance when relocated from rural areas that rely on agriculture as a source for food. Moreover, refugee camps have limited food provisions rationed out to recipients, opening possibilities for theft and foodborne illnesses from spoiled food. Internationally shipping also raises food commodity costs for humanitarian organizations providing food to refugee camps. As a result, WFP and World Vision developed Food ATMs to improve refugees’ food security.

The World Food Programme and the Food ATM

In early 2019, the WFP and World Vision began to implement the Food ATM program for refugees that offers a cost-effective and innovative solution to lacking food provision practices in refugee camps. The Food ATM is an automated food dispenser that provides refugees with access to fresh, local food at any time of the day and in any quantity refugees can afford.

This food dispenser not only helps refugees at large, but it also supports local businesses and economies while reducing costs and pollution from large-scale transportation of food commodities.

What is the Food ATM and How Does it Work

The WFP created the Innovation Accelerator program in 2015 and continues to host several Innovation Bootcamps every year to develop, fund and scale innovative ideas and technology to tackle global hunger. At the November 2018 Innovation Bootcamp, WFP’s Nairobi Regional Bureau and World Vision developed the Food ATM.

The Food ATM for refugees is an automated dispensary machine set up at refugee camp distribution points. The innovative design consists of multiple ATMs containing varied, locally procured food commodities like cereals, cooking oil and other foods fortified with micronutrients. While the WFP has not yet distributed the ATMs worldwide, ATMs will be located in clean, temperature-controlled rooms in refugee camps. These areas will be open to refugees at any time of the day and refugees can buy their desired amount of food within their WFP monthly prepaid SCOPE card limit.

The innovative Food ATM creates an efficient, on-demand system where fresh, local food would be available for refugees at their convenience. Moreover, because the WFP would source food locally, food will no longer have to be shipped in bulk over long distances. Additionally, local personnel trained by WFP and World Vision experts will continually maintain and restock Food ATMs. Data collected from the machines will also allow the WFP to analyze what foods refugees are consuming and how much they are consuming to efficiently plan for future food provision.

How the Food ATM Benefits Refugees and Others

The traditional food provision method at a refugee camp includes serving a large population every day at a designated time. This results in long, crowded lines for refugees to collect daily or even monthly rations of food. Crowded distribution lines are inefficient and put refugees in danger because thieves can predict when people receive their rations.

The WFP and World Vision designed the Food ATM for refugees to have an efficient on-demand system that gives them autonomy over their food provision, getting rid of long distribution lines and lowering food thievery. Refugees no longer need to worry about rationing food commodities over long periods due to food availability.

Additionally, because food items are locally obtained and held in refrigerated areas, refugees benefit nutritionally. Food is fresher and therefore has a lower chance of spoiling and causing foodborne illnesses. As a result of these measures, spoilage will not waste food and refugees can gain food security.

Local infrastructure also benefits from Food ATMs. Following the implementation of Food ATMs, markets for local food businesses will boost. This, in turn, will amplify local supply chains due to the decreased international shipping of food supplies. Decreased international shipping also helps cut transportation costs for humanitarian organizations at refugee camps and reduces the overall carbon footprint from food provision.

Food ATMs Future in Food Provision

Food security is a constant concern for many in refugee camps across the world. According to World Vision, 30% of food baskets send to refugee camps are either lost, stolen or sold. This is due to the traditional food provisions in refugee camps that can inspire theft, spoil food, and lack of dietary diversity.

However, the WFP and World Vision’s Food ATM can revolutionize food provision for refugees. These organizations have created an innovative system that improves refugees’ freedom of choice and safety in obtaining food in refugee camps, improving their health and life quality.

The international humanitarian organizations implemented Food ATMs in Uganda refugee camps for a six-month trial period in 2019. If results are positive, the WFP and World Vision plan to launch five more Food ATMs by the end of 2020 throughout East Africa. The organizations’ objective is to bring this project to large-scale and end global hunger for refugees.

—Dalton Dunning
Photo: Flickr


Comments are closed.