Going against the grain

WFP supports three new innovations to transform grain storage and distribution

WFP Innovation Accelerator
5 min readApr 22, 2020


Beneficiaries claiming their subsidised food rations at their local fair price shop in Rayagada, India. WFP has introduced innovations such as biometric authentication to improve efficiency and accuracy. Photo: WFP/Aditya Arya

By Liam Brown

“I don’t care how long you make me wait, but please ensure that I get my food grains. I don’t want my family to go hungry.”

Ankit Sood, Head of the Systems Reforms Unit at WFP India was speaking with an elderly gentleman at a shop in eastern India. The man was waiting to receive rations of subsidised food grains from a “fair price” shop through India’s food security system, the world’s largest food-based safety net.

Unfortunately, on average, people reliant on India’s food security system are provided with 10 to 20 percent less grains than they should receive. Shopkeepers often under-weigh the subsidized grains, as they have an incentive to sell the surplus at a higher price.

That’s what inspired WFP’s India country office to come up with GrainATM: an automated dispensing machine to provide people with any-time access to the grains of their choice, quickly, hygienically and accurately. GrainATM allows people to get the exact amount of grains that they should receive, without any manual interference. WFP’s digital SCOPE smartcards can be used for verification.

The prototype GrainATM being tested in a factory setting in India. The dispenser is designed to hold about 200 kilograms of wheat and rice. Photo: WFP/Mayank Shekhar

And faced by the global outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), GrainATM’s potential to reduce face-to-face interactions while still providing access to rations could be a game-changer for WFP and other humanitarian agencies.

After having participated in a WFP Innovation Bootcamp in San Francisco in October 2019, the project is aiming to design, develop and test six GrainATMs, providing a proof of concept for the Government of India to scale-up. The first prototype GrainATM has already been built and is currently being tested in a factory setting.

GrainATM will ensure the right amount of grains is dispensed to the right person at the right time, while maintaining social distancing. Photo: WFP/Mayank Shekhar

Sprinting from idea to impact

GrainATM is one of three grain-related projects that were recently selected for the WFP Innovation Accelerator’s Sprint Programme — an intense six-month acceleration programme that matches innovators and startups with exceptional support to sprint from idea to impact.

The projects will receive access to world-class mentors, results-driven programming, WFP’s vast field operations, and hands-on support from an experienced project manager. Thanks to the generous support of the German government, they will also be awarded up to US$ 100,000 in equity-free funding.

Just four crops — wheat, maize, rice and soybeans — provide two-thirds of the world’s food supply. Supporting innovations that can improve how grains are stored, processed or distributed is essential to disrupting hunger.

Dry grains mean income gains

Memouna, a smallholder farmer in Ghana harvested ten bags of corn after six months of hard work. Out of these ten bags, three grew mouldy and were lost, leaving her with only seven bags to sell and feed her family.

Smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa like Memouna routinely lose up to 30 percent of their grain harvest as a result of post-harvest losses. One of the main causes is storing grains at high moisture contents, which leads to the growth of mould and contamination by aflatoxins.

The GrainMate moisture meter helps farmers measure the moisture content in their grains and reduce post-harvest losses. Photo: Sesi Technologies

One solution? Sesi Technologies’ GrainMate, an effective, low-cost and easy-to-use grain moisture meter to help farmers measure the moisture content in their grains and reduce post-harvest losses. Solutions like GrainMate have the potential to increase farmers’ resilience to economic shocks caused by crises like COVID-19.

After winning the most impactful pitch award at a 2019 pitch night at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, GrainMate has been selected for WFP’s Sprint Programme. Through WFP’s support, GrainMate will run a pilot to test smallholder farmers’ willingness and ability to buy the meter, as well as farmers’ understanding of the benefits of using moisture meters in improving their storage practices.

Isaac Sesi, co-founder of Sesi Technologies pitching GrainMate on-stage at WFP’s Silicon Valley Pitch Night. GrainMate won the “Most Impactful Pitch Award.” Photo: WFP USA/Marcus Edwards

It’s all in the bag

In Ethiopia, a WFP-supported project will work to increase farmers’ incomes and reduce food loss by promoting the use of hermetic bags for crop storage.

Smallholder farmers across Africa store their grain harvests in traditional jute bags that do not protect the crops from insects or the build-up of toxins, resulting in significant post-harvest losses. In Ethiopia alone, a WFP and FAO assessment estimated that smallholder farmers lose 2 million metric tonnes of crops every year due to post-harvest losses.

Hermetic bags are a proven technical solution to protect stored grains from post-harvest losses. When grains are stored in hermetic bags, insects cannot reproduce and suffocate before causing significant damage. Unfortunately, despite the evidence, hermetic bags have not caught on as a mass-market product.

Hermetic storage bags are a simple and low-cost method of reducing post-harvest losses due to pests, helping smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. Photo: WFP/Evin Joyce

Building off a previous Sprint project, with the support of the WFP Innovation Accelerator, Saving Grains will introduce hermetic bags to 1,000 smallholder farmers in Ethiopia. This trial will gather valuable insights to inform a mass marketing campaign leveraging mass media, such as radio, SMS, TV, and social media, as well as direct marketing, such as road shows, trade fairs, village demonstrations, and market demonstrations.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org

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WFP Innovation Accelerator

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.