The use of Optimus in Madagascar and Ethiopia Emergencies

WFP Innovation Accelerator
5 min readNov 3, 2022

The use of Optimus as an online decision support system to enhance WFP emergency operations effectively and efficiently in Ethiopia and Madagascar

By Paul Ngosa Mboshya

What is Optimus?

Optimus is an online optimization tool developed by the World Food Programme’s Supply Chain Division that helps identify the most cost-effective way to reach the people we serve. The tool builds on data from dozens of sources and different functions, which are then connected through mathematical models, providing critical insights on food basket design, sourcing strategies, and delivery networks hence covering any WFP operation.

So far, Optimus has already been used in 44 of WFP’s operations, resulting in more than US$ 50 million in savings. The tool is now being scaled up and rolled out to the field in collaboration with the Innovation Accelerator. In 2022, more than 20 operations have already looked to Optimus to inform operational decisions. WFP’s plans are re-evaluated amidst the considerable disruption to major commodity markets resulting from the war in Ukraine. As the gap between humanitarian needs and available funding rises every day, optimizing WFP’s response will be critical in ensuring no one is left behind.

In 2021, WFP was awarded the Franz Edelman Award, and earlier this year in June, Optimus was announced as one of the five winning innovations at the 2022 WFP Innovation Awards held at the annual WFP Global Management Meeting (GMM) in Munich, home of WFP’s Innovation Accelerator.

Optimus dashboard

Madagascar emergency

Madagascar is considered the most cyclone-exposed country in Africa. In addition, the island nation has had four consecutive droughts causing vulnerability to 1.47 million food insecure people in Southern Madagascar.

Vandakope and her five children eating cactus fruits and cooked melon for lunch in their house in Tsarapioke. Photo: WFP/Sitraka Niaina Raharinaivo
Manakara community residents queuing up during a WFP General Food Distribution exercise in Manakara-Atsimo district, Fitovinany, Madagascar on 23 February 2022. Photo:WFP/Photolibrary

The use of Optimus during drought operations and cyclones

“During the recent cyclone season, Optimus helped us define our food basket and assisted us in reaching 434,000 people affected by cyclones Emnati and Batsirai. Optimus is also assisting us in evaluating sourcing strategies for 800,000 people receiving food rations in the southern part of Madagascar affected by the drought,” says Gina Ratovoarisoa, a Procurement Officer at the Madagascar WFP Country Office.

Gina Ratovoarisoa running an analysis on Optimus to choose the best sourcing option for Cereals. Photo: WFP/Volana Rarivoson

“Optimus allows us to make quick, evidence-based decisions, reducing costs and mitigating delays in the shipping lead-times into the country. In two recent purchases, we reduced costs just by adjusting procurement strategies using Optimus. This model will now be applied to all sourcing decisions with further savings to come,” she says.

Bottles of sunflower oil and bags of rice during WFP General Food Distribution exercise in Manakara-Atsimo district, Fitovinany, Madagascar on 23 February 2022. Photo: WFP/Photolibrary

Gina says the optimisation tool is helping with local procurement: “By using Optimus we have been able to showcase the benefits of local procurement, meaning we are reducing lead times and reducing the backlog from various ports by reducing our reliance on international procurement. By procuring locally we were able to reduce quality issues related to storage at the port and the lead time by almost two months.”

As part of the 2022–2023 procurement plan and in line with the Global Commodity Management Facility (GCMF) procurement plan for Madagascar, the country office will purchase 87,000 tons of food, of which 22 percent will be purchased locally depending on WFP funding.

A snapshot of Ethiopia’s two concurrent emergencies

Following almost two years of conflict in Northern Ethiopia and the driest conditions recorded since 1981 due to four failed rainy seasons in South-Eastern Ethiopia, WFP and its partners continue to provide lifesaving emergency food and nutrition assistance in response to an alarming rise in food insecurity in Ethiopia. The East African country has over 13 million food-insecure people in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions affected by conflict. Nearly ten million people across the country are food insecure due to drought conditions, particularly in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

In the vast lowland part of Ethiopia, South Omo communities have suffered high death rates among their cattle as a result of the severe drought. Photo: WFP/ Michael Tewelde
Internally displaced persons (IDPs) at a food distribution site in Adimehamedey — North western Tigray. Photo: WFP/Claire Nevill

Optimus: a solution for smoother food distributions and diverse baskets

In Ethiopia, WFP has historically relied heavily on imported commodities from the Black Sea area, particularly wheat and pulses, which were disrupted or cut off entirely in the wake of the Ukraine conflict. In this context, Optimus is used to identify pragmatic solutions, such as alternative supply lines, including local procurement, or commodities like maize, sorghum or beans to deliver efficiency and food to communities at the right price and on time.

“Optimus has helped WFP Ethiopia to diversify its food basket, providing the necessary evidence and analysis to support such decisions. Based on shifts in food security needs, market prices, availability of commodities, and the preferences of the people we serve, we are continuously re-evaluating the situation, and Optimus helps us determine our options and identify the best solution,” says Adham Effendi, Head of Supply Chain in WFP’s Country Office in Ethiopia.

Tim Wolter, the Head of Supply Chain Planning for WFP Ethiopia further explains how Optimus helps the team arrive at critical decisions: “With Optimus, we ask ourselves the following questions: how many people could potentially be supported under which funding scenarios and with which food baskets? It is a tool which elicits a consultative and transparent approach to cross-functional decision-making on our relief response based on valuable analyses and insights.”

“In the months to come, as WFP is actively diversifying its food basket, partly in response to impacts of the conflict in Ukraine on our supply chain, the number of people we assist impacted by implementing these decisions will become clearer. Thanks to Optimus, we are hopeful that the entire relief and refugee caseload of over 6 million people under WFP Ethiopia’s operation will reap the benefits and receive food in a more timely and efficient manner.” Tim says.

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.

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