USAID halted humanitarian food aid to ‘famine-like conditions’ in Ethiopia because so many products were being stolen. This is the ‘theft’ type of food fraud, and a food fraud prevention strategy can be applied for assessment and prevention. This is a massively complex problem, and simple first steps are critical.
The Trigger Event: USAID Stops Humanitarian Food Aid to Ethiopia
In April 2023, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) announced that they were investigating humanitarian food theft in Ethiopia. The stolen or diverted product is especially concerning in Ethiopia since as many as 20 million of the 120 million population are in “famine-like” situations.
Later in May 2023, USAID ‘paused’ shipments of humanitarian food aid to Tigray, a region in Ethiopia. “USAID uncovered that food aid, intended for the people of Tigray suffering under famine-like conditions, was being diverted and sold on the local market.” “USAID stands ready to restart paused food assistance only when strong oversight measures are in place, and we are confident that assistance will reach the intended vulnerable populations.”
Then earlier this month, in June 2023, it was announced that humanitarian food aid to all of Ethiopia would be halted. “The two governments commit to collaborate toward an efficient aid distribution system in Ethiopia, which would safeguard assistance from diversion.”
They state ‘diversion,’ but this would fall into the food fraud category of theft or stolen goods.
The ‘oversight measures’ could be a food fraud prevention strategy such as is already implemented in the food supply chain.
This would all start with a root cause analysis or crime scene investigation, such as food supply chain mapping with hot spot analysis.
Fortunately, some processes and experiences can be applied to this specific fraud opportunity.
Food Fraud Prevention Based on the USAID and the Anti-Fraud Plan
The USAID does have an Anti-Fraud Plan (ADS Chapter 596). “The objective of USAID’s Anti-Fraud Plan is to implement an integrated, enterprise-wide strategy that includes the awareness, prevention, detection, monitoring, early-response reporting, and evaluation of fraud.”
Fortunately, food fraud prevention strategies follow the same risk management methods. Food fraud prevention methods are noted below alongside the USAID Anti-Fraud Plan requirements (Reference: Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud.
The U.S. Fraud Reduction and Data Analytics Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-186) plan requires USAID for:
- “Conducting an evaluation of fraud risks.”
- This could be a food fraud initial screening or food fraud vulnerability assessment.
- “Employing a risk-based approach to the design and implementation of control activities that mitigate fraud risks.”
- This could be a food fraud prevention strategy.
- The food fraud prevention cycle is a way to manage new information, such as responses to countermeasures or new types of incidents.
- “Collecting and analyzing data on detected fraud to monitor trends and improve fraud-prevention controls.”
- This could be food supply chain mapping, criminology hot spot analysis, and the Product Counterfeiting Incident Clustering Tool (this was later codified in ISO 22380).
- “Improving fraud prevention, detection, and response using the results of monitoring, evaluation, audits, and investigations.”
- This could be the overall food fraud prevention strategy implementation.
- “As part of a holistic approach, the Agency’s fraud prevention, detection, and response efforts are integrated into the Enterprise Risk Management Governance Framework.”
- Several research articles about a government or agency adopting a food fraud prevention strategy exist.
- The Challenge of Intellectual Property Enforcement for Agriculture Technology Transfers, Additives, Raw Materials, and Finished Goods against Product Fraud and Counterfeiters
- The role of the public-private partnership in Food Fraud prevention—includes implementing the strategy
- Global perspectives on food fraud: results from a WHO survey of members of the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN)
- Gap analysis of the Canadian food fraud regulatory oversight and recommendations for improvement
- The Application of Public Policy Theory to the Emerging Food Fraud Risk: Next Steps
- Food Fraud Prevention: Policy, Strategy, and Decision-Making–Implementation Steps for a Government Agency or Industry
- New Perspective for Addressing Public Health Threat of Counterfeit Medicines: A Review of the Nigerian Combating Counterfeiting and Sub-Standard Medicines Initiatives
Fortunately, there are many resources to help get started. The efforts to address this new problem do not require developing new processes or new knowledge.
Praedial Larceny and Agricultural Theft (PLAT)
The concept of humanitarian food aid fraud has been explained within the food fraud prevention concept of Praedial Larceny and Agricultural Theft (PLAT). Generally, Praedial Larceny is a concept from Commonwealth laws, and it is a common topic in regions such as the Caribbean. In 2019, the concept was published in the Food Fraud Prevention textbook. The concept was developed during a 2018 food fraud prevention conference in Trinidad & Tobago.
Trinidad & Tobago
The Praedial Larceny and Agricultural Theft (PLAT) concept was initially conceived during discussions at the 2018 food fraud prevention conference in Trinidad & Tobago.
- Defining the Public Health Threat of Food Fraud – definition and scope [Trinidad]: a lecture at the Trinidad and Tobago Government-led Food Fraud Conference, July 2018, presented by John Spink, MSU-FFI (25 minutes): URL: https://youtu.be/xZgEqNaoQLI
- Food Fraud Detection, Prevention, and Management – what to do and how to start [Trinidad]: a lecture at the Trinidad and Tobago Government-led Food Fraud Conference, July 2018, presented by John Spink, MSU-FFI (25 minutes): URL: https://youtu.be/0wAAxfjdQ2c
The food fraud prevention methods were applied to Trinidad & Tobago and can apply to Ethiopia. [Note: more country-level examples exist in the Food Fraud Prevention textbook.]
Previous USAID/ World Food Programme Presentation
The Praedial Larceny and Agricultural Theft (PLAT) concepts were presented at a conference USAID and the World Food Programme attended. This presentation included a case study of thefts of goats from small farms, including possible countermeasures and control systems. The presentation listed “Type of Fraudster: neighbor(s), gang, regional crime group, organized crime.”
- Reference: Food Fraud Strategy and Preventing Praedial Larceny, presented by John W Spink, 2nd MSU Food Aid Packaging Solutions Workshop, School of Packaging, Michigan State University, Wednesday, August 14, 2018, URL: https://youtu.be/Ko-4qFblMs8
- Humanitarian food aid fraud – Praedial Larceny and Agricultural theft (PLAT) – is a type of food fraud.
- Ethiopia’s food fraud theft problem is so complex that it is crucial to start with a simple and methodical approach to assessing the problem and then consider countermeasures or control systems.
- The general food fraud prevention strategies apply to even the most complex problems, such as humanitarian food aid theft in an entire country such as Ethiopia.