Ever wondered who is responsible for making sure World Food Program’s food is full of the right nutrients? Daily undernourishment is a less visible form of hunger but it affects many more people than we often realise. Suvrat Bafna tells us about life as a WFP food technologist in Ethiopia, where he is tackling malnutrition, one food type at a time…
1. What does your job involve?
I am responsible for the quality and safety of WFP’s food in Ethiopia, which involves working with local food manufacturers to establish food safety standards and also with the WFP supply chain for quality management and development of food products that tackle malnutrition.
I am also working with the WFP nutrition team to create a chickpea based food product for the treatment of moderate to acute malnutrition. I love that my role is so varied - from training farmers to improving processes within the supply chain that ensure food maintains its quality and nutritive value.
WFP staff sample locally manufactued products in storage in Awassa, Ethiopia (Photo: WFP/ Eleni Pantiora)
2. Why did you choose this line of work?
I started my career in the private sector working as a Factory Operations Manager as I have always been interested in food engineering. However, when the opportunity to work at WFP arose, I grabbed it because I felt it was an opportunity to make a bigger impact on nutrition in developing countries.
There is a hidden global hunger that we don’t see. Every year, almost 7 million children die before reaching the age of five; malnutrition is a key factor in over a third of these deaths.
I wanted to be a part of tackling this by developing food that could improve nutrition for people in the local area, while supporting local farmers and the food industry.
3. The aid and development industry has become notoriously hard to break into – what route did you take into your current role?
I think the fact that I had a specific technical skill helped. I joined at a time when WFP was focusing increasingly on linking nutrition with other aspects of the organisation’s work, such as local farming and school feeding. They were in search of a person who could work on this – It was good timing!
4. Can you describe a typical day?
There is no typical day or week! One day we could be discussing the strategy for prevention of malnutrition in Ethiopia, while on another we could be focused on improving post-harvest handling practices for small-holder farmers. The dynamic nature of working in the field poses everyday challenges that keep the job interesting.
5. What have been your career highlights to date?
Hands down, it was the development of the chickpea-based food that was proven to be effective in treating malnutrition.
I went and met local children before and after they had been given the food and the difference in them was remarkable. Their physical appearance had completely changed and they were running around, when just 2 months before they had been too tired to do so! To see the impact that our food had made on their lives was so special – and showed me just how important our nutrition programmes are in improving lives and productivity within communities.
6. What were the biggest challenges in getting where you are today?
I’m up for my first reassignment in less than a month, which will mean moving to another country after a great three and a half years in Ethiopia. I’ve made friends and set up a good life here so moving everything lock, stock and barrel is a bit sad. But that’s the nature of the job and while the challenges that lay ahead are exciting, leaving Ethiopia will be difficult.
7. What advice would you give to someone who hopes to work in a similar role?
There are many ways of getting into WFP and once you do it is a great learning experience – especially when you live and work in an area where you can see the work of the organisation first-hand. My key advice would be: Look for a role where your skills are in need, work hard in that role and be open to growing within the organisation