The logistics of hunger

Dr Hanna Grzybowska with two of her rCITI research colleagues, Dr David Rey and Dr Taha Hossein Rashidi."It all starts with hunger,” says Dr Hanna Grzybowska, who has spent the last few years working on a complex humanitarian logistical challenge as part of a team from the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation (rCITI).Divya Jayakumar Nair

“Over 10% of the 7.3 billion people in the world suffer from hunger and the problem is not just in developing countries,” she continues. “Despite Australia being a great food producing country (capable of feeding around double the current population), not everyone in Australia is fortunate enough to have a secure food situation.”

In fact it is estimated that 3.4 million Australians suffer from low food security. Vulnerable groups include the aged, single or low income families, the unemployed, refugees, homeless, and people suffering from mental illness. One of the biggest ironies of a developed country like Australia is that so much food is sent to landfill – food from restaurants and supermarkets that could be used to help those in need.

There is a lot of scope for the algorithm to help address a variety of global humanitarian logistical challenges which is very exciting

Dr Hanna Grzybowska

This is the problem that food rescue and delivery charity OzHarvest has been working on since its establishment in 2004, namely: how do you get this food to the point where it can be consumed by those who need it in the smartest and most efficient way? 

Grzybowska explains the aim of the rCITI/ OzHarvest project (which was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant) was to develop a multi-objective dynamic vehicle routing algorithm that would help OzHarvest pick up and deliver the largest amount of food, to the most appropriate location, with minimal wastage, in the most timely, equitable and cost-effective manner. 

With so many variables to consider it was a complex challenge for the rCITI team led by A/Prof Vinayak Dixit, with colleagues Dr Taha Hossein Rashidi, Dr David Rey and Divya Jayakumar Nair. “We needed to consider routing, the short shelf life of the food, fairness and equity in distribution, and the fact that new pickup requests arrive randomly,” says Grzybowska.

Their multi-objective model aimed to combine fairness in allocation and cost-effective routing without imposing restrictions on donor and welfare agencies. The team’s final route update approach was computationally efficient and provided a lower route cost, a minimum wastage of perishable products and a reasonable fairness in allocation.

The result was an algorithm that can be used to not just support decision making at OzHarvest but is flexible enough to be adapted for use by organisations facing similar challenges anywhere in the world. “There is a lot of scope for the algorithm to help address a variety of global humanitarian logistical challenges which is very exciting,” Grzybowska says.