Biometric identification technology provides automated methods to identify a person based on physical characteristics—such as fingerprints, hand shape, and characteristics of the eyes and face—as well as behavioral characteristics—including signatures and voice patterns. Although biometrics is broadly used in law enforcement and defense than civilian applications by Governments, its deployment in Food Stamp Program in 1999, by The United States Department of Agriculture showed some promises in reducing the number of duplicate cases and fraud as reported by USDA. As of today, biometric technology has been applied by many Governments and the NGOs as an effective tool not only to ensure the transparency on food welfare but also help fight the world hunger all over the globe.
Typically, India which is home to the largest undernourished and hungry population in the world, 194.6 million people equal a quarter globally, according to latest FAO report “The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2015” sufficient food production as well as effective ration distribution are indeed critical missions. At first, under the Public Distribution System (PDS), ration card was used to identify the eligible households/beneficiaries which would enable them to get the appointed quantity of food grains and/or other commodities. However, it is estimated that while there are about 23 million ghost ration cards in the entire country; about 12.1 million deserving poor are left out of the PDS. A study done by Planning Commission of India (2005) has indicated that about 58% of the subsidized food grain allocated by the Central Government to the States/Union Territories does not reach the Below Poverty Line (BPL) families because of identification errors and non-transparent operations in the implementation of TPDS.
In such situation, biometric based identity management has been introduced to create a centralized database of eligible households, reissue of biometric based ration cards to better manage and monitor the distribution of food grains. The key of using biometrics is to first issue a ration card which is hardly to forge; second, remove instances of multiple enrollments by the same person; and lastly, accurately identify the authorized beneficiaries; which help to reduce identity frauds, leakage of subsidies, corruption and to streamline the operation; hence, lead to a more efficient system. According to the United Nations World Food Program (UNWFP), after the pilot deployment of biometrics in Rayagada, more than 33,000 ghost and duplicated cards were eliminated, which could result in savings of about Rs. 9 crores (USD 1.5 million) annually for the government. Moreover, in February the Delhi government has decided to include iris recognition in the system because the machines failed to detect fingerprints on several occasions.
Acknowledging the benefits of biometric-based food distribution system, different countries have installed biometrics besides India and the US. In August 2015, Trinidad and Tobago has launched a fingerprint-based smart ID card system to improve the delivery of social benefits including social assistance grants, disability grants, food cards and general assistance grants to citizens and prevent the growing case of fraud. “While we were in the process of enrolling persons for the Biometric Smartcard, 4,000 persons were actually removed from the system due to fraudulent activity, hence saving this Government several hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Newallo-Hosein, Minister of the People and Social Development Christine. Meanwhile in Venezuela, biometric scanning is used to fight food shortages which are claimed by hoarding and smuggling to neighboring countries. Biometric identification system is also used by United Nation in an effort to provide efficient food to refugees in many countries.
According to WFP, there are 795 million undernourished people in the world today in which Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest prevalence (percentage of population) of hunger with the statistics that one person in four there is undernourished. In this year ID4Africa 2nd Annual Forum held in Rwanda, benefits distribution issue is one of the main topics to be discussed and IriTech is joining this exhibition showcasing its state-of-the-art iris recognition technologies with the hope to contribute to enhance efficiency of the benefits distribution system and the electronic identity system generally in Africa.