11. Commodity ration measurement

The three most commonly used methods to measure out commodity rations fairly and equitably at distribution sites are: scooping, weighing and recipient division.

Scooping involves the use by the distribution staff of standard scoops, or volume measuring cups, designed for the established ration for a particular commodity. Often old tins are used to manufacture the scoop, by placing the tin on a scale and filling it with commodity up to the weight established for a single registered beneficiary per day. For example, if the ration for maize meal were 400 g per person per day and distributions were conducted every 15 days, then a scoop for maize meal would be manufactured to hold exactly 6 kg of maize meal when filled to the top and levelled off (400 g x 15 days = 6 kg). During distribution, commodities are then scooped into containers brought by the recipients.

  • Horizontal slits are sometimes punched into the scoops at the fill line to prevent over-scooping.
  • Flexible scoops should be avoided, as the sides can be squeezed to reduce the ration.
  • Scoops should be stored in a locked box when not in use.

In some countries, there is an informal system of weights and measures where certain standard containers are the unit of measure in the market place. For example, a standard sized tin or kapok is used in Madagascar, while in Haiti the marmite is used for dry measure and the kola bottle for liquid measure. If local measurements are commonly used and understood, the metric ration should be converted.

Note: Scooping is not effective when the ration scale and the frequency of distribution change over time as this will require continual modification to, or re-manufacturing of scoops.

Weighing, using a hanging pan-type scale, may be used to calculate per person/per distribution ration. While weighing takes more practice and training, experience has not indicated a slower distribution process. Weighing is advantageous when the ration scale changes from time to time (due to breaks or shortages in the commodity pipeline) or the frequency of distribution changes (from weekly to monthly, and back again).

To facilitate weighing, coloured tape should be placed on the scale dial to indicate the full point for the established ration.

Note: If scales are too time consuming and cumbersome, rations can be pre-measured and pre-packaged at the warehouse for distribution to the sites.

Standard-sized, small groups of recipients are called into a distribution area and presented with the ration, packaged in its original bags and tins, equivalent to the ration scale times the number of recipients in the group. The group then divides the commodities among themselves under the guidance and observation of a monitor. After division, the recipients leave the distribution area.

This method works well when using a standard household ration and has the advantage of being fast, requiring little infrastructure, and involving recipients to a greater degree.