In a factory in Kenya, a quality control worker inspects vegetable oil destined for the cooking pots of people displaced by the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region.
He puts a plastic jerry can on the floor and jumps on it to make sure the seal doesn’t break. It doesn’t – a sign that this five-litre jerry can of soya oil will survive a journey covering thousands of bumpy kilometres all the way from Kenya to Western Sudan.
The ICRC has purchased 900,000 litres of soya oil from a factory just north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Two-thirds of it will head to Darfur, while one third will be held in Nairobi as emergency stock. It is an order worth almost $850,000.
Soya oil is one of several commodities purchased locally by the ICRC logistics centre in Nairobi. Other food items include maize, beans and blended foods. Blankets, tarpaulins, mosquito nets and cooking pots are also bought in significant quantities for programmes throughout the Horn of Africa and beyond.
In a warehouse stacked from floor to ceiling with cartons of oil, the quality control man chooses boxes at random. On the outside of the box, he checks the date of manufacture and expiry.
He weighs the yellow jerry cans – both with and without oil inside them - checks their handles are comfortable to carry, and takes a look at their red markings…a circular Comité International Genève and the batch number, purchase order and reference number.
Most of the world’s cooking oil is made from cheaper palm oil, but for Darfur, the ICRC wanted soya as it withstands extreme climates well and is much higher in protein.
A few cartons are sent to a laboratory to be examined for impurities, content and colour – obviously, it is vital this soya oil is of the highest standard and fit for human consumption.
The cartons are also inspected for durability, ensuring they are stronger than normal - five layers of cardboard stuck together, or five-ply, instead of the usual three used by most supermarkets.
The cartons and their contents will travel half way across Africa – first by truck across Nairobi, where the ICRC loads them into containers, lifted in turn by crane onto wagons to travel by rail to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
From there, ships sail to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The containers are then transferred onto another vessel to cross the Red Sea to Port Sudan, a total of about 15 sailing days before travelling by road again to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
In the end, trucks cross Sudan’s vast desert, often at night, to Darfur, where families suffering the impact of the crisis will soon be using soya oil the ICRC bought in Kenya.