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Cash and Vouchers

WFP delivers hundreds of thousands of tons of food each year, but, increasingly, we give hungry people cash or vouchers to buy food for themselves.

Cash transfers provide money to people who are struggling to provide food for their families; vouchers can be redeemed for food items or “spent” in selected shops. They are used to tackle hunger in places where there is plenty of food in the marketplace but where poor people cannot afford to buy it.

Cash and vouchers can sometimes cut down the costs of transporting and storing food. They benefit the local economy, because beneficiaries spend the money in local markets. People often prefer cash and vouchers to traditional food assistance, because they offer more choice and variety.

WFP is using innovative ways to deliver the assistance, such as scratch cards or “e-vouchers” delivered to mobile phones by text message.

Cash and Vouchers - Stories

Ximena will not let her father out of her sight. This started one Monday, when he came home terribly frightened after running into a member of one of the irregular armed groups operating in Colombia.  Ximena, her father Juan, her mother, and her three siblings came to Ecuador a few months ago, after this particular group tried to recruit Juan.

Juan had felt safe in the small city in Ecuador’s northern border region where he and his family had made a home.  But when the man from the armed group tried to follow him, his sense of security was shattered.  Since that day, Ximena has been his shadow. She thinks that if she lets him go, her dad could be killed anywhere and anytime, and their family would have no way of knowing about it.

Ximena feels lucky that Juan can stay at home, since there are no jobs available for him in construction right now. The fact that the family has not been granted refugee status in Ecuador means that Juan has no work permit.  Now he works with his wife, preparing food to sell to passers-by.  Ximena is happy with this arrangement, and he is too. Juan explains, “The way things are now, I couldn’t leave my children and go away, even for two days.  They would be too worried.”

Each month, one of Ximena’s parents attends a training to learn about healthy eating habits and to recharge their electronic food voucher, which allows them to buy fresh foods at a local sales point.   Here in Ecuador, Ximena has learned to eat new foods like quinoa.  Her parents prepare it mixed with rice and other foods, after learning about its high nutritional value in WFP trainings.

Ximena doesn’t know that the letters WFP stand for “World Food Programme.” She doesn’t know that WFP organizes the assistance that allows her parents to provide her and her siblings with daily meals during their first months in Ecuador, thanks to support from ECHO. And although she doesn’t know the details, she says a prayer before every meal, giving thanks that her family is together.

For Juan, “Sharing food together is a blessing; having a family, a wife, and food. Food tastes so delicious when we are together: for both my wife and for me, it is a joy to see our children satisfied after eating a meal.”

Not having to worry about where their next meal will come from allows Ximena’s parents to think about other important concerns, like shoes and books for the new school year. Although they don’t feel completely safe yet, this family is starting a new life here, with new opportunities.

Through the Family Meal initiative, a project developed by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), photographer Chris Terry travelled around the world in search of the ingredients of the family meal.  His journey took him to Ecuador’s northern border region, where he met eleven-year-old Ximena and her family shortly after they fled the armed conflict in Colombia and moved to Ecuador.

“Ruby is the strongest typhoon I have ever felt. It seemed like we would fall down when we went outside because of the really strong winds,” recounts Ana Helen Docabo, a resident of Barangay (Village) Buenavista, Dolores, Eastern Samar, and a mother of five children.

“Our coconut trees collapsed. Everything fell. It was a real challenge,” she adds.

Typhoon Ruby was the biggest typhoon to pass through the Philippines in 2014. During its initial entry in the country, Ruby was being compared to the 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) in terms of magnitude. Ruby diminished in strength as it made several landfalls in the Philippines. The residents of Dolores, however, still felt the impact of Ruby.

“What we experienced during Typhoon Ruby was very difficult,” shares Ma. Lourdes ‘Ondith’ Senina, also a mother of five from Barangay Libertad in Dolores. “That was the first time I lived through a storm of such strength – from my childhood up until now. What worsened the situation was that the typhoon brought with it flooding as well.”

The national and local government of the Philippines were largely praised for the way they prepared for Typhoon Ruby which resulted to minimal damage and casualties compared to Yolanda.

Helen and Ondith were also instrumental to facilitating the preparations before Ruby hit, in their capacity as both parent leaders, 4Ps family heads who volunteer with DSWD by coordinating between the government agency and other family heads in their community.

“Our local government officials as well as co-members of the 4Ps (DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) assist in organizing the communities before a typhoon so that once it arrives, we are already prepared, there will be no accidents and injuries. We learned this from one of our Family Development Sessions with DSWD,” Helen explained.

DSWD included the Family and Community Disaster Preparedness component in its Family Development Sessions to equip the 4Ps families with basic knowledge on disaster preparedness and response. The sessions involved topics on typhoon and earthquake preparedness, emergency kit provisions, and evacuation assistance and coordination.

“I became a parent leader because it helps me, personally. It adds to my knowledge, enhances my talent in writing, as well as in speaking with other people,” said Ondith.

Immediately after the onslaught of Typhoon Ruby, WFP in partnership with DSWD was able to distribute food to 100,000 families in Eastern Samar, Western Samar, and Northern Samar.

“We were able to receive food from DSWD and WFP,” said Ondith. “It was such a big help at that time because, for example, if we had no rice to cook, we could eat the food provided to tide us over.”

In addition to food, 4Ps families such as those of Ondith and Helen, also received a one-time unconditional cash grant of Php 2,600. A total of 6,700 families from the municipalities of Can-Avid, Dolores, Jipapad, and Taft in Eastern Samar were provided with the cash grant to diversify their access to food and jumpstart the local markets.

“With this Php 2,600, I plan to buy rice, meat, and other nutritious food for my family,” shared Ondith.

“Aside from food, I will also set aside the cash assistance for my children’s education. We need money for tuition fee and other needs,” explained Helen.

Ondith and Helen are thankful for the assistance they received from DSWD and WFP as it helped them restart their lives after Ruby.

“Thank you to the World Food Programme for this unconditional cash grant. This assistance is a big help to us victims of Typhoon Ruby,” said Ondith.

“I am grateful for the partnership between DSWD and WFP because they were able to support us 4Ps members with the cash assistance. Thank you very much,” Helen added.

In December 2014, Typhoon Ruby (international name: Hagupit) first hit the municipality of Dolores, Eastern Samar in the Philippines. Ma. Lourdes ‘Ondith’ Senina and Ana Helen Docabo, residents of Dolores, share their experience during Hagupit and how they have gotten back on their feet with assistance from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Women farmers like Alexandra were previously unable to access local markets. "If we wanted to sell lettuce to a local merchant, they would offer us 10 cents. But if we were going to the market to buy lettuce, they would charge us 50 cents,” said Pimampiro farmer Alexandra Bejarano. “Because we are women and from rural communities, no one took us seriously," Alejandra explained. Discouraged but determined, the women of Pimampiro set out on a mission to create their own market space.

"I don’t think you can, that is for educated people."
Alexandra, who was 24 years old when the association was created in 2012, recalls that much of her community did not believe in her ability to lead the project. "People would tell me, ‘I don’t think you can, that's for educated people,’ but I told them that I would succeed with the support of my association’s women," Alexandra proudly explained.

The Tierra del Sol Association
To recruit members, they announced on the radio that they were creating a small-holder farmers’ association and visited 42 communities to register them. Their perseverance and dedication led to the formation of the Tierra del Sol Association, consisting of 210 women and seven men in the province of Imbabura. The first order of business of the new association was to organize a weekly market where the association members could sell their products directly to their community.  Now, 110 farmers sell their products at a market that takes place every weekend.  Association members rotate from week to week so that all 217 members are able to participate.

Fresh, Quality Products
In addition to the market, the association also works with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Provincial Government of Imbabura. Members deliver fresh products for food assistance programmes implemented by WFP in coordination with local governments to serve vulnerable Colombians and Ecuadorians. "Today we provide top quality food to meet the needs of the programme," says Alexandra.

While Alexandra is glad that her husband works, she commented, "I also think that as a woman I can succeed, especially now that we are at the market and working with WFP. WFP has been the strength, the arm stretched out to support us, especially women."

Women living in the canton of Pimampiro north of Quito are taking action. After attempting to sell food grown in their home gardens, they soon saw that there existed few formal market opportunities in their communities and realized that they faced many challenges. The following article tells the story of a group of organized and united women farmers who created a space for themselves in their local market and who now provide food for WFP’s assistance programmes.


SORAN, Iraq – When Hanaa Eliya Moussa entered a shop in the northern Iraqi town of Soran recently, she experienced something she had not known since fleeing home: the ability to choose what her family was going to eat for their next meal.

“I can now cook traditional meals for my family. This reminds us of the life we had back home,” said a cheerful Hanaa as she shopped for eggs, cheese, pasta, bulgur wheat, rice milk and chicken. “Chicken is really what the children were missing the most.”

Hanaa and her family of seven have been on the run since August, having barely escaped militants who overran their hometown of Bartalla, about 200 km to the west of Soran. For months, the family lived in a Soran school with other displaced families and relied on food parcels from the World Food Programme (WFP). The family is now renting a home in the town.

Now, the Moussa family is among the first in the area to receive a monthly WFP voucher worth US$26, or 30,000 Iraqi dinars, that can be exchanged for food at designated shops nearby. Food vouchers help families and individuals who have found safety in places where there are sufficient food supplies in local shops. Frequently the fleeing families have lost all their money and valuables.

When asked about the use of food vouchers, local store owner Khaled Moustafa praised the programme, saying “My business has increased with a steady number of clients every month.”

WFP distributed 40,000 food vouchers to displaced Iraqis in the towns of Soran and Shaqlawa in Erbil governorate this month and plans to reach half a million Iraqis by early next year. WFP is increasingly providing vouchers whenever possible, giving people more flexibility in their daily lives and supporting local economies and retailers.

Food vouchers were distributed to displaced Iraqis for the first time since the conflict began thanks to generous donations from Saudi Arabia, Japan and Germany.

Baking bread
With a husband and six children to feed, Hanaa said she barely steps out of the kitchen. Back home in Bartallah, the enterprising Christian housewife used to bake bread, raise chickens, and grow her own produce. Now she strives to recreate the past in what she calls her “temporary” home, growing a small but productive garden and baking bread.

Now able to enjoy a tastier and more varied diet, Hanaa and her family offered to share a home-cooked meal with me and my colleague Fahad Alnimah after we met at the shop. Step by step, Hanaa and her daughters set out to prepare lunch: Bringing out the cutlery, setting the table and stirring a boiling pot of rice-stuffed courgettes and egg plants. 

In no time, the smell of fried chicken fills the air and Hanaa’s youngest son, Rami, hurries to take his seat at the table. The feast is ready, and we all gather at the table to enjoy the Moussa family’s first taste of home and a new level of freedom since escaping the conflict that has changed so many lives in the region.



Since fleeing their home in August, Hanaa and her family have rarely had the chance to choose what food they eat—at least until recently. WFP food vouchers are now giving them and many other vulnerable Iraqi families the power to pick their own meals, bringing a measure of nornality into their lives.