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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

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.

BAMBASI REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia — Sadia Mohammed is no stranger to hardship. Two years ago, she fled Sudan's conflict-torn Blue Nile State with her husband and six children.  

"Houses were burning and there was shooting," 33-year-old Sadia recalls of the fighting in her home town of Geissen. "We had to leave." 

Today, Sadia has found peace in western Ethiopia, where she is among roughly 14,000 Sudanese living at Bambasi refugee camp. Although she’s glad to have safety, Sadia and her family also live in limbo — unable, for now, to go home and restart their lives. 

Like many of the half-a-million refugees WFP supports in Ethiopia, Sadia's survival depends on monthly humanitarian assistance, along with the vegetables she grows in a small garden. Until recently, WFP's support in Ethiopia consisted entirely of food rations and nutritional supplements for the malnourished.

But today, Sadia is part of a groundbreaking shift in WFP's refugee operations here, as the agency moves from traditional food distributions to a mix of food and cash where appropriate. Now, WFP is expanding this initiative, thanks to a EUR 2.5 million (US$3.4 million) grant from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). 

“Ethiopia was the first place in the world where WFP started distributing cash alongside food to refugees in camps,” says WFP’s Country Director Abdou Dieng. “And we are seeing that even these modest sums of money are improving people's diets and self-esteem. With strong support from donors like ECHO, we plan to expand the effort so all refugees in Ethiopia can benefit from both cash and food.”

Support from ECHO and Finland

With support from ECHO and Finland, the first cash-and-food pilots began in 2013 for Somali refugees at the Sheder and Aw Barre camps, in Ethiopia's eastern Somalia region, in close collaboration with the government’s Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) and the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR. 

This May, the programme was launched for Sudanese refugees at Bambasi camp, in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region and also rolled out in Aysaita refugee camp hosting around 9,100 Eritrean refugees in the region of Afar.

“We have seen the first results, which have proven to be most effective,” says ECHO Technical Advisor Jacob Asens. “Refugees are very happy with this new initiative and their diet is more diversified – which is one of the programme’s objectives. ECHO hopes the positive initial results will be confirmed this year so that cash transfers can become a reality in refugee camps in Ethiopia in the very near future.”

At Bambasi, Sadia and participating refugees continue receiving the same amount of WFP-provided pulses, vegetable oil, fortified blended food, sugar and salt as they did before. But under the new initiative, WFP replaces roughly half the cereal ration with 100 Ethiopian Birr (about $5) per person, per month. 

"The cash allows me to buy extra food like cereals, vegetables and coffee," says Sadia. “Perhaps later on, I will buy milk and maybe meat.”

Positive results

Sadia isn't the only refugee praising the cash-and-food initiative. Many were pleased at the dietary diversity and greater food choices that cash provides. And women, especially, said the money enhanced their dignity and negotiating power with local traders. 

At Bambasi camp, Situ Nasir and her husband Indris Abdela are pleased to be able to shop at the local market—just as they did back home. "We like to be able to select our own food and take just what they need," said Situ, who says she is the main decision-maker on how the cash is spent. 

For 36-year-old mother of five Teyib Gotsi, the cash means she can buy meat and fresh vegetables, and pay for basic expenses. That's a big change from just two years ago, when the family scrounged for food, water and shelter after fleeing their home in Blue Nile State. The cash even allows Teyib to plan ahead; she will save part of it as a cushion against future hardships. 

And refugees aren’t the only ones benefitting. The money they spend is helping to boost the local economy and putting smiles on shopkeepers’ faces as well. 

This story was written thanks to inputs from Aschalew Abate from WFP Ethiopia


WFP continues to expand cash programmes in refugee camps throughout Ethiopia thanks to the support from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). In Bambasi, refugees like Sadia explains what it means for them and their families.

Anjuara Begum, her husband and three children live in Gaibandha, northern Bangladesh – a land of mighty rivers. Every year, during the rainy season, the rivers swell and take with them blocks of land – agricultural fields, roads, even small settlements. In 2003, Anjuara and her family lost their home to the floods.


"The ground started breaking away during the night. In the dark, we had to move our house and everything we owned,” Anjuara recalls with a deep sigh. The family still lives close to the river on government land just next to an embankment, the only space landless families can occupy without objections.

After the move the family struggled: “My husband became a day labourer, but it was tough to get a job every day. When he didn’t find work, we sometimes had no food for us and the kids,” Anjuara recalls. But her face lights up as she remembers the day, almost three years ago now, when her life took a turn for the better: "I was sitting on the embankment along with some of my neighbours, those who are jobless like me. Suddenly a stranger walked up and asked us if there are any poor people living in the area. Later we learned the man was from WFP.”

“He offered us to sit together with other locals, including the upazila chairman and other leaders. During the meeting, we wrote down the names of all local people in three categories: rich, poor and ultra-poor. Everyone agreed on the list, and then we, the ultra-poor people, got a chance to work on projects that protect our community.”

Like her, thousands of people living in north-western flood prone areas and along the southern coast of Bangladesh are particularly vulnerable to natural calamities. Under the Enhancing Resilience to Natural Disasters and the Effects of Climate Change programme, the Government of Bangladesh’s Local Government Engineering Department (LGED) and WFP, with support from NGOs, engages 80,000 ultra-poor rural women and men in cash and food for work and training to increase their resilience to future disasters. Together, they repair and reinforce embankments, raise roads, excavate canals and ponds and elevate the ground around their houses in order to protect their communities from flooding, water-logging and increasing salinity, and to boost agricultural production.

From 2011 to 2012, Anjuara and her ultra-poor neighbours repaired and raised a road in their neighbourhood as part of a cash/food for work project. Now this road not only improves access to schools, markets and health centres in the area but also serves as a dam, protecting their community and fields from flooding.

During the rainy season, when earthworks are too difficult, Anjuara and her neighbours participated in training sessions on disaster preparedness and response, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition. In exchange for their time and labour, they received nutritious food rations from WFP and the equivalent in cash from the Government of Bangladesh.

In 2013, Anjuara and 18,000 women across Bangladesh became the first participants to start a third programme year. In order to further strengthen families’ resilience to natural disaster, WFP used lessons learned from the successful Food Security for the Ultra Poor project which helped 30,000 women and their families rise out of extreme poverty.

Through NGO partners, WFP organized trainings to help the women identify activities that match their skills and local demand, and develop a business plan. They then received a cash grant to invest, and a monthly allowance to help support their families while they focused on making their businesses successful.

In the trainings, Anjuara also learned to invest in diverse assets to ensure her family still has some income even if one of them is damaged. She applied these lessons immediately, using her 12,000 taka cash grant, combined with savings from the cash/food for work project she participated in, to purchase a bull and a rickshaw.

For six months, a monthly allowance of 500 taka helps Anjuara take care of her family’s needs while she fattens the bull to sell at a profit, and her husband builds up a rickshaw transport service. The animal is already paying dividends as the dung can be sold as fuel.

The older two of Anjuara’s three children are now studying in primary school. “I am so happy that I can send my children to school and that I can buy them the school clothing and study materials they need” says Anjuara. “And they always eat three meals a day now,” she adds proudly.

Her new-found financial security even encouraged Anjuara to make big plans for the future: “With the revenues I make from bull fattening, I think I will be able to buy a small piece of homestead land – then we can finally move away from the river.”


Resilience to natural disasters has many aspects – a home safe from flooding, the knowledge and skills to prepare for and cope with disasters, and the financial security to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of a shock. In Bangladesh, WFP tackles all these issues with a comprehensive programme.

GAZA – Naifa, a 47-year-old mother from Khan Younis in southern Gaza was cut off from her family’s farmland following the blockade in 2007.

“We were living a decent life before with a stable income. All of a sudden we had to adjust," recalls Naifa whose elderly husband cannot work and she shoulders the responsibility of providing for her husband and five children.

Losing the stable income and the family’s food basket, they depend almost entirely on WFP food vouchers that helps Naifa buy fresh, nutritious produce for her family. "I would be begging on the streets if it weren't for the food vouchers,” she says.

However, it is not always the food that matters. It is what you do with the food. That is why Naifa is among 1000 women participating in WFP’s innovative nutrition awareness pilot programme in Gaza that helps women directly address the “double burden” of obesity and malnutrition in their communities.

WFP Palestine’s Nutrition awareness pilot targets women who receive WFP’s food vouchers and are pregnant or have young children. The six-month-long session feature interactive discussions and presentations on diet, hygiene, cooking, purchasing healthy food on a budget, and caring for infants.

Naifa says the programme has helped her realize how crucial her role is for the family. She used to deep-fry food in vegetable oil every day. Now – thanks to her nutrition knowledge and the healthy food she can buy with the vouchers – her family’s food habits have changed dramatically. “Now I am even giving friends and family advice on what they should or should not eat," she says. "I am looking forward to the sessions every week.”

Malnutrition in Palestine

In a country where households spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on food, high food prices make it difficult for most families to buy healthy and nutritious foods. According to a recent study by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, more than half of children between ages 12-15 months – as well as 28 percent of pregnant women – suffer from moderate anaemia caused by iron deficiency.

Traditional food assistance with the right foods at the right time can provide just part of a long-term solution; good hygiene, healthy cooking and eating habits and other behavioural factors are crucial as well.

Although WFP’s nutrition awareness programme reaches only a fraction of people receiving food voucher assistance, with food insecure households averaging nearly seven people, the impact will be far greater than the participants alone.

“Understanding the needs of women is critical to achieving a long-term impact,” says WFP Country Director Pablo Recalde. “When it comes to tackling food insecurity and malnutrition, women are the key-holders of success. Supporting women and girls goes a long way in terms of supporting an entire community.”

Micronutrient deficiencies and obesity - the "double burden" of malnutrition facing many developing countries - are interlinked with poverty and are closely related to access to healthy, nutritious food, dietary habits and physical activity. WFP is tackling malnutrition in Palestine that is mostly a result of families’ inability to buy healthy and nutritious foods due to high food prices.