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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

Playing an important role

The World Food Programme's (WFP) cash transfers play an important role in reintegrating Ebola survivors back into their communities and helping them to return to normal life.

A survivor's journey

Kadiatu was living a peaceful life in a town just outside of Freetown, Sierra Leone until the day she tested positive for Ebola. She and her husband, as well as her young daughter, contracted the virus from a friend who was sick, although they did not realise it was Ebola at the time.

“[Our friend] died on Christmas day and the following day those of us who had been around her started falling ill. My sister, who was eight months pregnant, started vomiting blood and I took her to the hospital. On our way back home I started vomiting and was admitted to an Ebola treatment centre.”

Fortunately, Kadiatu and her family are among the lucky ones who survived the virus. But when they were released from treatment, Kadiatu was greeted with mixed emotions when she learned that forty-two members of the same compound, where she had been living, did not survive the disease.

Providing much-needed food assistance

In Sierra Leone, WFP is providing support to Ebola survivors and their households with an enhanced food package after they are discharged from treatment. This 30-day food ration consists of rice, pulses, vegetable oil, and a highly nutritious corn-soya blend for making porridge. The rations help ensure survivors and their families are not missing essential nutrients.

Since August 2014, nearly 13,000 people, including survivors' family members, received household food rations.

In addition to these food packages, WFP has recently started a new type of assistance package in Sierra Leone: cash assistance. Survivors receive two monthly distributions of cash transfers, which allow them to purchase their own food, empowering them to choose what they eat.

Cash transfers support nutritious food and more choices

About 100 km away from the nation’s capital lies Waterloo, where Ebola survivors from this community are gathered at the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Ebola treatment centre, waiting to receive their cash assistance from WFP. Among the beneficiaries is Kadiatu, who will receive her first cash payment.

“I left [my home] at 6.00 to get here early so that I could leave in enough time to take care of my family,” said the mother of two, balancing her baby on her back.

With this money, she said she would be able to buy food like beans, fish, and vegetable oil, as well as the staple, rice. She also hopes to use part of the money to restart her fabric business.


Kadiatu is one of about 3,000 Ebola survivors receiving cash-based food assistance from WFP across Sierra Leone, which was made possible through support from the Government of Japan.

Once receiving a clean bill of health after treatment for Ebola, survivors still need support to manage the trauma of the illness, and the loss of livelihoods that persist long after the virus has left.

From food aid to electronic money programme

In June, WFP launched an electronic voucher programme in Mingkaman, a settlement of mostly internally displaced persons (IDPs), located north of Juba. The IDPs and the local traders say they are already witnessing the benefits of the new system which allows WFP to gradually transition from food aid to an electronic money programme.

Amour Akouk and her extended family have been living in Mingkaman since fleeing their home when fighting erupted in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State in December 2013. They were among tens of thousands who used canoes to cross the White Nile to seek safety in what has become a sprawling settlement hosting over 70,000 people. All registered IDPs have been receiving cereals, pulses and fortified vegetable oil every month from WFP and its partners. But things are changing.

Offering more choice and diversity

In April, WFP introduced paper vouchers which people could use to buy food from selected shops. Two months later WFP changed to full electronic cards powered by SCOPE. SCOPE is an information management system that allows WFP to register beneficiaries, store information on the amount of food or money they are entitled to and, in the case of vouchers, transfer the specific amount onto the e-cards. Recipients will then use the electronic card to buy food items from selected shops.

“Today I received my e-card. I’m here at the market buying sugar, milk and flour because that’s what my children need,” Akouk said on the day WFP launched the new system. “I looked at what WFP provided us and made a choice about what my household still needs and what I can buy with the e-card money,” the 24-year-old mother added.  

In Mingkaman, WFP provides a full month’s ration of pulses and cooking oil and 70 percent of the cereal in hand, with 30 percent of the cereal as cash to the e-cards. The households can use their electronic cards at selected shops to redeem items. WFP has contracted 72 traders who each received a point-of-sale machine for them to use to perform transactions. 

The World Food Programme electronic voucher programme in South Sudan

Stimulating entrepreneurs and the local economy

Prior to the conflict, Mingkaman was a small village of a few thousand inhabitants. It had a small market with very little to offer. Ahmed Malmoudal, is one of the traders contracted by WFP. He has been living in the area for six years and opened one of the first shops here after he left his job as a driver for a road construction company. “Before the conflict there were not many establishments here, over the years more shops opened near mine. After December 2013, the place really grew and became very busy,” Malmoudal said. 

With the influx of people to the area, markets have swelled with new traders, like Yar Pancho, who identified the business opportunity to provide food goods. Yar who fled from Bor to Mingkaman with her five children, her mother, as well as her husband’s other two wives and their children, set up a shop shortly after she arrived and is now among the traders contracted by WFP.

“I have heard people talking about the new voucher programme. I knew it would bring me more customers, people with guaranteed money to spend,” Pancho said.  “I am excited about the business it will bring. I need to help provide for my family. [My husband’s] other wives are here today to see the start of the e-card system and support me as needed.”

Solving challenges in the new programme

This year, WFP has received assistance from the United Nations Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) to roll out its voucher programme in Mingkaman.

Shifting from food aid to an electronic form of assistance, however, has its challenges in South Sudan. The deteriorating economic situation has led to price hikes, which could affect the cash-based programmes. The resupply of stocks is a concern due to the remoteness of Mingkaman and the unreliable electricity needed to power the machines.  

To mitigate these challenges, WFP has provided solar panels to the traders to ensure continued power supply. It bases its transfers on thorough market price assessments and the traders who were selected have a track record of a constant stock of supplies.  

“When the voucher people asked if I could keep my shop supplied to meet the e-card food demands, I just smiled. I have a strong connection with Juba, my stocks don’t run out,” said 40-year-old Malmoudal.

The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking steps to diversify and improve the way it delivers food assistance in parts of South Sudan where there are functioning markets.

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).