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WFP Launches First Food Voucher Operation in Africa

OUAGADOUGOU – WFP today launched its first food voucher operation in Africa, deploying a new tool to address hunger in an urban environment where food is available, but beyond the reach of many because of the impact of high food prices.

The new voucher programme is targeting 120,000 people who are suffering from the impact of high food prices in urban areas of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where the prices of basic staples such as millet and sorghum are more than 25 per cent higher than they were last year.

“Sometimes it makes more sense to give people vouchers than bags of food,” said Annalisa Conte, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso. “This is an innovative solution to hunger needs among people who live in a city where shops and market stalls may be full of produce, but prices are still too high for the poor and the vulnerable.”

Under the new programme, family members will be given a voucher worth 1,500 francs CFA (US$3) which they can use in shops that have signed a contract with WFP.  In exchange for the voucher, people will receive maize, cooking oil, sugar, salt and soap. Each family will receive up to six vouchers per month for six months.   The retailer is able to redeem food vouchers through an arrangement WFP has made with MICROFI, a local micro finance company.

Next month WFP and its partners will also distribute food vouchers in Burkina Faso’s second city of Bobo-Dioulasso for 60,000 people.  Distributing vouchers instead of food can be a more effective way of alleviating hunger in urban environments where markets are strong, because it cuts down on the cost to WFP of transporting and storing food assistance and helps to inject money into the local economy.

The voucher operation was developed in close collaboration with the Government of Burkina Faso. WFP’s partners, Catholic Relief Services and the Burkina Red Cross, also played a key role in identifying vulnerable people based on an assessment in urban areas with technical support from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) and financed by the French government.

During the launch of the voucher operation in Burkina Faso WFP will also hand out rations of  Plumpy Doz ™, a highly nutritious peanut-based paste enriched with micronutrients to families with young children.  Plumpy Doz ™ is a ready-to-use food that parents can use to supplement normal meals for their children and boost their intake of vitamins and minerals.

An assessment by UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the government last June showed that the combination of high food prices and decreased employment opportunities had hit people hard in urban areas as they generally have to rely on buying their food in local markets.

Donor countries contributing so far to the WFP voucher operation in Burkina Faso are the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (US$5 million), Burkina Faso (US$1.2 million), and UN CERF ($750,000 – for CERF, see http://ochaonline.un.org).