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Cash & Vouchers: Helping Communities Fractured by Years of Armed Conflict in DRC

Cash & vouchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo stimulate local economies and reinforce social integration. Bargaining over food prices and the interaction between the displaced and host populations in the market contribute to building social cohesion in communities fractured by years of conflict.

Materanya Niganda, businessman in Mugunga market (Goma)

Cash & vouchers in the Democratic Republic of Congo stimulate local economies and reinforce social integration. Bargaining over food prices and the interaction between the displaced and host populations in the market contribute to building social cohesion in communities fractured by years of conflict.

Mugunga, eastern DRC- Materanya Niganda, 52, is a businessman who sells food in Mugunga. For years he has been selling beans, sugar, maize meal, rice and palm oil to his relatives, neighbours and a few other people at the market.

A few weeks ago, Niganda started seeing a new category of customers who were not familiar with the Mugunga market: people who have fled their homes because of conflict in their region between 2007 and 2009. While some have gone back to their villages as the security situation improved, around 1,700 people are still living in a camp managed by UNHCR. Most of those who have stayed are elderly, disabled, unaccompanied children or reluctant to return home because they fear for their safety. Since their arrival in the region, WFP has been helping them rebuild their lives by providing food rations.  

But, in April 2012, life started to change for both Materanya Niganda and the camp dwellers. There is food available at the local market, but the people displaced by conflict do not have money to buy it. The World Food Programme decided to use an innovative tool to help the most vulnerable buy enough to eat and also stimulate the local economy. The food insecure people in Mugunga camp started receiving vouchers that they can exchange against food of their choice at the Mugunga market.

The first day that people shopped at the Mugunga market with their vouchers, Niganda sold as much as 100 bags (25 kg each) of maize meal and rice; a record for him!

“This is the first time I have earned that much money in a single day. It is really interesting! Even though, the gain is in a paper form, I know I will be paid in cash within five days”, he said referring to the vouchers used by WFP beneficiaries.

WFP vouchers have a monetary value ranging between US$ 7 and US$14 per person per month. This is equivalent to the value of the food they would have received,  is determined on the basis of market analysis carried out by WFP and its partners.

“If this activity is maintained for some time,we will be able to develop our area,” Niganda said. “This will help us properly feed our families.”

Offering an array of choice to beneficiaries

 Ndabwya Bahani, 26, rushed into the market to buy fish and sugar. A mother of three, Bahani lost her husband in a military attack in Masisi territory. Since then, she has been struggling alone to feed her children. To make ends meet, the young mother works in the fields as a casual worker. It had been a while since she had the opportunity to visit a market, choose her items and bargain with traders. Cash & vouchers have now offered her an opportunity to not only enter a market but also to buy fish, rice or fresh vegetables at least once a month.

“This is a great change”, she said, “We can now choose what we want, what corresponds to our tastes and preferences.” While improving food consumption, cash & vouchers in DRC stimulate local economies and reinforce social integration. Bargaining over food prices and the interaction between the displaced people and the host population contribute to building social cohesion in communities fractured by years of conflict.

Launched in late 2010 in three camps with funding from the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and the United Nations Stabilization Plan for the Reconstruction of conflict-affected areas in eastern DRC (STAREC), the cash and vouchers initiative has now been expanded in 19 sites targeting more than 46,000 vulnerable people in war-torn areas in North Kivu.