TILLABERI - “Today, you will receive a mobile phone,” explains Smael Boureima to dozens of women sitting outside a small concrete building, most of them trying to keep fidgety children quiet while they listen to explanations of the special things they will do with their new device.
It’s also a special day for the World Food Programme in Niger. This is the first cash distribution happening in an urban area and the first time the agency is distributing money using mobile banking technology. To make this possible, WFP has partnered with the mobile phone company Orange as well as Oxfam.
Fatima Mamoudou is smiling and eager to say how grateful she is. She has 5 children and explains that her husband and herself are struggling to make ends meet.
“I will buy food,” she says of the money about to be transferred to her brand new cell phone. “This is what my family needs.”
Each woman receiving a phone that day has been carefully selected to ensure the money goes to the families who need it most. For the next 5 months, they will receive 32,500 CFA, or approximately US$65 per month, in mobile money.
What is often called the hunger season has begun in Niger. This is a time when, for many, food is either scarce or inaccessible.
“We’ve known for several months that this year, the lean season would be extremely difficult for the poorest,” says Denise Brown, WFP Representative in Niger. “We’ve prepared and have been working with the Government and our partners to scale up our operations to make sure people do not fall over the edge.”
Since the beginning of the year, temporary employment projects financed by WFP have helped rural communities improve their capacity to keep rainwater. Dozens of projects have also contributed to the rehabilitation of agricultural land.
During the lean season, WFP continues to support the most vulnerable with unconditional cash and food transfers to ensure that farmers have as much time as possible to dedicate to their fields and that poor people living in urban areas also receive assistance.
“We are now giving money to about 1 million people, using either mobile banking or regular cash distributions,” explains Giorgi Dolidze, who is in charge of WFP projects involving cash in Niger. “We are using money in the areas where the markets are functioning so that people have the freedom to buy the food they want and can have a diversified diet.” This also stimulates local economies.
In the country’s isolated areas where access to food is a problem, WFP gives cereals, pulses as well as fortified oil to the most vulnerable and plans to reach 1.6 million people over the next 4 months.
In Tillaberi, food is available, but people like Thiassou Adamou often have no money to buy it.
Adamou has 9 children. Although he went to school, he says he didn’t study long enough to learn a trade. He works as a day labourer, sometimes in the city, sometimes on nearby farms.
“Some days, I am ashamed to come back home, because I have not earned a single franc,” he said.
His wife, Kadi Hamani, explains that keeping her family healthy is challenging, especially when she only has enough food to cook one meal per day. She has been selected to receive mobile phone cash transfers.
"That's a big relief for my family," she said. It's also going to help thousands of poor households make it through the lean season.