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Vouchers Are Useful In Ecuador's Northern Border

An international study conducted in Ecuador to evaluate three food assistance modalities –cash, vouchers and food—among vulnerable populations found that vouchers have several advantages over cash transfers or direct food delivery.

QUITO. -The study “Assessing the Impact of Food Assistance Modalities” showed that one advantage of conditional food vouchers in urban and peri-urban areas is that the participants exchanged them for nutritious foods in local stores. Furthermore, the use of food vouchers has lower transaction costs and it warrants less risk than using cash, according to the study prepared by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Ecuador and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and presented on 21 May 2012.

“The research results show impacts related to food and nutrition security, as well as other aspects such as discrimination, gender and family relations,” said Deborah Hines, WFP Representative in Ecuador. Hines emphasized the importance of “increasing knowledge on food and nutrition security, and particularly the practices related to family diet.”

This global study was also conducted in Yemen, East Timor, Uganda and Niger to determine the best mechanisms to deliver food assistance, according to the conditions and contexts of different environments.

To identify the advantages and applicability of the three food assistance modalities in Ecuador, a pilot project was implemented in the provinces of Carchi and Sucumbíos. The participants were refugee and other vulnerable families at risk of food insecurity and undernutrition. The three modalities, with a value of US$40 each, are described below:

• Food was distributed to a group of families. This food included oil, flour, beans, sardines and rice, enough to feed a family of four for a month.

• Monthly vouchers were delivered to a different group. The vouchers could be redeemed at local supermarkets for selected nutritious food items.

• The cash was delivered to a third group of families who received it through ATMs. The families were encouraged to buy nutritious food at any store or market.

Seventy six percent of the participants were women who attended nutrition training sessions. They learned about the importance of good nutrition for the family and how to diversify the diet and combine food for better nutritional values, especially for children.

To analyse the cost-effectiveness of the three modalities, the food and nutrition security of the participants was assessed in a baseline study and then at the end of the project.

Approximately 14,400 people participated in the pilot project, which was implemented by WFP with funds from the Government of Spain. In addition to IFPRI and CEPAR, WFP's partners in this initiative included the Decentralized Autonomous Government of the Province of Carchi, the Municipal Governments of Montúfar, Lago Agrio, and Shushufindi, and local institutions.

The results of the Ecuadorian case provided data to understand the advantages of each modality with respect to improving dietary diversity and improving relations within vulnerable communities. These results were presented this week by WFP and IFPRI to senior government officials, donor countries and organizations working in cooperation. Due to their importance, the findings will also be distributed by WFP internationally.

In coordination with the Government of Ecuador and local governments, WFP promotes food and nutrition security, supporting trainings in nutrition, assistance to vulnerable groups with an emphasis on women, climate change adaptation, and emergency preparedness and response.