Families in Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, have begun receiving US$3 vouchers that can be cashed in for maize, cooking oil, salt, sugar and soap.
The distribution is the second half of a World Food Programme (WFP) urban hunger-alleviation experiment launched on 13 February in the capital, Ouagadougou, to help people cope with high food prices.
Despite the country’s 2008 bumper crop prices remain out of reach for tens of thousands of people living in both cities, according to the UN food assistance agency.
WFP recruited shopkeepers willing to accept the vouchers in lieu of cash for the five items, and then be reimbursed by WFP.
Shopkeeper Alfred Bembamba in Ouagadougou told IRIN his business has multiplied with the vouchers.
“The first day [after vouchers were distributed in February], I sold [to voucher holders] almost $12,000 worth of goods,” Bembamba said. “The second [voucher distribution] I sold almost $10,000 [of goods paid for with vouchers].”
As of end of February 80,000 vouchers were distributed, of which 78,000 were exchanged for about $230,000 worth of goods, according to WFP.
Ouagadougou shopkeeper Fabien Mouniya told IRIN that on the days immediately following voucher distribution, he had more than 100 women in his shop daily, as compared to the few who normally came to his shop.
Rakeita Lankoandé told IRIN she received a text message from WFP instructing her about the vouchers. “I came today [to shop] to pick up soap, oil and maize. This helps us tremendously – with this we are able to provide for the family. But the problem is it will not last for long.”
Up to 180,000 people in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso will receive food vouchers until July. WFP will then conduct a needs assessment to determine how many from those cities will get vouchers until December 2009.
During the region’s rainy season from June to September – when farmers are planting – less local food is available and malnutrition levels typically rise.
|..It needs to suit the needs of people without destabilising local production...|
While WFP and its partners are looking at using food vouchers in other countries, Burkina Faso’s WFP director, Annalissa Conte, told IRIN the approach cannot work just anywhere. “Urban settings are more suitable [given] the good banking system, and it needs to suit the needs of people without destabilising local production.”
What about rice?
Shopkeeper Mouniya told IRIN the most common complaint he gets from customers is that rice is not included in the programme. “They want to be able to exchange their vouchers for rice. It is not easy to eat the same thing every day.”
Voucher recipient Lankoandé told IRIN maize takes more money and time to prepare. “To turn the maize into meal, it takes money [to mill].” She said it is quicker and cheaper to prepare rice.
But WFP’s Conte told IRIN that maize can better cover the population’s “consumption needs” than rice. “We knew that we might have some beneficiaries asking for rice in shops when vouchers allow for maize and not for rice, which is imported and more expensive than maize.”
Cereal prices have temporarily stabilised after a steady climb, according to the NGO Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET). But the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has reported that the price of maize is still “volatile” because of dry conditions in maize-producing countries Argentina and Brazil.