Cash and E-Vouchers in Zimbabwe: A few lessons learned

Through its vulnerable group feeding programme, WFP is providing temporary food packages in urban areas.

Senior programme officer Guillaume Foliot shares a bit of the wisdom picked up by the WFP team while implementing cash and voucher pilot programmes in Zimbabwe. The cash programme focused on remote communities, the voucher one on city-dwellers.

ROME -- WFP recently completed two pilot projects in Zimbabwe that were based on cash and vouchers. In one of them, vulnerable people in a remote area were given cash. In the other, WFP sent e-vouchers via mobile phone to beneficiaries participating in a health-based safety net programme in urban areas. The vouchers meant beneficiaries could select from a list of specified food commodities.

Both projects provided valuable lessons learned:

Preparation Time: In both projects the start-up time was lengthy. The sort of assessment needed is more extensive than normal, since, for example, in addition to a standard vulnerability analysis, a more comprehensive market assessment was required. The project design was also more complex. However, it is expected setting up cash and voucher projects will become quicker as WFP and its partners gain experience. Enhancing technical capabilities and building new partnerships will be important.

Beneficiary Preferences: The use of cash transfers created some controversy within the communities. Non-recipients of food assistance preferred it when the people receiving WFP assistance were given food rations. This is because food rations are more likely to be shared with them. The actual recipients, in contrast, favored a combination of cash and food transfers.

Impact of Cash Transfers: The cash pilot showed that it can be difficult to direct the use of cash. In Zimbabwe, the cash transfers did not result in improved dietary diversity because beneficiaries spent the money mainly on maize and not on pulses or vegetable oil. However, as the cash transfers boosted general food consumption, they achieved the intended objective. Nevertheless, the utilization of cash can be influenced to a limited degree, for instance, through the selection of different types of beneficiaries. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh a transfer to women resulted in more diversified consumption and ensured that family members benefitted more equally from the assistance. Moreover, it must be noted that the poorer the household is, the less it uses money to buy non-food items such as clothing.

WFP as a “manager”, using its traditional sources of expertise: With the introduction of cash and voucher based activities, WFP’s role is changing from a “provider” of aid to that of “manager” of humanitarian assistance. WFP acts more and more as an “interface” for an ever increasing number of stake holders. These incluse the people receiving assistance, the host government, traditional partners and/or new ones like financial institutions and information technology companies.

At the same time, WFP expertise in programming, logistics, finance and IT is crucial for cash and voucher project implementation. The design, set-up and trouble shooting of the e-voucher system in Zimbabwe would have not been possible without IT-expertise within WFP. Like programme design and monitoring, these expertise represent one of WFP’s comparative advantages.

New monitoring challenges: Intensive monitoring and sensitization of beneficiaries and shop owners is necessary to ensure that beneficiaries receive the planned rations in voucher-based projects. It is especially important when commodity prices are volatile, since shop keepers might under-scoop pulses in an attempt to keep their earnings constant. In one example, a shop keeper did reduce the quantity of vegetable oil because he had not been able to secure the planned cheaper brand.

The final evaluation of both pilot projects showed that despite some problems, cash and vouchers were a more efficient means of providing hungry people with access to food, when compared to direct food transfers.  WFP will scale up both pilots in 2011.