In Somalia, Vouchers For Assets Empower Somalis And Create Ownership

Published on 07 October 2013

A shop where beneficiaries can use their vouchers in Dolow, Somalia. Photo Copyright: WFP/Laila Ali

In Somalia, the World Food Programme is shifting its focus from providing emergency responses to enabling vulnerable Somalis to improve their ability to deal with shocks. WFP helps people create communal assets, such as roads, and also provides training so that Somalis are better able to withstand future droughts and floods.    

DOLOW -- In the semi-arid town of Dolow, people are queuing in front of two WFP counters, but they are not waiting to receive food rations. They are here to collect vouchers as payment for work they undertook during the previous month.

“I have been working on clearing the road that connects the fields to the market,” says Shamso Mowlid Hussein, a young woman who was one of the first people to sign up for WFP’s Vouchers for Assets project.

“Clearing the road was important. Before we started working on it, the road was filled with bushes; it was narrow and treacherous. Two donkeys could not pass side by side, but now even cars can pass. The [50km] road has made it easier [to reach the market].”

The Vouchers for Assets project is changing the face of WFP’s food assistance in Somalia.  It was introduced in the southern town of Dolow in August as part of WFP’s innovative three-year strategy, which aims to strengthen the livelihoods of agro-pastoralists by linking them to markets, wherever possible. WFP also wants to increase resilience to droughts and floods, which are common in this region.

Members of the local community work on assigned projects and are then paid with vouchers. They can use the vouchers to buy food from selected traders in the town.

“I like getting vouchers.... I enjoy going to the shop to choose and buy what my family needs,” says Hussein, with a shy smile. “It’s good that WFP does this, it’s also good to work for our community. We feel proud when the work is finished.”

By the community, for the community

The local community is involved every step of the way.

The projects selected for the scheme are agreed upon during consultations with the community, who also select a supervisor. The labourers work four hours a day, for 26 days of the month. This means that they can use the rest of their time during the day to till their land or pursue other income-generating activities.

So far, 880 vouchers have been issued, with the benefits extending to more than 5,000 people, including the members of each participant's family.

Each voucher is worth US$ 68 – the amount needed by an average Somali family of six to meet their nutritional needs, as calculated by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit - Somalia (FSNAU).

As well as benefitting individual households, the Vouchers for Assets project has boosted Dolow’s economy, with many of the participating traders reporting a substantial increase in business since the initiative started.

“Now I have an extra 50 to 60 customers, who come to my shop every day,” said Mohammed Abdirahman, flashing a grin as he sat outside his bustling shop counting the day’s takings.

Although he had yet to cash the vouchers, he expected to have made a profit and said he would order more stock from Mogadishu to keep up with demand.

WFP Somalia Country Representative Stefano Porretti said Vouchers for Assets aimed to empower Somalis and give them a sense of ownership over their environment so that they would be better placed to withstand future environmental shocks that could easily push them into crisis.

“In areas where markets are established and food is available locally, it makes good sense for WFP to issue vouchers instead of transporting food from outside the country, a process that is costly and challenging, especially in a country like Somalia where insecurity, bad roads and crumbling infrastructure make food transfers very difficult,” he said.

The Vouchers for Assets model was first implemented in Somaliland and Puntland, before being introduced in Dolow.

“In the near future WFP hopes to expand Vouchers for Assets to other areas in Somalia in line with our strategic goals of protecting livelihoods and strengthening the capacity of Somalia to reduce hunger,” said Porretti.

The road rehabilitation project in Dolow is just one example of how WFP is increasingly adopting a broad, consensus-based approach in assisting food insecure people in Somalia. WFP supports many other projects that focus on creating assets, such as wells, canals and water reservoirs, and these benefit entire communities, in different regions of the country.

Story by Laila Ali, WFP Somalia.

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about the author

Laila Ali

Spokesperson / Public Information Officer

Laila is a former journalist now based in Kenya. She has reported for Al Jazeera English, Sky news, and the Guardian.