UN World Food Programme

Text Messages: A New Way to Fight Hunger in Senegal

In the Ziguinchor region, the World Food Programme (WFP) has implemented a new system that uses text messages, or SMS, to transfer money to people affected by food insecurity during the lean season. So far, this new method has benefited 55,000 people.

In the Ziguinchor region, the World Food Programme (WFP) has implemented a new system that uses text messages, or SMS, to transfer money to people affected by food insecurity during the lean season. So far, this new method has benefited 55,000 people.

Adama Sow cannot believe it. She has just received a message from Orange Money, the mobile phone company’s money transfer service, giving her a credit of 45,000 FCFA – an amount that can be used to purchase food from the shopkeeper in her neighborhood.  Out of the 350,000 people that WFP supports, 55,000 like Adama will receive messages like this.

A mother of eight, Adama is one of the female heads of households who were selected to receive this form of assistance. “Every year, I struggle to feed and care for my children. In the different seasons, I can work in the rice fields planting or harvesting, and I’m paid 1,000 FCFA (about USD $2) per day depending on the area of land farmed,” says Adama.

Adama also sells cashews that she picks in the forest.  However, these activities have failed so far to feed her family throughout the year.  “When these activities are not possible, like now, I spend most of my time cooking for family ceremonies, or doing laundry, in exchange for a little money that does not even cover all of my needs,” she adds. 

Efficient, rapid assistance

“The district representative handed me an Orange chip, so I can receive a monthly allowance of 5,000 FCFA for each person living at home.  With eight children in my care, and an unemployed husband, I have a monthly budget of 45,000 FCFA during the four months of the lean season to meet our food needs.  This lets me buy two bags of 50 kg rice, 2.5 kg of sugar and ten liters of oil and soap,” says Adama.

The representative, Lansana Kagny, confirmed the process. For the last four years, Kagny has been appointed to the village of West Kandialang and has been working with WFP as it developed its food distributions and procurement, a process which has evolved since the test phase in 2010.

“The first year of this programme in Ziguinchor, the households received coupon vouchers, which the head of the family traded with the shopkeeper for food.  Now, we see that WFP made efforts to modernize and give more effective assistance to the needy with this system of cash vouchers – and it must be said the beneficiaries are happy,” says Kagny.

West Kandialang was abandoned in the 1990s after attacks during the Casamance rebellion, but is now home to many poor families. In 2008, people returned to find their homes destroyed and rice fields littered with mines. “This kind of assistance can indeed contribute to the reconstruction because once food problems are solved, communities can think about the development of their neighborhood,” says Kagny,

Revitalizing the local economy

By implementing such a programme, WFP also aims to develop small businesses and retailers, and ensures the loyalty of customers to local businesses for at least four months while they receive WFP assistance. Abdou Kader Sane launched his small business in 2005 with an initial budget of 30,000 FCFA.  Because of the partnership with WFP, today, the shop has grown and his profits have doubled.

“My participation in this programme opened many opportunities for me.  My suppliers have more confidence in me, and have increased my stock because they know I will be able to redistribute their goods. And now I have invested in real estate, and I am able to provide better living conditions for my family,” he said.

He said that “in addition to allowing my clients to access their basic food needs, it helps them regain their dignity because they can buy food for themselves and choose among the options approved by the programme.”

The lean season occurs between June and September, when families run out of the previous year’s food supplies. The poor often cannot wait for the next planting season. The government has implemented a programme to provide assistance to about 675,000 people, including 350,000 who receive assistance from WFP.