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Public Information Officer
Before joining WFP, Vigno Hounkanli worked for many years as a journalist in Africa.
Since February 2013, thousands of people have fled armed conflict in Mali to seek refuge in neighboring countries, including Niger. Upon their arrival, WFP provides food and nutrition assistance for refugees in several camp. At the Mangaize camp, WFP and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have initiated assistance through vouchers, which give beneficiaries a choice of what they can purchase to meet their food needs and provide them with some degree of independence.
Mangaizé - Sheltering under trees away from the scorching sun, refugees wait to receive their voucher, which allows them to purchase food of their choice at designated merchants. WFP is responding to their immediate food needs while they live in the refugee camp in Niger.
Aichatou Coulibally, 25, mother of two, does not hide her satisfaction at receiving the voucher.
"I much more prefer the voucher than cereals," she said. "The last time I received the voucher, I was able to do my shopping and take what I wanted at my own convenience. I changed my household’s meals. It was an opportunity for us to have milk and tea for breakfast. The voucher is like a bank cheque for us.”
More than 9,000 people are receiving a voucher worth 6,000 CFA (US$14.00), which provides them with standard daily nutrition. This allows them to purchase at WFP approved shops near Mangaize camp, making transport easier.
For Al Hassane Maiga, 54, vouchers are better than the dry rations normally distributed. “We can buy what we want and people can’t steal your vouchers because they are safe, secure and very specific. Last time, we were able to buy rice, millet, beans, oil, sugar and also pasta. It's great!” he said.
Women are the mainstay of families in this region, so WFP distributes the vouchers to them. If they are unable to come to the distribution, the vouchers are given to the male head of household.
"In a refugee camp, it is sometimes very difficult to meet people’s food needs with simple cereals. Refugees need more ingredients to enable them to prepare hot meals for themselves and more importantly for their children. With the voucher, they have a choice and an opportunity to go to stores and select what they want,” said Benoit Thiry, WFP Niger Country Director.
Fight against malnutrition
Assistance to refugees through vouchers is a way of improving food security and nutrition conditions to prevent acute malnutrition among children, pregnant women and lactating mothers.
In addition to the voucher, children under five receive a porridge made of Supercereal (a specially formulated supplementary food) twice a day to prevent malnutrition.
Many refugees contribute their skills and knowledge. Ouana Sharif, 31, said, "I serve as a community outreach volunteer for health and nutrition. I reach out to women, talk to them and raise awareness about what they can do to keep their children healthy; I do a kind of screening before referring them to health workers.”
Strengthen the local economy
"I have many customers and my goods are selling well. My turnover has increased and the business is booming with the voucher program in the area,” said Mahamadou Issa, a shop owner in Mangaize.
The use of local businesses for the supply and distribution of food to refugees in exchange for vouchers injects cash into the local economy. It also boosts local employment and trade and promotes peaceful coexistence between refugees and local population.
"The local economy is empowered with the voucher system we put in place. Nearly 50 million CFA (US$ 100,000) is being injected each month in the economy of a small town like Mangaize which has a population of around 11,600 people. Before we started this programme, we carried out a market analysis to ensure the local market would not be disrupted," said Benoit Thiry, WFP Niger Country Director.
Meanwhile, refugees are also developing their business. "I do leather working with my sister’s help to make crafts, bags and my husband sells them in markets around here. It gives us some money. We have to live like this until the situation returns to normal and we can return to Mali. In the near future, I hope,” said Aichatou Coulibaly