Southern Africa is reeling from the worst drought in three decades. In Zimbabwe, more than four million people are struggling to put food on their tables. Without adequate and timely assistance, rural communities could lose years of hard-won development gains. WFP is evolving its response to hunger, using technology and cash-based transfers (CBT) to make a difference in people's lives.
In response to the El Nino drought in Zimbabwe, the World Food Programme (WFP) has recently launched a smart card to distribute food assistance and enable people to make their own purchase decisions about food and other basic needs.
“The card acts like the debit card of a local supermarket chain, where users can go shopping up to the limit on their card,” explains Edwin Brunner, WFP cash expert in Harare.
“The card acts like the debit card of a local supermarket chain, where users can go shopping up to the limit on their card”.“When the card needs to be re-loaded, it can be done so by remote. As with all cash based transfers, card systems work when there is food in the shops but people can’t afford to buy it - like in Zvishavane, where the smart card is being piloted,” he added.
WFP is quickly adapting to technological developments and changing operative environments by partnering with different technological and financial service providers, where possible moving away from distributing food rations to CBT so people can make choices. This smart card will give people affected by the drought a greater say in how they do their shopping. The card also saves them time and money previously spent in travelling to a food distribution site.
The smart card being piloted in Zimbabwe
How it works
The smart card is credited with a certain amount of cash or value, which can be exchanged for goods at selected retailers participating in the programme. Retailers use a Point of Sale (POS) machine to debit the e-card, like any other shop. However, the POS machine also works offline, enabling people in the most remote areas to use it. Transactions can be updated into the server once a day when online.
Transactions are done electronically, helping retailers being paid to re-stock, avoiding beneficiaries being exposed to security risks, and providing WFP real-time information on transactions. Programme participants need to have a secret four digit code when purchasing goods.
Bester holds the smart card after purchasing some food commodities. Picture: WFP/Tatenda Macheka
The smart card is supporting more than 25,000 people
Bester Sikwira, 64, smiles as she puts her smart card code in a point of sale which reads the text message: “This account has $42 from the World Food Programme”. Bester can use the $42 to buy food for her family at one of many local shops in Zvishavane.
Through the card WFP is supporting more than 25,000 people who have been affected by drought. WFP deployed food security analysts, supply chain experts, and IT staff, who rapidly assessed the local shops and markets to review critical factors such as the availability, price, quality and nutritional requirements of the food for sale. With this information, staff concluded that food assistance through a smart card would be feasible, both logistically and financially.
“This is a better and easier way of buying things, I have plenty of choices of what to buy and when to buy it, I can purchase soap, sugar and salt. If I lose the card, its security features won’t allow anyone to use it, unlike hard cash,” said Bester. “It’s been a difficult time for me and my family because we didn’t harvest like we usually do but with the coming of the card, I think we will manage”.
“This is a better and easier way of buying things, I have plenty of choices of what to buy and when to buy it, I can purchase soap, sugar and salt. If I lose the card, its security features won’t allow anyone to use it, unlike hard cash”.
Communities benefit from WFP initiative
Villages in the district will also benefit from the money transacted to retailers. Maruva Midza, the owner of Emmanuel General Dealer, said her shop has never been this busy.
“We appreciate the introduction of the smart card. We have never been this busy even during the festive season. We are having quick profits, with the number of customers increasing each day. I have learned good customer relations management skills, I am also employing an additional shopkeeper to deal with the demand during peak hours,” she added.
For Bester, it is not certain that she will be able to harvest this coming season, but what is important for her now is to receive cash in her smart card which will help her family. Bester and her neighbour in a scotch cart going back home happy. Picture: WFP/Tatenda Macheka