The World Food Programme (WFP) is taking steps to diversify and improve the way it delivers food assistance in parts of South Sudan where there are functioning markets.
From food distributions to electronic money
In June, WFP launched an electronic voucher programme in Mingkaman, a settlement of mostly internally displaced persons (IDPs), located north of Juba. The IDPs and the local traders say they are already witnessing the benefits of the new system that allows WFP to gradually transition from in-kind distributions of food to an electronic money programme.
Amour Akouk and her extended family have been living in Mingkaman since fleeing their home when fighting erupted in Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, in December 2013. They were among tens of thousands who used canoes to cross the White Nile to seek safety in what has become a sprawling settlement hosting over 70,000 people. All registered IDPs have been receiving cereals, pulses and fortified vegetable oil every month from WFP and its partners. But things are changing.
Offering more choice and diversity
In April, WFP introduced paper vouchers, which people could use to buy food from selected shops. Two months later WFP changed to full electronic cards powered by a new information management system called SCOPE.
SCOPE allows WFP to register beneficiaries, store information on the amount of food or money they are entitled to, and, in the case of vouchers, transfer the specific amount onto the e-cards. Recipients then use the electronic card to buy food items from selected shops.
“Today I received my e-card. I’m here at the market buying sugar, milk and flour because that’s what my children need,” Akouk said on the day WFP launched the new system. “I looked at what WFP provided us and made a choice about what my household still needs and what I can buy with the e-card money,” the 24-year-old mother added.
In Mingkaman, WFP now provides a full month’s ration of pulses and cooking oil, and 70 percent of the previous cereal ration, along with cash to the e-cards worth the value of the remaining 30 percent of the cereal ration. The households can use their electronic cards at selected shops to purchase a variety of food items.
WFP has contracted 72 traders, who each received a point-of-sale machine to perform transactions.
Stimulating entrepreneurs and the local economy
Before the conflict, Mingkaman was a small village of a few thousand inhabitants. It had a small market with very little to offer. Ahmed Malmoudal, one of the traders contracted by WFP, has been living in the area for six years and opened one of the first shops here after he left his job as a driver for a road construction company.
“Before the conflict there were not many establishments here. Over the years, more shops opened near mine. After December 2013, the place really grew and became very busy,” Malmoudal said.
With the influx of people to the area, markets have swelled with new traders, like Yar Pancho, who identified the the provision of food as a business opportunity. Yar -- who fled from Bor to Mingkaman with her five children, her mother, as well as her husband’s other two wives and their children -- set up a shop shortly after she arrived, and is now among the traders contracted by WFP.
“I have heard people talking about the new voucher programme. I knew it would bring me more customers, people with guaranteed money to spend,” Pancho said. “I am excited about the business it will bring. I need to help provide for my family. [My husband’s] other wives are here today to see the start of the e-card system and support me as needed.”
Solving challenges in the new programme
This year, WFP has received assistance from the United Nations Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF) and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) to roll out its voucher programme in Mingkaman.
Shifting from in-kind food distributions to e-cash assistance, however, has its challenges in South Sudan. The deteriorating economic situation has led to price hikes, which could affect the cash-based programmes. The resupply of food stocks is a concern due to the remoteness of Mingkaman and the unreliable electricity needed to power the machines.
To mitigate these challenges, WFP has provided solar panels to the traders to ensure continued power supply. It bases its transfers on thorough market price assessments and the traders who were selected have a track record of keeping a consistent stock of supplies.
“When the voucher people asked if I could keep my shop supplied to meet the e-card food demands, I just smiled. I have a strong connection with Juba -- my stocks don’t run out,” said 40-year-old Malmoudal.