Refugees In Kenya’s Kalobeyei Settlement Enjoy Food Freedom

Kalobeyei settlement in Northern Kenya opened in June 2016 and is now hosting close to 6,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan. The hybrid settlement aims to integrate the refugees with the local population, creating a strong bond in trade, education, and livelihoods. In Kalobeyei, WFP is giving refugees their food entitlement almost entirely in the form of cash transfers known as Bamba Chakula. 

Kalobeyei was opened in order to decongest the nearby Kakuma refugee camp.  The settlement is unique in Kenya as it aims to help better integrate the refugee population with the local host population and create economic opportunities in agriculture and trade.  It offers an opportunity to try a more durable solution to hosting refugees since the refugees will live, farm and trade side-by-side with the local population.  This new hybrid settlement has the capacity to accommodate 60,000 refugees and 23,000 people from the host population.    

“I fled South Sudan in April. I stayed at the reception centre in Kakuma for two months and in June, I was moved here,” said Regina Ojum, a 35-year-old mother of three. “I’m expecting a new baby any time now and I’m happy to be settled.”

Regina is among the refugees that are receiving their food entitlement almost entirely via a mobile cash transfer known as Bamba Chakula.  The only commodity collected in-kind is the nutritious corn-soya blend, given to children under the age of five and to pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

“I buy maize, beans, rice, oil, millet, vegetables, milk and meat,” said Regina. “Bamba Chakula is very good.”

Bamba Chakula - Food Plate

The World Food Programme introduced Bamba Chakula cash transfers to refugees in Kakuma in August 2015 and in Dadaab in January 2016. The cash is sent via mobile phones and can only be redeemed for food items at a Bamba Chakula trader. In Kalobeyei, WFP is still recruiting traders into the programme and have currently signed up 20 traders, 15 of whom are refugees

The cash transfer started out at a test value of 100 Kenyan shillings per refugee per month. WFP has gradually increased the value as it reduces the amount of in-kind food given at the food distribution centres.  In Kalobeyei, WFP is currently providing around 1,500 Kenya Shillings (US$15) for each refugee every month, which is enough for 80 percent of the minimum healthy basket, with nutritious corn-soya blend covering the remaining nutrition requirement.  In Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, each person is receiving between 200 and 500 Kenyan Shillings (US$2 -5) per month depending on the size of the family. This covers between 30 and 35 percent of the food basket with the remainder given in-kind. This gradual increase has been achieved through the generous support of WFP’s donors.

Bamba Chakula should definitely continue. In fact, you [WFP] should increase the amount. I like it because I buy whatever type of food I want,” said an enthusiastic Karen Nakiiru, a 24-year-old mother of three. “The food I buy with my Bamba Chakula lasts me for the month – that is if I don’t share.  I would like support to start a shop and be one of the traders,” added Karen who, prior to fleeing Torit in the Equatoria region of South Sudan, was a business-woman.

Trying a new approach

Unlike other refugee camps in Kenya, in Kalobeyei families can continue earning a living using the skillsets they already possess. A section of the settlement has been set aside for farming while construction of a ‘business park’ is underway, which will be shared among the refugees and the local population. The model is meant to allow refugees to sustain themselves rather than rely on external assistance. Most, if not all refugees settled here are cultivating small vegetable gardens.

With more nutritious foods in the Kalobeyei market, and funding permitting, WFP could provide refugees in Kalobeyei with enough Bamba Chakula cash (around 1,900 Kenyan Shillings each month) to meet all of the minimum nutritional requirements.  As the refugees become more self-reliant, WFP will gradually decrease the amount of Bamba Chakula cash.

In Kalobeyei, cash transfers are supported by Canada, DFID, European Commission Humanitarian Aid, Germany (German Foreign Office) and Japan. The European Union and the German Development Ministry (BMZ) are supporting are supporting development and market-related activities.