In Uganda, WFP And Donors Give Refugees More Control And Choice

WFP in Uganda uses two methods to provide food assistance to refugees who have been in the country for longer periods of time: cash or food, depending on what they choose. Both methods, funded in 2015 by Canada, the European Commission, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States, are helping to meet the food and nutrition needs of refugees.

KAMWANGE DISTRICT, UGANDA -- As Wednesday winds down over Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement in western Uganda, so does WFP’s cash distribution. 

Changa Bahati, 30, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), is one of the last residents due to receive his entitlement. He paitently moves through the queue towards the verification desk before reaching the van that serves as a mobile bank branch, where he'll receive his cash allocation for the month.

He is a little overloaded as he walks away from the van: in one hand he carries cash notes, and with the other, he tries carefully not to drop the registration form listing his family members -- his wife, Denise Dushabe, 28, and their three children, Joseph Changa, 8, Lilian Uwimana, 5, and Florence Bahati, 3.  He has received cash for the whole family.

“I chose to receive cash over food because I felt it offered more,” Changa says. “In addition, it was an opportunity to buy some chicken, meat, cabbage and rice, food types that we did not receive from WFP. Every now and then we need some chicken in the house.”

A Congolese refugee smiles as she receives her cash allocation.  Photo:WFP/Lydia Wamala

Changa says his family is very happy to receive the WFP cash. The food that they are able to buy with it complements what they grow on land given to them by the Ugandan government – mainly maize and beans. 

“Right now I am going home to hand the money to my wife,” says Changa. “She manages the money and determines what to buy with it. We may buy a few other things, like clothes for the children, but our priority is food.”

The freedom to choose

Vestina Nyirarushimbo is also a Congolese refugee. She is carrying with a black plastic bag containing a kilo of meat, which she has just bought with the WFP cash. Vestina is a widow who cares for seven children, some of them orphans.

“I bought the meat immediately because the children and I like it,” she says. “The next thing I am going to do is stock up on dry beans, cooking oil and maize meal. I will then buy Irish potatoes and the local plantain dish, which the children enjoy eating.”

The money has been very well received by Vestina’s household. The youngest of the children had been demanding a goat to rear at home. By saving up some of her cash, Vestina recently bought the goat, which will potentially provide them with milk and more meat for the household.

“With money I can buy anything,” says another refugee, mother of three Francine Nyibidabari. “We buy rice, beans, salt, cooking oil, milled cereals and soap. We need not sell off some of the cereals received from WFP, as we did in the past.”

The safest option 

The United Kingdom provided £6.8m in 2015 to support refugees in Uganda through WFP. Photo:WFP/Lydia Wamala

Elizabeth Tuzele is one of the refugees who have chosen to remain on food rations as opposed to cash. The mother of four declined to receive cash because of what she calls a “relationship issue.” She explains that she did not know what her husband would do with the cash, and thought it was critical to have food available in the house at all times.

“One thing I dread is a scenario where one day my children cry because of a lack of food,” says Elizabeth.

John Bigirimana, a proud “food distribution team volunteer” with WFP’s partner NGO Samaritan’s Purse, also chose to remain on food rations because he reasoned it was the best way to feed his seven children. 

He says, “Actual food amounts to food security. Who knows what can happen to cash? I may take it to buy a beer or airtime or other things, and it will be used up and gone. Food and cash are not the same thing.”

Enhancing dignity

With cash in hand at a time when there is food in the markets, refugees are able to purchase their preferred choice of food, letting them shop in local stores with dignity.

WFP provides the cash option -- in collaboration with the Office of the Prime Minister and UNHCR -- in six refugee settlements where local agriculture is rich and markets are thriving. At this point, the cash option is only available to longer term refugees, not to new arrivals, few of whom are yet able to produce much food for themselves.

WFP is able to give refugees the option of choosing which form of assistance they prefer to receive because of generous support that six key donors provided in 2015: (in alphabetical order) Canada, the European Commission, France, Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States.  

Cash transfers also help reduce the re-sale of food assistance, and allow refugees to more easily increase their dietary diversity, while simultaneously stimulating local markets. By the end of 2015, 10 percent of refugees on WFP food assistance were receiving cash. WFP plans to expand use of the method in 2016. 

Read more about WFP operations in Uganda