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WFP Starts Food Vouchers in Burkina Faso

The United Nations is giving food vouchers to poor families in Burkina Faso who have access to private sector markets, but can not afford higher food prices there. The innovative program is alsp helping local shopkeepers

This is the first time the World Food Program is working through food vouchers in Africa. It is targeting more than 120,000 people in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou, who have access to staples such as millet and sorghum, but can not afford them because their price is up more than 25 percent from last year.

"We have markets in urban areas that are functioning properly. You have food in the markets, but it is still unaffordable for the poorest," says WFP West Africa spokeswoman Stephanie Savariaud.

Savariaud says each qualifying low-income family receives up to six vouchers a month. Each voucher is worth about $3 and can be redeemed at small shops that signed-up for the program.

"They show their voucher to the shop and they get vegetable oil, maize, sugar, salt, and also soap bars. Because one thing that came out of an evaluation last year is that people are so poor they even have to buy soap bars on credit," Savariaud said.

Retailers are paid back through a local micro-finance company that is partnering with the World Food Program, helping to boost the local economy, especially in poorer areas of the capital where business was down because people could not afford to shop.

"The shopkeepers were also a victim of the situation. And that is the point: to try to get different actors to benefit from that," Savariaud said.

Last year's steep rise in food prices was especially hard on land-locked countries such as Burkina Faso where higher transportation costs added to the increase.

Savariaud says the temporary voucher program gives lower income people in Burkina Faso the chance to act on longer-term economic opportunities instead of focusing on the daily search for affordable food.

"They will have for the next six months vouchers to give them food, and that might also give them some free time maybe to either develop a business or do something else or maybe look for a job. Because basically for some people it has become a very difficult struggle just to get up in the morning and think about what they were going to eat and how they are going to feed their family," she said.

Catholic Relief Services and the Burkinabe Red Cross helped identify those who would benefit most from the food vouchers. The French government financed much of the technical support for the program which is also funded through contributions from the Burkinabe government and Saudi Arabia.

The second round of vouchers begins later this month. The program will eventually expand to Burkina Faso's second city of Bobo-Dioulasso where about 60,000 people are expected to receive vouchers.