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Food Voucher Program in Burkina Faso Helps Stem Hunger

The World Food Program says its food voucher program in Burkina Faso has been expanded and now reaches 180,000 people in the country's two biggest cities. The WFP says the project improves peoples' access to food, while helping to boost the local economy.

The World Food Program describes food vouchers as a new tool to address hunger in an urban setting. Preliminary results indicate it is a win-win situation for both the poor and the country's struggling economy.

WFP spokeswoman Emilia Casella tells VOA food is usually available in urban markets. But, many poor people cannot afford to buy it. She says distributing vouchers, instead of food, can be a more effective way of alleviating hunger in urban areas without destabilizing the market.

"In essence, we are supporting the market because the vouchers permit the people who receive those vouchers to go to vendors and sellers who have been approved to participate in the program and exchange the voucher for food,"Casella said. "In essence, it becomes a currency. It supports the local economy and it also cuts down on our costs, because we are not transporting additional food into a market that already has food there."

Voucher programs have been tried by other organizations and in other settings. But, this is the first such program to operate in Africa. And, if it proves successful, the WFP says similar programs might be introduced in other African countries, as a way to alleviate hunger.

The WFP launched the operation for 120,000 people in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, in mid-February. And, a second operation for 60,000 people was launched in Bobo-Dioulasso, at the end of March.

Under the program, Casella says a family might typically receive six vouchers a month. Each voucher is worth about $3. She says people can exchange them in selected shops for corn (maize), cooking oil, salt, sugar and soap.

"They cannot go out and use it to buy other kinds of food," Casella said. "But, it does free them up if they have another income. They can use their own income to buy these other products that they may need, and the staples like maize and the cooking oil, they do not have to spend their own hard-earned money on. They can use the vouchers and that frees them up to use their other income also for health, for school fees for their children and similar important things."

The cost of the operation is $17 million. It will last for one year, in two six-month phases. Casella says the WFP will undertake a food security assessment after the initial six months and, if necessary, will adjust the number of beneficiaries targeted.