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Food Voucher Initiative in Somaliland Called Big Success

  • Lisa Schlein

Somali women and children wait for relief supplies from the UN High Commission for Refugees, in Galkacyo, Somaliland, December 2010. (file photo)

GENEVA - The World Food Program says a program in Somaliland that allows people to buy food with cash vouchers instead of receiving handouts is proving to be a huge success. Based on the favorable results, WFP says it plans to expand the initiative to other accessible parts of Somalia.

The World Food Program says thousands of people in Somaliland are enjoying a better, more varied diet since it introduced its voucher scheme. Under the program, people receive $80 worth of vouchers every month.

WFP spokeswoman Elizabeth Byrs said people can then use the vouchers to buy a variety of food on the local market.

"And to buy the food they like - more fresh meat in their diet. For instance, fresh camel meat or goat meat. They can also, of course buy oil, vegetables, flour and pulses. But they can choose whatever they like," she said.

So far, around 15,000 people in northwestern Somaliland are being given the vouchers as an alternative to food rations. The first phase of the project is linked to WFP’s nutrition program for young children in Burao, Somaliland.

This program is a departure from WFP's normal way of helping malnourished children. In the past, the family of each child being treated for moderate malnutrition received a monthly ration of food.

The initiative is proving to be extremely popular. Since the vouchers were introduced, WFP notes there has been an increase in the number of people bringing their children in for nutrition screening. Because of this, undernourished children are more likely to get the treatment they need to make them healthy.

Byrs said the program also is proving to be beneficial for the 13 local traders registered to accept the vouchers and the community.

"It is a win-win strategy. We can win on both sides - increase the number of children who get food support and increase the number of local traders who get support - and boost the local economy. So, families also get the choice to eat what they like to eat according to their traditional diet," she said.

An estimated 2.5 million people in Somalia are still facing a food crisis. WFP is able to reach about 1.5 million with assistance.

WFP says it plans to expand the voucher program to accessible areas throughout the country. It remains unable to work in areas of southern Somalia controlled by the militant group al-Shabab.

The United Nations food agency says the vouchers will be distributed during harvest periods when food is available in markets. At other times of the year when supplies are scarce, WFP says it will continue to provide direct rations to people who are short of food.