Africans get food credit via mobiles

The United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a pilot programme that uses mobile phone technology to help people living in poverty to buy food.

The technology facilitates cash transfers to 54,000 people living in poor districts in Côte d’Ivoire to assist them to buy food.

More than 10,000 vulnerable households in the city of Abidjan will receive an SMS text message on their mobiles alerting them to the transaction and allowing them to withdraw money from local cash points of the operator MTN.

According to the UN, the districts were badly affected in the post-election crisis and the poorest families struggle to put food on the table.

“This innovative method of payment is particularly suited to households with low purchasing power,” said Alain Cordeil, WFP country director in Côte d’Ivoire. “WFP increasingly delivers assistance to the hungry in the form of cash transfers in urban areas where there is food in the markets but the poorest people just cannot afford to buy it.”

The goal of the project is to make up for the loss of purchasing power of the poorest families in recent months, to give them access to a wider choice of food available in local markets, the WFP said.

Beneficiaries have been given SIM cards that enabled them to receive their first transfer. The second transfer will take place at the end of October. A total of $ 1.6m will be disbursed in the pilot project.

“This project is ground-breaking for WFP in West Africa, as it is the first time that we use a mobile service provider as a financial partner,” said Cordeil.  “The unconditional cash transfer will be implemented over two months, with each household receiving a total of US$ 75 per month, equivalent to the food basket of an average family of five,” he added.

The initiative was made possible with money earmarked from a total $10.7m donation from American international aid agency USAID towards WFP’s emergency operation in Côte d’Ivoire.

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