February 4, 2010

People in Burkina Faso to Receive Food Vouchers via Text Message

On November 5, 2009, I wrote about United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) launching a pilot project that allows Iraqi refugees in Syria to receive food vouchers electronically via mobile phone text messages. Another example of using information and communications technology in delivering sustainable solutions to underserved populations may be found in a report by Voice of America’s Kate Thomas. Ms. Thomas writes about a joint project between the WFP and The Vodafone Foundation, which is the charitable division of the UK-based mobile telecommunications company “that will allow shopkeepers in” two towns “in Burkina Faso to manage food vouchers by text message.” (Photo: WFP/Eva Stoffels)

Approximately 30,000 people receive food vouchers in Burkina Faso. “Until now,” explains Ms. Thomas, “the hologram-imprinted vouchers were distributed to families who need them. They are then exchanged for goods in shops and shopkeepers are reimbursed in cash by the World Food Program once a month. If the pilot is successful,” she added, “shopkeepers will be able to validate the vouchers by cell phone on the spot. In theory the World Food Program would then be able to reimburse them the next day, either by bank transfer or by check.”

It would be useful to know how much money the WFP will save in using text messages for food vouchers rather than traditional paper vouchers. Shopkeepers having the ability to instantly validate vouchers via mobile phones will see a reduction of fraud and misuse of the vouchers. Furthermore, shopkeepers, getting reimbursed more quickly by the WFP, will be able to manage their inventory and control costs more effectively. Click here to listen to Ms. Thomas’ report.

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