WFP to increase cash handouts

HARARE - The World Food Programme (WFP) is set to increase its cash handouts to people in drought-stricken parts of Zimbabwe, country director Felix Bamezon has said.

Currently, the UN agency is giving out $3 per person per month but is mulling increasing the amount in light of a likely food price hike following another poor agricultural season.

“This is likely to increase in January if market prices increase. WFP conducts regular market monitoring and assessments,” Bamezon told the Daily News recently.

Since its response to the current drought period, WFP says it has provided approximately one million people with food assistance.

The cash for cereals intervention rationale was informed by the evaluation findings of a cash transfer piloted in 2009-2010 and a market feasibility study undertaken in late 2010.

Under the scheme, villagers receive the usual assistance in the form of commodities such as small grains and oil and depending on the location, some beneficiaries receive cash as well.

The cash enables villagers to buy food provisions direct from local markets.

“This modality was developed in the Zimbabwean context to blend in  donations with cash or voucher transfers, taking advantage of the opportunity to procure maize regionally and access surpluses available in communities and other parts of the country,” Bamezon said.

He said evaluations from the 2009-2010 cash transfer project showed that beneficiaries preferred a combination of cash and food, and that households which received cash only had poor dietary diversity as they spent most of the cash transfer on cereals only.

However, Bamezon said cash was not always suitable as people in some remote areas struggle to access markets because of poor road networks and have to rely on food distribution.

WFP, in partnership with government, came up with the cash/food for assets programme to curb food insecurity in the country.

This was done through a seasonal targeted assistance programme, consisting of free food handouts or cash transfers to the most vulnerable after they would have done some developmental jobs in their respective areas.

As identified by the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Zimvac), the worst affected areas are Matabeleland North and South, Masvingo, parts of Manicaland, Mashonaland and Midlands.

Zimvac is a committee of government and aid agencies tasked with assessing the country’s food needs.

WFP says over 1,6 million Zimbabweans — or one in every five — will require food assistance during the peak of the “hunger season” between January and March.

 The UN agency, which has been key in averting starvation in Zimbabwe since the turn of the decade, said it will be reaching to 38 districts.

Recurrent droughts, a poorly planned land reform and lack of adequate support for newly resettled farmers have resulted in Zimbabwe struggling with food shortages over the past decade. - Helen Kadirire

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