NAIROBI, Feb. 16 (Xinhua) -- The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has launched its first food voucher operation in Africa, deploying a new tool to address hunger in an urban environment where food is available, but beyond the reach of many because of high prices.
In a statement received here Monday, the UN agency said the new voucher program is targeting 120,000 people who are suffering from the impact of high food prices in urban areas of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, where the prices of basic staples such as millet and sorghum are more than 25 percent higher than they were last year.
"Sometimes it makes more sense to give people vouchers than bags of food," said Annalisa Conte, WFP Country Director in Burkina Faso. "This is an innovative solution to hunger needs among people who live in a city where shops and market stalls may be full of produce, but prices are still too high for the poor and the vulnerable."
Under the new program, family members will be given a voucher which they can use in shops that have signed a contract with WFP. In exchange for the voucher, people will receive maize, cooking oil, sugar, salt and soap. Each family will receive up to six vouchers per month for six months.
The retailer is able to redeem food vouchers through an arrangement WFP has made with MICROFI, a local micro finance company.
The agency noted that distributing vouchers instead of food can be a more effective way of alleviating hunger in urban environments where markets are strong, because it cuts down on the cost to WFP of transporting and storing food assistance and helps to inject money into the local economy.
WFP and its partners will also distribute food vouchers in the city of Bobo-Dioulasso for 60,000 people beginning next month.
During the launch of the voucher operation in Burkina Faso, WFP will also hand out rations of Plumpy Doz, a ready-to-eat and highly nutritious peanut-based paste enriched with nutrients, to families with young children.
The voucher operation is being made possible thanks to support from Burkina Faso and Saudi Arabia, as well as a grant from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).