* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As part of its commitments to enhance food security, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has introduced cash transfers to feed the 14,500 refugees in Gihembe refugee camp in northern Rwanda.
Since this new type of assistance was launched in January 2014, WFP has distributed nearly 3,500 mobile phones to all heads of households in the camp. These phones can be used to receive and transfer money through an electronic banking solution called mVISA, provided by Bank of Kigali. "I'm very happy about the new modalities of food assistance from WFP," said Mukandutiye Venancie, a 54 year old mother of 6 children. "I received cash instead of in-kind food so I'm able to buy my food of choice."
Venancie added that, by buying different foods, she can save on the fuel she has been using to cook maize grains for her family. This also reduces the negative impact on the environment around Gihembe refugee camp.
The cash transfer to refugees is a pilot project that replaces the in-kind general food distribution, which is how WFP has supported refugees in the camp the last 18 years. The introduction of cash transfers follows the successful pre-pilot carried out in December 2013 to test the viability of this new system. To achieve its goals and objectives, WFP has started working with World Vision as an implementing partner and strengthened its existing partnership with key stakeholders, notably MIDIMAR, the Rwandan government ministry in charge of refugee's affairs, and the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.
In addition to the cash transfers to all households in Gihembe camp, the most vulnerable refugees will continue to receive additional supplementary food based on their specific needs in order to maintain and improve their nutritional status.
Dusabe Claudine, a 47 year old mother living in Gihembe camp, is also very happy about the cash transfers.
"I thank WFP for this new food assistance modality and I wish this programme continues because money is easy to manage and you can buy food of your choice". said Claudine.
The value of the cash transfers is based on the local market prices of the food ration previously distributed. All beneficiaries get paid in Rwanda francs for easy transactions on the local markets. If the pilot project is successful, the cash transfer system could continue and possibly be expanded to other refugee camps.
"Among several benefits, cash transfers are expected to give more flexibility to refugees in diversifying the types of food commodities they can access, hence improving their nutritional status" said Jean-Pierre de Margerie, WFP Country Representative.
"Together with our partners, we're making efforts to pilot innovative approaches that can benefit refugees, such as cash transfers. We're pleased with the pilot project so far and are hopeful of its potential for the future." said de Margerie.