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This year, WFP introduced mobile-phone based cash assistance for the first time in Cameroon. Cash transfers, which replace monthly food rations, provide the most vulnerable refugees and displaced Cameroonian families with freedom to buy the products of their choice, to meet their most urgent food needs. For some, it is not only a means of providing food for the family, but also an opportunity to engage in income generating activities.
MORA, Far North region - Tens of thousands of displaced families have flocked in the town of Mora, near the Nigerian frontier, to escape Boko haram insurgency, which has ravaged villages along the border for over two years now. Homes destroyed and families torn apart, many women are left alone to care for the household as their husbands have been killed in attacks or deserted the family to find work elsewhere. In Mora, WFP cash assistance programmes, which exclusively target single women households, provide some relief in the turmoil of chaos.
Fadi has been displaced in Mora for two years. As a sole career for 10 children, the main challenge is to put food on the table every day. "I lost my work and all my property as Boko Haram burned down the house we lived in", she explains. "My husband is no longer with us, so how will I alone provide for the children?"
Since May this year, she has received 10,000 FCFA (about US$18) every month, sent by WFP through her mobile phone, and which she can spend in selected local shops. The cash transfers give her a sense of normality, as she can go to the local market to buy meat, canned fish, rice, milk for the children, and other products to prepare the meals of her preference. She can save some of the money on her phone, or spend it all at once - it is up to her to choose.
Meanwhile in eastern Cameroon, three refugee women from the Central African Republic have profited from the increased market demand that the cash transfer programs brings, to start up a small shop where they sell cassava flour, a locally preferred staple food. The women are amongst 30 local traders in the Gado refugee camp, working with WFP to provide sufficient availability of diversified food products.
The cassava flour is highly appreciated amongst the local communities, frequently used by women in their daily cooking traditions. "We have more than 150 people come in to the shop every day", says Fatosaleh, the shop founder. In a month, the sales can reach over 14 tons of cassava flower to a price of 11 million FCFA.
The women purchase their products in nearby market, but lately, prices have gone up as the rainy season is under way and local transporters have difficulties to reach their destinations. Their earnings have decreased in the past weeks.
But Fatosaleh stays positive - "as long as I have my business, I can make a living here in Cameroon and I hope the market will return to our favor once the rains have passed", she explains, "We know it is not yet safe to return to our village in CAR and we cannot go home. But here in Cameroon we have found some peace."
Cameroon is home to over 190,000 internally displaced persons and 340,000 refugees, both from Nigeria and the Central African Republic, who have fled conflict and escalating violence spilling across borders. Dispersed in camps, temporary settlements or amongst local people in poor communities, the relief assistance they receive from the humanitarian community is often all they have to survive.
WFP and partners are helping those most in need with food and nutrition support activities to address food insecurity and high rates of malnutrition amongst young children and mothers. In 2016, the aim is to assist 500,000 people in Cameroon, including refugees, IDPs, and the most food insecure local communities.
WFP started distributing cash to some families in mid-March, and plans to extend assistance to areas where food is available and markets are functioning, to allow people to buy the food that they need, while also supporting the local economy. While aiming to expand the programme, WFP will take more efforts to support women's engagement in market activities, considering that cultural barriers often hinder their participation.
Written by Sofia Engdahl, WFP Cameroon. All photos: WFP/Sofia Engdahl