Why cash vouchers instead of food? Insights into CARE Lesotho's emergency relief

CARE International Secretariat - Fri, 5 Apr 2013 09:29 GMT
Author: care-international
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CARE Lesotho is currently distributing cash vouchers to 210 households affected by the current food crisis in Linakaneng and Moeketsane villages of Mokhotling district, North Eastern Lesotho. The cash vouchers are valued at 500 Maluti (62.5 USD) which is a standard cash ration for emergency response in the country. The vouchers are redeemable for a wide range of food and other household needs except alcohol and tobacco. Families can redeem them at two local stores with which we entered prior agreements.

Once all the beneficiaries have collected their choice of food and other household needs, the vendors settle their invoices with CARE. Vendors also submit the list of individuals, the items collected by each individual and the prices of each item. Lesotho’s Disaster Management Authority (DMA) selects the families, who benefit from this intervention in close consultation with village leaders and local chiefs. Our field team assisted in the beneficiary verification exercise, we monitor the distribution and use of vouchers and assist the targeted families in redeeming their vouchers. In total, CARE has conducted three rounds of distribution.

The rationale in using cash vouchers by CARE is primarily the existence of a well-functioning market in rural Lesotho, which made food distribution an unnecessary and costly exercise. CARE has been closely monitoring the distribution and outcome of the two rounds to draw key lessons. We learned from this exercise that, while boosting the local economy cash vouchers allowed the recipients to choose from a wide range of food and other items depending on their individual needs and preferences, which wouldn’t have been the case if they received food. 

Cash vouchers are much safer than transporting cash itself and are less likely to be snatched or stolen as they have serial numbers that are registered against names of individuals. Using cash vouchers also minimizes fraud and possible reprint by unscrupulous individuals through a number of ways including colour coding of the vouchers and other identification marks. And, last but not least, we prevented the possible misuse by ensuring that they weren’t redeemable for alcohol and tobacco.

Using the voucher system allowed us to closely monitor the consumption patterns of the targeted beneficiaries, which would have been difficult if food was distributed. It happens during humanitarian interventions around the world that beneficiaries often see no other way than to sell a portion of the food they receive in order to get cash to pay for other needs. But what they then do with this money is difficult to track and research.  

So what did families in Lesotho buy with their cash vouchers? Our own monitoring mechanisms revealed that they spent a significant proportion of the cash vouchers on food, which indicates that food has been the number one priority to almost all households. It also confirms that the cash vouchers ensured access to food by vulnerable households and has prevented the sale of food at unfavourable prices to acquire other non-food needs.  This monitoring exercise also documented the wide range of food and other items which the beneficiaries bought and it showed us the diversity of needs of individual household. A diversity, which direct food assistance often fails to address.

So far we didn’t come across any theft of the vouchers or indication that our intervention led to gender-based violence. Another good outcome: The local commodity prices remained unchanged despite increased demands for these goods.

The biggest challenge faced by some of the families was the distance from their homes to the vendors. Some beneficiaries had to travel more than ten kilometres to collect their items from the vendors – a long way for poor families who often can’t afford travel costs. It created huge personal risks, and many did not know how to carry back the goods due to shortage of pack animals. These are key lessons learnt for us and we will address these in our future humanitarian interventions.

Learn more about CARE's work in Lesotho here

CARE International is a leading humanitarian organisation which fights global poverty and provides lifesaving assistance in emergencies. We place special focus on working with poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to help lift families and communities out of poverty. Last year, we worked in 84 countries assisting more than 122 million people.