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Responding to High Food Prices: Evidence from a Voucher Programme in Burkina Faso

2010 — By Ali Ouattara and Susanna Sandström

In February 2009, WFP launched its first food voucher operation in Africa, to address food security in an urban environment where food is available but beyond the reach of many because of high food prices. Vulnerable segments of the population, who were spending most of their budgets on food, risked falling into destitution as their purchasing power was weakened by increasing food prices. The voucher programme is currently targeting more than 200,000 beneficiaries in Burkina Faso’s two main cities – the capital Ouagadougou and the commercial centre Bobo-Dioulasso. The aim of this emergency operation is to compensate people for lost purchasing power due to higher food prices and fewer employment opportunities. The first part of the programme ran until the end of 2009, but a budget revision with increased commitments and beneficiaries for six additional months was approved.

Given WFP’s limited experience with cash and vouchers, the programme is innovative in at least two respects: it is a fairly large-scale voucher programme, and it operates in urban areas. These two aspects pose challenges. Targeting in urban areas with heterogeneous and mobile, but predominantly poor, populations is not a straightforward task, and it becomes even more complicated when the programme is large.

This chapter starts with a review of the context for the voucher programme and its current status, describing its design and implementation. This is followed by insights into the use of vouchers and beneficiaries’ perceptions of the programme. The chapter then looks at the challenging task of targeting and reviews the results of an evaluation of the targeting exercise. Discussion of the challenges in implementing a voucher programme in a low-capacity context rounds off the analysis.