UN with support of EU delivers food assistance through mobile phone technology

SWZ_unct_Busisiwe Sigwane next to a bucket of maize meal which was one of many items she purchased with the mobile money she received from WFPBusisiwe Sigwane next to a bucket of maize meal which was one of many items she purchased with the mobile money she received from WFP in October. ©WFP Swaziland/Paula Fredin


Using mobile money cash accounts, an innovative mobile technology by a local mobile telephone network, Swazi MTN, as part of the overall UN drought response, the World Food Programme (WFP) with support of the European Union (EU) has so far delivered cash benefits to three drought-affected Swazi communities, instantly reaching 30,000 people.

Busisiwe Sigwane, mother of 12 children, is a farmer who lives in a small community in Lugongolweni, located in the Lubombo region. Her compound is surrounded by plots of maize crops meant to provide food for her household. The thin leafy stalks of the maize are scattered and barely reach above ground, an alarming sight at the time of the year when tall green maize crops decorate the fields. 

“The cash I receive every month is enough for me to buy food for my household. Instead of surviving on one meal a day, we now eat three times a day and I am happy my children won’t have to go to sleep hungry,” Busisiwe narrated, adding that the SZL110 monthly cash benefits also allow her to buy other essential items for the home such as soap.

In October, she was among the 30,000 people across Swaziland who benefitted from the innovative cash-based transfer assistance which is being implemented by WFP as part of its overall response to the El Niño-induced drought in Swaziland. It is the first time for WFP to implement cash transfers to people in need of humanitarian assistance in Swaziland.

The initiative is being implemented in three selected Tinkhundla; Lugongolweni and Nkilongo in the Lubombo region, and Madlangemphisi in the Hhohho region. Lubombo is the most severely affected region, with 46 percent of people food insecure, while an unprecedented 26 percent of the population within the Hhohho region remain food insecure as a result of the drought.

The initiative has been made possible with funding from the EU, a humanitarian partner that is increasingly emphasizing cash based interventions where possible. WFP has partnered with Swazi MTN as a financial service provider facilitating cash distribution and World Vision Swaziland providing monitoring and evaluation support.

SWZ_unct_money agent Samkelisiwe Hlophe disburses cash to an elderly man in Nkilongo, LubomboMobile money agent disburses cash to an elderly man in Nkilongo, Lubombo. ©WFP Swaziland/2016/Paula Fredin


The cash transfer initiative is part of an integral solution to enable the humanitarian community to respond faster to the needs of the people it serves. Using the latest technology available, it brings flexibility and agility to traditional assistance. By delivering funds for food through smart cards, on mobile phone SIM cards, or by electronic vouchers, humanitarian actors are addressing hunger in places where there is food in the markets but poor people cannot afford to buy it.

In addition to the geographical targeting based on the food security situation on the ground, the communities are carefully selected, taking into consideration a number of preconditions that are important for implementing cash transfers. For example, WFP analyses communities’ proximity to local markets; functionality of transport systems to facilitate movement and most importantly the availability of mobile money agents to effectively meet the demands for cash.

Farmers across the country continue to suffer from two years of successive drought, most recently as a result of the El Niño phenomenon. Last year’s harvest was largely depleted due to the prolonged dry spells and to make the situation worse, the 2016-2017 harvest is also looking bleak. The majority of subsistence farmers are behind this season due to delayed rains in October 2016 and a lack of farming inputs.

People are vulnerable with food insecurity affecting over 30 percent of the Swazi population. An estimated 350,000 people are in need of food assistance, while 640,000 people will face some food insecurity by the peak of the lean season which starts in November 2016 and lasts until March 2017.

As the food security situation becomes more critical during the lean season, WFP is gearing up its assistance. Based on the availability of resources, it plans to reach as many as 250,000 people with food assistance, of which 128,000 people are planned to receive food assistance in the form of cash based transfers.

WFP will continue to also provide essential food commodities to 122,000 people affected by the drought. With the continuing impact of the drought, the scale and scope of UN system response includes both immediate and medium term components of the Government response plan (NERMAP) across all the critical sectors, such as Food Security and Agriculture, WASH, Health and Nutrition, Protection, and Education.