Beyond Food Aid in East Africa

They dig beneath the hot Kenyan sun, putting in a hard day’s work in a region where opportunity is often scarce, as is food, water – and hope.

But they do not labour in vain.

Their efforts put cash in their pockets, food on their tables, and even feed the local economy in the process.

The cash-for-community-assets pilot project, implemented alongside CRWRC partner Pwani Christian Community Services (PCCS) in coastal Kenya, is reaching about 600 households. The project creates the opportunity for those who are moderately at risk of hunger to earn money by digging rainwater catchment basins. This makes irrigation available to local farmers, since the groundwater near the coast is often salinated.

Participants in the program receive the equivalent of about $30 per month for their work.

“This prevents the moderately vulnerable from becoming more vulnerable to hunger. This small amount of assistance can prevent a family from selling off their final household assets and sliding deeper into poverty. It becomes a prevention strategy, and then this also allows us to focus the delivery of food aid on the most vulnerable households where family members may not be able to work – such as in orphan- or widow-headed households,” says Jacqueline Koster, CRWRC’s Disaster Response Manager in East Africa.

Projects that offer food, food vouchers or cash for work on activities that will benefit entire communities are becoming more popular among partners. Tree planting projects, water catchment construction and re-vegetation projects for livestock are being used as an innovative way to help prevent hunger and bolster the local economy and living conditions.

“There is no doubt that we need to feed hungry people in times of disaster, but we also have to understand that an infusion of food into an area can disrupt local markets and food prices,” says Koster. “Even if a vulnerable family was only purchasing 10 per cent of their local food basket at the local market, and then after receiving aid, they were purchasing nothing at the local market, this is going to have a negative impact on merchants who rely on very slim margins.”

Offering cash or food vouchers, however, ensures that local merchants will continue to receive their income.

Koster says the pilot project is giving CRWRC and its partners a unique opportunity to evaluate the best way to approach these projects. For instance, they are now trying to discern whether it is best to offer payments based on hours worked or on the amount accomplished; also, how does a household make decisions about the use of their funds?

Participants in the program are also being surveyed so organizers can better understand how the cash is being used. According to Koster, the money could be used for food, school fees, medical needs, reinvestment in businesses or agricultural operations or in any number of ways that support the family and the community.

“I think our supporters really understand that we need to move beyond just providing food aid so that in emergencies - yes - we help keep people alive, but we also make long term sustainable development activities a part of our disaster response. One does not have to be done at the expense of the other.”