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Using Mobile Money to Fight Hunger in Africa

  • By Timothy Roberts
  • Thursday, July 12, 2012

I was struck by an article I recently read by Connell Foley who’s the Director of Strategy, Advocacy and Learning at Concern Worldwide. The piece, which appeared on The Huffington Post site in June, details who Concern Worldwide is using mobile money to get food to those who need it most in the Sahel region of Africa.

Concern Worldwide is an international, non-governmental humanitarian organization dedicated to reducing extreme poverty, with more than 3,200 personnel working in 25 of the poorest countries in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.

Most of us are familiar with the idea of aid organizations providing cash allowances to help individuals purchase food. Concern International has introduced m-transfer technology to deliver cash vouchers by phone instead of having individuals travel to a central distribution point. The organization doesn’t need to travel from village to village, and those receiving aid don’t have to leave home. The result is a much more efficient system.

Concern has used the m-transfer during past food crises, and what’s most interesting are the results of the first m-transfer program which was implemented in Niger in 2010. In conjunction with Tufts University the organization tracked how the money was being used and how households participating in the program were faring versus those receiving funds manually. The study found that m-transfer participant not only received money faster and but tended to grow and consume more types of food products and sold less of their food stocks.

Based on this success, Concern launched an early intervention program using m-transfer in the Sahel and the majority of participants received the money via m-transfer. As the article explains:

We found that, when combined with community nutrition services, villages that received cash transfers had a malnutrition rate that was three percent lower than those that did not. The difference was even larger among girls. We also found that recipients purchased more livestock, particularly chickens, and women were more likely to be involved in household decision-making about agriculture and education.

The power of mobile money in this context is both incredible and humbling. We’ve written in the past about how mobile networks can be used to support humanitarian efforts and do some good in the world. While m-transfer may not fix the problem, it goes a long way to improve the efficiency of getting those who need it help.