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Nutrition-sensitive voucher schemes in South Sudan

Improving diets while promoting the diversification of livelihoods and nutrition education in a protracted crisis
02/09/2020

Over 75 percent of the population in rural and peri-urban areas in South Sudan rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. With the outbreak of conflict starting at the end of 2013, the country has seen large-scale displacement, loss of livelihoods and an economic crisis that resulted in widespread food insecurity and malnutrition. This has been further exacerbated by severe drought, low coverage of essential services, livestock diseases, inadequate hygiene and poor infant and young child feeding practices. The upsurge in violence since July 2016 further devastated crop production, including in previously stable areas.

Soaring inflation and market failure also hit areas where people traditionally relied on markets to meet their food needs. Urban populations were struggling to cope with massive price rises on basic food items. With the increasing levels of vulnerability and impoverishment in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, urban agriculture has become increasingly important to enhance a household’s food basket, and to earn additional income. It also plays an important source for food to supplement a family’s traditional maize- or sorghum-based diet.

In 2017, the Food Security and Nutrition Monitoring Survey analysis had found eight out of the nine states assessed showing global acute malnutrition rates above the World Health Organization (WHO) emergency threshold of 15 percent. Over 1.1 million children were estimated to be acutely malnourished across the country. The overall population facing acute malnutrition in South Sudan was predicted to further increase by the following year, calling for a dedicated response.

To respond to the food security and nutrition crisis, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) promoted a nutrition-sensitive approach with two aims. Firstly, to increase production and consumption along the food value chain, and secondly, to facilitate access to nutritious food to vulnerable groups. This promising practice explores the use of nutrition-sensitive vouchers as response modalities in projects funded by the World Bank and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Further bolstering the nutrition-sensitive voucher scheme was the Governments of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and the Republic of Norway’s contribution to FAO’s Emergency Livelihood Response Programme (ELRP).

A voucher scheme provides farmers with access to goods (e.g. agricultural inputs, food items) and/or services. Beneficiaries are provided with a voucher, paper or electronic card of a set value, that they can exchange for goods at existing shops (i.e. retailers/suppliers). The shops must be registered for the duration of the scheme, usually several weeks or several months. In South Sudan, FAO distributed vouchers to vulnerable households as part of a nutrition-sensitive response to the food security and nutrition crisis. As a pre-condition to receiving these vouchers, beneficiaries were required to partake in technical skills training and nutrition education sessions to promote better nutrition practices within the communities. The intervention was complemented with the provision of agricultural inputs as well as food storage and handling equipment.

The nutrition-sensitive voucher approach used in South Sudan provided both short-term and medium-term benefits. Nutrition vouchers facilitated the access to nutritious food in a context of emergency. The milk, fish, meat and vegetables beneficiaries could purchase helped families enhance their diets, which is mainly a cereal-based one.

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