Tools and training with ‘mobile money’ help restore livelihoods in Somalia

By Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia

FAO’s growing Cash+ programme helps farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk build their own resources for resilience to future shocks to food security. © FAO / Isak Amin / Arete


For decades people in Somalia have been vulnerable to the multiple shocks such as floods, droughts, locusts and conflict impacting their food security and livelihoods. FAO’s Cash+ programme has been streamlined from previous years and expanded, combining cash payments with nutrition education and equipping people with farming, livestock and fishing tools to increase food security and strengthen their livelihoods.

FAO has made a significant shift towards digital payment systems, and in 2018 initiated a safer, more reliable and more convenient approach to cash assistance using primarily mobile money transfers. In essence, this is a digital cash flow delivered to communities through mobile phones.

By 2019, FAO’s mobile money initiative delivered 100 percent of the financial relief to participants digitally. Subsequently, emergency supplies for farmers, fisherfolk and livestock owners were delivered through e-vouchers. This proved to be extremely helpful in 2020 when communities also faced COVID-19: FAO delivered USD 36 million through mobile money transfers and reached nearly 1 million people in some of Somalia’s most remote communities despite movement restriction associated with the pandemic. 

FAO has seized the opportunity to take mobile money to scale, as most of Somalia has high mobile network coverage. To reach this scale and impact, women have played an essential role with mobile money allowing them to take a more active role in the economic growth of their communities. By offering a safer way for women to collect money in areas of conflict and insecurity, it supports their financial inclusion and independence. Convenience is also key, and the technology eliminates often long-distance travels to a central bank.  Over 90 percent of participants interviewed by FAO reported that mobile money payments were the preferred way for them to receive funds. 

FAO’s Cash+ programming is complemented by training and tailored livelihood packages for communities. © FAO / Isak Amin / Arete

Building assets for better livelihoods

FAO’s Cash+ programming is complemented by training and tailored livelihood packages for communities, emphasizing the importance of combining equipment and education to boost food production and restore livelihood assets. This integrated approach takes into account a diversity of livelihood types and agro-ecological zones, and includes crucial interventions to support livestock health, provides tools and seeds to farmers, and offers key equipment to fisherfolk.

While scaling up the Cash+ operation over time, significant investments were made to develop robust compliance and accountability systems. FAO developed an ecosystem of apps that create a digital paper trail to support increased efficiency, accountability and transparency.  Some of what has been developed in-house at FAO Somalia is breaking new ground: the e-Platform and digital toolkit are transforming the way aid is delivered, particularly in remote areas during COVID-19. Technology, tablets, and mobile phones are ensuring best practices for enhanced accountability to affected communities.

Emergency supplies for farmers, fisherfolk and livestock owners were also delivered through e-vouchers. © FAO / Isak Amin / Arete

Reaching new communities

There is a great possibility of extending the digital ecosystem more widely throughout FAO network and platforms.  With the help of the Office of Emergencies and Resilience (OER), progress has been made in adapting and merging the digital platforms into FAO’s corporate systems. The adoption of this practice by other FAO country offices will optimize the costs for decentralized offices, offering support and knowledge through a cost recovery modality. Implementing these innovations across the Organization will continue to expand the reach of FAO’s integrated Cash+ programming. This not only supports households with their immediate needs, but gives them a platform to regenerate their livelihoods and reinforces their resilience to shocks and crises. 

Technical partner: Agency for Humanity Initiative Organization (AHIO)

Resource partner: The United States (USAID)

Related links:

1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 10. Reduced inequalities