Embracing flexible aid and technology in emergencies — the case for cash transfers in Vietnam

05/02/2019 - 

"Seeing a field of dead crops from drought is every farmer’s nightmare. Sadly, it was my reality," said Ms. Dinh Thi Cam, when drought severely damaged her chili crop in Gia Lai. Her family received vouchers for farming materials, essential in restoring farming activities. "We are now fully equipped with seeds and materials for the next agricultural season without looking for additional loans," she said.

Vietnam suffered its worst drought in 90 years in 2015 and 2016. The El Niño-induced dry spell left one million people in need of food assistance and 1.75 million lost all or part of their livelihoods.

Embracing new tools and processes to tailor recovery to local needs, ECHO and FAO, in partnership with Action Aid Vietnam, used a cash transfer and agricultural voucher scheme to target the most vulnerable families, including female-headed households, the elderly, people with disabilities, chronically ill and landless people. The project’s success hinged on flexibility. Each family received a voucher divided into three coupons to ensure maximum flexibility on the date and amount of the purchase, or a cash transfer divided into two tranches to cover the two lean seasons during the project’s implementation.

The distribution of cash and agricultural vouchers allowed drought-impacted families to restart their livelihoods. As a result, they did not have to resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as contracting loans, selling assets or reducing the number and portions of their meals each day.

The project supported 5 469 households across three provinces, where 3 077 households received an unconditional cash transfer during two lean seasons (November 2016 and March 2017), and 2 392 households received agricultural input vouchers. The voucher beneficiaries also received post-harvest equipment to protect crops in the event of floods and/ or pest infestation. Women’s unions organized trainings of trainers for female union staff on gender and climate change, community-based disaster management, and how to effectively communicate to bring about behavioural change.

The project used the Kobo Toolbox system, which allows anyone in a given project to collect field data using mobile devices, such as cell phones and tablets, and to instantly validate and rapidly analyse the data gathered. For this project, open-ended questionnaires were tailored to identify the impacts of the intervention on the livelihoods and food security of households, and to better understand how they experienced the distribution process, including waiting times at distribution sites and difficulty in reaching distribution points. FAO’s implementing partners on the field – Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), local authorities and extension workers – carried out monitoring activities throughout the project and received training on data collection with the Kobo Toolbox.