Food and nutrition security remain fragile in Zimbabwe. The 2014/15 agricultural season registered a 51 percent decline in maize production compared to the previous season due to an El Niño-induced drought which was particularly severe in the south of the country. The drought reduced overall food availability and consumption, diminishes dietary diversity and inevitably leads to micro-nutrient deficiencies especially among vulnerable population groups. This food insecurity situation can force them to detrimental strategies such like reducing the number of meals they eat per day or selling household assets, thus on the one hand putting them at risk of serious nutrition related complications, and on the other hand jeopardizing their post-crisis recovery capacity in order to satisfy more immediate needs.
As a response to this situation, Johanniter and Christian Care, a local partner NGO, are implementing until March 2017 a cash transfer project in 15 wards (administrative divisions) of Chipinge district in the Manicaland province of Zimbabwe. The cash transfers aim to alleviate short term hunger in 1.946 most food-insecure households that are hosting vulnerable people such as malnourished pregnant and nursing women, children under 5, TB and HIV-infected persons, and persons living with disabilities. These households, which have been ranked and selected by their communities, are receiving cash to safeguard adequate food consumption for vulnerable persons and up to four additional household members. They can improve their access to vital food commodities from local markets and in the process, supporting drug adherence and preservation of key household assets. A total of 9.340 individuals have been registered to benefit from the Cash Transfer Project which is financed by German Foreign Office.
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The first step of cash transfer is the creation of a database of eligible beneficiaries according to the targeting criteria. This involves collecting and manually registering names, identity numbers and mobile phone numbers of selected beneficiaries, to be later uploaded onto an electronic database. This register is forwarded as a distribution list, including the amounts payable to each beneficiary, to the mobile money transfer company. Johanniter then makes bulk bank transfers of funds equivalent to the total on the distribution list, plus the related transaction costs, into the account of the mobile money transfer company. This distributes appropriate amounts through SMS codes to each beneficiary’s SIM card. This means that even those beneficiaries that do not own a handset only need to have access to a SIM card on which they will have set a password that they will enter at the point of payment onto the cell phone of the numerous paying agents scattered across the project area in places like retail shops or mobile phone kiosks. In the current project, beneficiaries that did not have a SIM card were provided with one by the mobile money transfer company for free.
Once they cash out the transferred amounts, the beneficiaries can use the cash to purchase food items on the local market, which can be verified through regular post-distribution monitoring visits to the beneficiary households by the project Monitoring and Evaluation Officers. Any cash that cannot be distributed for any reason (e.g., wrongly captured identity or mobile number) is deposited back into the Johanniter account after each payment cycle to the beneficiaries. Once rectified the problem, a supplementary distribution list and equivalent cash are once again sent to the mobile money transfer company for onward distribution to the remaining beneficiaries of that cycle. This process is repeated until the project comes to its end.