Somalia: Mobile Money Transfers Give Somali Farmers a One-Up On the Climate
2019 in Somalia started with a dry spell that resulted in the southern area's worst cereal harvest since 1995. For 21-year-old Madino, who lives with her three children, husband and grandmother in a village in Lower Shabelle region, the consequences were dire. By August, Madino's family no longer had food stocks to eat nor seeds to plant.
Like many farmers in this region, Madino's family doesn't own the land they farm on. This rented farm in the riverine area is often at the mercy of the climate and relies on irrigation from the Shabelle river.
A new Deyr planting season (October‒December) was fast approaching and their financial straits were only worsening. Faced with no other options, they considered selling two of the four goats and sheep they owned, a desperate move that would lead to further poverty.
It was then, however, that Madino learned about FAO's integrated cash and livelihood assistance (Cash+) programme, funded by the European Union.
FAO's cash-based programmes offer immediate relief to farmers when they can no longer buy the food or the agricultural inputs they need. Mobile money transfers and electronic vouchers enable farming families to purchase the goods and services they need most in community markets, supporting local economies. The programme also strengthens the resilience of peoples' livelihoods to future shocks by providing training in climate-smart farming practices, which increase agricultural production and improve food security and nutrition in the longer run.
When Madino was selected to enrol in the programme, the news came as a great relief for her and her family. With three monthly unconditional cash transfers totalling USD 132, they could buy food and meet their other immediate needs during the lean season. She also received seed packages of cowpea, maize and other assorted vegetables, as well as 30 storage bags and farming tools. The agricultural inputs helped Madino to make the most of the new cropping season and her one hectare of rented land.
For Madino, and the other 20 700 families assisted during the last Deyr season, Cash+ support was a chance to exit hunger.
Like most Somalis, Madino preferred to receive the cash assistance on her cell phone because it is safer than carrying cash in an area affected by conflict.
With FAO's Mobile Money and Livelihood Assistance platform, beneficiaries do not need to travel to money vendor offices to collect the cash, avoiding risks to their safety. Instead, the system transfers the money directly to the mobile phone of verified beneficiaries after they have been registered with the use of biometric data.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, fingerprint scanning has been substituted by GPS-enabled pictures collected at different locations to confirm that the same beneficiary registered is the one receiving the assistance. Voice recognition technology is currently being piloted and will eventually replace the biometrics. Eventually the apps will also include facial recognition.
"It's an innovative and safer way to support the most vulnerable people in rural areas. Especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are able to serve people in some of the country's most remote and insecure regions without disruptions caused by the virus," says Etienne Peterschmitt, FAO Representative in Somalia.
When COVID-19 spread to Somalia in March 2020, FAO also went digital in sending electronic vouchers by SMS for agricultural inputs, replacing the distribution of paper vouchers. Around 40 000 farming households received e-vouchers for quality seeds, farm tools, irrigation services and other cropping essentials, redeemable from a network of approved local traders. These traders are equipped with dedicated tablets to properly identify the voucher through its unique transaction code, take GPS-enabled photos and verify the beneficiaries.
Abundant rains during the season along with Madino's hard work produced a good Deyr yield in January/ February 2020. She was able to produce an estimated 450 kilograms of protein-rich cowpeas and 2.1 metric tonnes of maize, enough to feed her family for 6 months. Moreover, they expect to be able to the harvest sweet pepper, onions, coriander and other fresh nutrient-rich foods soon.
The good Deyr yield and food stocks have also helped shield Madino's family from increasing food prices triggered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"The harvest provided enough food for the whole family, and we are much better off now than before in terms of our daily needs. I will not forget this help," says Madino.
Since mid-March when the COVID-19 emergency started in Somalia, FAO has transferred USD 15.4 million to 429 300 people safely through mobile money. By giving communities the funds to buy products locally, FAO is reinjecting money into the local economy and avoiding supply chain delays due to COVID-19.
Too many rural families live at the whim of the climate, vulnerable to the changes in rainfall and temperatures because of climate change. Helping communities be more prepared for the challenges of climate change is crucial. Through innovative systems, like Mobile Money and Livelihood Assistance e-platform, FAO aims to increase the resilience, nutrition and food security of families across Somalia and beyond.