WFP e-Shop: An innovative digital food assistance system created by WFP in Somalia is saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic could double the number of people suffering from acute hunger this year; the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) projects the total to rise as high as 265 million globally, up from 135 million. In Somalia, partly due to the combined impact of crises such as flooding and locust infestations, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) projects that the number of people suffering acute food insecurity will increase to 3.5 million by September.
COVID-19 is another risk to add to those already faced on a regular basis by people in need of food assistance. Food-insecure populations often travel long distances to collect humanitarian aid or, for those receiving assistance in the form of vouchers or cash, to spend it on food. Aside from the cost involved, taking public transport and intermingling with fellow passengers now has greater ramifications because of the pandemic. Once they reach the retailers, long queues are a reality; queueing already has its own risks in some areas, but COVID-19 adds a secondary threat. When told to stay home but faced with the hunger of your family, exposing yourself to a dangerous virus could seem like the lesser of two evils.
To date, over 43,000 successful deliveries have been made.
Online ordering and delivery have helped communities around the world navigate the new reality of social distancing and movement restrictions. WFP Somalia has harnessed this technology to make it easier and safer for people to receive voucher assistance.
Tech Improving Food Assistance
To answer these challenges, WFP Somalia developed the WFP e-Shop. The system enables those receiving food assistance via vouchers to shop online from local grocery stores, using a specially designed app, and – as of 2020 – to have their purchases delivered to their homes. Launched in 2018, e-Shop now has over 90,000 registered users. 1,100 retailers are also registered with e-Shop; to date, over 43,000 successful deliveries have been made.
e-Shop enables deliveries to five major cities across Somalia: Hargeisa, Mogadishu, Kismayo, Baidoa, and Galkayo. CTG staff supported the rollout and are currently assisting with expanding in the service to other cities in Somalia. “The CTG team has been instrumental in meeting with the WFP partners in the field, registering beneficiaries on the platform and showing them how to use it,” says Abdirizaq Rashid Hassan, CTG senior monitor and WFP Somalia programme coordinator.
The first phase of the project commenced with mass registration of those receiving assistance. Once that was completed, the team moved on to the stability testing stage. In the third stage communities were able to begin the ordering process, and in the fourth stage the team began home deliveries.
The WFP e-Shop: How It Works
Similar to other e-shopping platforms, the user downloads the WFP e-Shop app on their mobile device; the app displays a number of contracted Somali retailers in their area. The user can then buy food from their chosen WFP retailer within their budgeted top-up limit. They receive and input their unique collection code from the retailer, and WFP then delivers the food directly to the beneficiary’s doorstep.
Empowering Communities and the Local Economy
“Both the lives of the retailers and the beneficiaries have been enriched through access to this platform,” explains Hussein Mohamed Bashir, CTG retail logistics consultant team leader. All retailers registered on e-Shop are Somalia-based businesses, which means 100 percent of the proceeds go into the local economy and support local businesses.
e-Shop has created more flexibility with food choice for voucher recipients and allows beneficiaries to choose the food products they want based on their specific needs, empowering them with more control over their household.
“The food that we used to get from the shops is now being delivered to our homes by car, Masha’allah, I am so happy,” says WFP beneficiary Hani Mohamed. “It has changed many things in my life such as bringing the food in to our houses due to precautions taken for coronavirus, so I am very grateful.”
The WFP e-Shop is helping many families like Hani’s as COVID-19 reshapes societies with new restrictions on life: regulations that restrict vulnerable populations from receiving life-saving aid.
This response is only the beginning. It’s imperative that the humanitarian aid and development community scales up collective action to keep food trade flowing between countries in the months to come. And that innovation continues to help make an impact – regardless of the challenges faced.
“The WFP logistics management team have applauded the efforts of the CTG logistics team on the e-Shop platform. We really appreciate the synergy and close coordination between CTG and WFP, ensuring that the beneficiaries are served as per their needs,” says Hussein. “I also appreciate CTG management for their unwavering support.”
Says Iman Shawwa, CTG Country Director, “It’s an innovative project which has been successfully rolled out during challenging times. Well done to the team and all involved.”
Find the free WFP e-Shop App on Google Play: download here