South Africa will likely see a spike in acute malnutrition in the next few months – one that will impact how children grow physically and intellectually. Many poor families don’t receive any form of assistance – despite adjustments to welfare grants. For example:
- Pregnant women for whom nutritional food is critical to support pregnancy;
- Immigrants without documentation;
- Those stuck waiting out grant administration delays.
Digital vouchers sent via cellphone provide a way to provide social relief of distress without the costs and infection risk associated with the distribution of food parcels. Although they could still be traded for cash at a discounted price and resold by the buyer, the risk can be mitigated by transferring smaller amounts more frequently and by signaling the intent of the vouchers to both recipients and traders.
The risk of fraud can be reduced by local identification of beneficiaries using a network of trusted non-government organisations. Ideally, a national voucher for social relief of distress should be redeemable at any shop most convenient to the recipient, but until that is in place, the local economy can be stimulated by the preferential distribution of vouchers redeemable at spaza shops and local general dealers.
This model is simple, robust and could provide a ready channel for the special Covid grant of R350 and other forms of social relief of distress. This system can also be extended to provide food support through ECD practitioners (both registered and unregistered) who can pivot their focus towards nutrition support during this critical phase.
Our pilot project is administered in partnership with Grow Great, and is enabled through our technology partners, Flash and Kazang. By end of May we had allocated 4 300 vouchers of R200 to recipients in six regions across South Africa. This voucher is redeemable for any goods sold in spaza shops, but is strongly associated with communication of the ten ‘best buys’ of affordable nutritious foods. To date 78% of the vouchers have been successfully redeemed.
To read our policy brief (submitted to the presidency) on the potential of digital food vouchers for social relief of distress click here.