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How ICTs Help WFP Increase Food Security in DRC

By Guest Writer on May 9, 2016

Food security

Upheaval, uncertainty and instability are common in conflict stricken countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The World Food Programme (WFP) reports more than 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in DRC, with national food scarcity and chronic malnutrition running rampant in these settings. In this type of situation, the humanitarian community steps in to help fight hunger and provide access to food for vulnerable civilian populations.

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Better Data Collection

WFP’s mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM) team is leveraging open source mobile and voice technologies to improve timely data collection regarding food supply and access in collaboration with the population which is facing food scarcity themselves. One of the ICT tools being deployed by the WFP mVAM team is Verboice, a low-cost, open source interactive voice response system (IVR) technology created by InSTEDD. Verboice allows mVAM to rapidly and create voice-based surveys and automated information hotlines that inform and allow for feedback from vulnerable populations regardless of literacy and language barriers.

By using interactive voice response calls to collect food pricing and availability data from remote areas the WFP mVAM team are able to conduct surveys that are “quicker, cheaper” and “safer, than traditional tools” The information collected via Verboice, and tools like the SMS survey software Pollit, also an open-source technology of InSTEDD, allows mVAM to easily and quickly analyze the situation.

“It just makes us closer to the situation on the ground, and it improves the relationship that we have with the community,” says Jean-Martin Bauer, who leads the mVAM team. “It’s a way of reaching out and keeping track of people’s priorities.” Using a variety of different modern data collection tools alongside Verboice, WFP and mVAM are successfully collecting more than 100,000 surveys annually, a number projected to increase notably in 2016.

Keeping Constituents Engaged

Further using incentives like air time credits for responses to surveys, the mVAM initiative has been able to continue to keep their respondents engaged. In DRC, for example, approximately 66% of people who were provided with phones continue to take surveys – almost two years since the initial reporting. This ease of data collection streamlined via mobile tools deployed in mVAM work has also led to improvements in the lives of the respondents who are assisting WFP. Individuals using the mobile technology get indirect benefits such as being able keep in touch with their loved ones and receiving mobile money transfers.

Importantly, the mVAM team makes sure that the data which is collected is accessible by the populations and the wider food security community. “There’s a lot of talk about open data, and making our information available on an open-access basis. That’s fine for people with internet, but people in the camp don’t have internet,” shares Bauer. “They have their phones, so we’re using Verboice to disseminate information on food security to people who don’t have access to the internet.”

Through its utilization of innovative ICTs, WFP and its VAM teams now have access to more timely information needed to respond to a variety of rapidly changing situations. Into the future, the mVAM team plans to expand remote data collection across DRC and beyond, continuing to fight global hunger in countries around the world.

This article was authored by Arjun Puri, a Master’s Degree Candidate in Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo. Photo: Dadaab, Somalia Refugee Camp. Credit: hikrcn

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