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Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response

4.2. Food security - cash and voucher transfers

Cash and voucher transfers represent two forms of assistance: cash transfers provide people with money, while voucher transfers provide people with coupons to purchase a fixed quantity of a specified product such as food (commodity-based vouchers) or a fixed monetary value (value-based vouchers). While their objectives and design may differ, cash and voucher transfers share a market-based approach where beneficiaries are provided with purchasing power.

Cash and voucher transfers are used to meet basic food and non-food needs or to purchase assets enabling people to resume economic activity. Unconditional (or non-targeted or ‘universal’) cash grants have no conditions on how the money should be used, but if basic needs have been identified in the assessment, it is expected that the money would be used to cover these needs. If support to livelihoods or productive activities has been identified as a need, then the cash distributed will be used for this. Unconditional cash grants may be appropriate at the start of an emergency. Conditional cash grants have the condition that the recipient uses the cash for specific purposes (e.g. to rebuild houses, provide labour, establish or re-establish a livelihood and/or attend health services). Vouchers give access to a range of predetermined commodities (e.g. food, livestock, seeds, tools) or services (e.g. grinding mills, transport, market or stand access, bank loans). Vouchers may have either a cash value or a commodity value, to be used in pre-selected shops, with specified traders or service providers or at fairs. Voucher programmes should refer to the standards for the sector concerned; for example, food voucher programmes should refer to Food security–food transfers standards 1-3 and 6.

The choice of appropriate transfers (food, cash or vouchers) requires a context-specific analysis including cost efficiency, secondary market impacts, the flexibility of the transfer, targeting and risks of insecurity and corruption.