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How Cellphones Are Solving Hunger

How WFP is solving hunger one survey at a time.

M.J. Altman | World Food Program USA

Do you ever wonder how WFP determines which communities worldwide are suffering from chronic hunger—and how best to help them? The answer is an acroynym: VAM, which stands for “Vulnerability and Mapping.”

WFP’s VAM unit utilizes advanced technology like geographic information systems (GIS) and mobile data-collection platforms like tablets and smartphones to help women like Agnes, featured in the video below, a widow and mother of six who lives in a refugee camp in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Every month Agnes get a call on her mobile phone—contrary to popular belief cell phones are fairly widespread in Africa—from WFP. She’s asked questions like:

  • What has your family eaten today?
  • How recently has your family consumed milk or eggs?
  • Do you have enough money to buy food in the local market near your home?

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VAM data is particularly critical in emergency situations from natural disasters to conflict and civil war.

Her responses are entered into an electronic system that updates in real time. This enables WFP to utilize the most recent information when planning for and providing food or vouchers to women like Agnes.

VAM data is particularly critical in emergency situations from natural disasters to conflict and civil war when movement is challenging, timing is critical and food is scarce.

In West Africa, for example, VAM staffers have been sending out questionnaires via text message to families affected by the Ebola Virus outbreak. The information collected from these short surveys has been critical in helping WFP understand everything from local rice prices to availability of food and even average wage rates.

In countries where conflict may not be widespread but poverty is, VAM staffers are often called up to do assessments of food availability and market access to determine whether families are at risk, especially pregnant women and young children.

Following the global food and economic crises in 2008, WFP created this online food price database to regularly survey about 70 countries and more than 1,000 markets. Information from the database is used in a quarterly report about staple food prices in vulnerable countries.

The market and food price data WFP collects is utilized not only by WFP but also by a multitude of NGOs, UN agencies and governments who use this information to create smart strategies for reaching those most vulnerable.

With the help of a simple cellphone, WFP is delivering hope and preventing hunger in homes across the globe. goldbrown2

This article first appeared on the World Food Program blog and was republished with permission.

mj altman sepia
M.J. Altman is Senior Content Manager at World Food Program USA

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