Tillaberi, Niger — When her name is called, Rékia Djibo leaves the group of women gathered in front of the school in Toula, and takes a confident step towards the door. Djibo is one of the recipients of a cash transfer from the World Food Programme here on the outskirts of the South Western Niger city of Tillabéri.
Each of the women here receives the equivalent of 60 dollars from WFP every month, intended to enable some of this drought-stricken country's most vulnerable households to buy food.
"With this money, we'll first of all buy staples and spices so that we can go to work in our fields," Djibo told IPS.
The 42-year-old is the senior wife in a polygamous household. Though she was the one chosen to receive the transfer, she said she consults her husband and her co-wife to set priorities for spending the money to care for all of their six children.
Zalika Hado is another of the women waiting to receive the monthly grant in Toula.
"Since we started receiving the money," the 39-year-old mother of two told IPS, "our priority has been to buy food as intended. If there's anything left over, we spend it on basic necessities like soap, sugar and clothes for the children."
The cash transfer programme is run by the WFP office in Niamey, the capital, supporting a wider emergency plan established by the Nigerien government in response to the severe food crisis that has hit the country after a poor harvest.
The 2010-2011 growing season left the country with a cereal deficit of some 600,000 tonnes, according to the National Food Crisis Prevention and Management System.
"The operation began in May and will continue until September," Giorgi Dolidze, WFP programme officer in Niamey, told IPS.
"We pay a grant of 32,500 CFA francs - with no conditions attached - to extremely poor Nigerien families at the end of each month so they can afford to buy food in local markets," he said.
"Traditionally, the WFP provides food, but we decided to diversify our interventions by providing money directly, in areas where markets are functioning well, to allow beneficiaries themselves to buy what they want to eat," Dolidze added.
WFP is working in partnership with local and international non-governmental organisations, micro finance institutions and a mobile phone company to implement the initiative.
"We are one of the implementing agencies," said Illo Mamoudou from the international charity Oxfam, "and in this capacity we create lists of beneficiaries nominated by a local committee in the areas covered by the operation. We also educate the beneficiaries regarding use of the money and supervise distribution at the end of each month."
WFP staff member Midou Bawa Youssifi told IPS that money is being distributed in 21 of the country's 36 counties. "In three urban areas -Agadez, Tahoua and Tillabéri - we transfer the money using mobile phones, but in rural communities, we work with micro finance institutions to send the money to beneficiaries," he said.
"The operation reaches 158,000 households with a total of 1,166,000 people, to whom we distribute at the end of each month a total of 5,136,432,500 CFA (around 9.7 million dollars)," he added.
Dolidze said 99 percent of those chosen to receive money on behalf of their households are women. "A post-distribution study that we carried out revealed that up to 95 percent of the money is effectively spent on buying food," he said.
"It's manna from heaven," said beneficiary Djoumassi Ali. "With the money that I've just received, I will go straight to the market to buy maize, millet and seasoning because our household ran out several days ago."