The much-publicized scramble for relief food by residents of Nairobi’s Kibera slums in April shed light on the magnitude of hunger facing the low-income populations due to COVID-19 disruptions.
But for Lorna Sempele, a Kenyan communication specialist, it was a call to find a solution to streamline the distribution of food aid.
She has found the solution in a digital innovation, M-Riziki, a mobile and web-enabled system that brings together shopkeepers, beneficiaries, and financiers.
The system, already adopted by the county government of Kajiado to distribute relief food to more than 30,000 people, was developed in less than two months.
A few days after the Kibera slums incident, Sempele who runs a communication consultancy agency, Empiris Creative, partnered with a software developer Joshua Nderi from Fashionnaire Corporation, to come up with the innovation.
The digital innovation which the duo have already patented facilitates beneficiaries’ access to relief food. They collect the package at their own convenience and from the nearest pre-selected shop.
The duo enters into the system data on beneficiaries identified by the financier. It is the information they use to prompt the beneficiary through a short message sent to their mobile phones, on where to collect the food and its cost.
Sempele says the dignity of the beneficiaries is safeguarded since the system excludes gathering or queuing for the commodity.
“Nobody can notice that they are beneficiaries as there is nothing like crowding. They just walk to a pre-selected shop in private and collect their food,” Sempele told Xinhua during an interview on Saturday.
Nderi, the system’s developer assured of the security of the system, stating that its features are tamper-proof.
With the system, financiers deposit the money to buy the food to a bank account linked with the mobile money transfer platform, M-Pesa.
The shopkeepers are later paid through the M-PESA upon proofing the dispatch with receipts. Nderi said this is to ensure transparency and accountability of the entire process.
“We collect receipts to prove that the beneficiaries did indeed collect the food because every beneficiary gets a unique number through an SMS (short message),” said Nderi.
“Once that number expires, the system automatically bills us on behalf of the shopkeeper. So, we have to get the receipts as evidence and that is what we will present to the financier,” he added.
Nderi is optimistic that digital innovation would be adopted by humanitarian agencies that provide food aid to communities affected by climatic shocks like droughts.
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