Food ATM's for Refugees

The Lempert Report
May 06, 2019

The UN’s World Food Program Tests Food Vending Machines

The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and World Vision International announced they will be testing food automated teller machines (or ATMs) in refugee camps. The Food ATM will dispense locally sourced cereals, cooking oil and other fortified blended foods with just the swipe of a card according to a report in UN Dispatch.

WFP and World Vision say the machines have the potential to “revolutionize providing food to refugees” by eliminating some of the biggest problems associated. In an email to UN Dispatch, World Vision’s East Africa Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Director Chris Hoffman said that as the largest implementing partner with WFP, World Vision has found that at least 30 percent of food baskets given to refugees are either lost, sold or stolen. Safety concerns are also increasing as some refugees have been attacked while transporting the heavy foods they receive from distribution centers to their homes. 

The Food ATM will be continuously monitored and stocked with locally procured foods that, in turn, support the local economy and cut costs immensely. It will also allow WFP to better track what kinds of food and how much of it refugees are actually using in order to make the aid more personalized and most importantly, the refugees waiting in long lines for their monthly rations will be eliminated.

The Food ATM actually consists of a number of machines that each contain a specific food item (e.g. one machine for cooking oil and one machine for cereals). They will be housed in a “clean, cool warehouse” within the camp that refugees can visit whenever they want.  

In the warehouse, refugees can fill their shopping carts with as much or as little of each food item as they want within the limit of their pre-funded SCOPE card – a WFP digital cash card that’s re-loaded every month. The ease of access means that refugees can choose to only take as much food as they’re able to carry or store safely at home eliminating waste.

If all goes well during the six-month pilot in Uganda, World Vision and WFP plan to immediately launch five more Food ATMs by the end of 2020 and throughout East Africa over the next two funding cycles. Their end goal is to completely disrupt the food aid system.