The Livelihood Impacts of the Food Card System in Refugee Camps on the Thailand/Burma Border: An Evaluation Report (June 2019)

The Border Consortium (TBC) is a humanitarian organisation working to support approximately 87,000 refugees living in nine camps on the Thailand/Burma border. TBC provides food, shelter and other forms of assistance to this refugee population.

To support food security and nutrition within camps, TBC has recently adopted a cash-based food card system as a replacement to the provision of in-kind rations. The FCS allows households to purchase their own food from local refugee vendors. It aims to meet the nutrition needs of the camp population, while also increasing refugee choice and responsibility, promoting a sense of empowerment for recipients, and stimulating local markets.

Implementation of the FCS also functions to increase livelihood opportunities for the camp community.
TBC is committed to supporting livelihood opportunities within camp, knowing they bring benefits of increased self-reliance and independence. Interventions focused on strengthening livelihoods support preparation for future options, and are also a known upstream determinant of improved refugee welfare and health. A reduction in TBC funding has resulted in a decrease of specific livelihood programming in camps, and as such, the livelihood opportunities associated with the FCS are of particular interest and importance. This evaluation was commissioned to both clarify the impacts of the FCS, and to make recommendations on potential ways to enhance the program, and increase the benefits for the refugee population.

Livelihood impacts were investigated in relation to the direct effect for vendors, and the nature and impact of secondary livelihood activities supported by the FCS. Indirect effects were also considered by determining how additional income derived through the FCS was spent within the community.

The evaluation process involved a review of relevant literature and TBC documentation, interviews with TBC staff, and information gathered through qualitative fieldwork activities conducted in camp. Fieldwork took place over a 3 week period in April 2019, in Nu Po, Tham Hin and Mae Ra Ma Luang. Key informant interviews and focus group discussions were held with FCS vendors, and other refugee community members involved in the system.

The findings of this evaluation demonstrate the FCS supports a number of livelihood activities in camp, enhancing income generating capacity, and engaging a range of community members in meaningful daily activity. Vendors reported earning a profit of 1000 to 20000THB ($45-900AUD) per month through their FCS businesses. The FCS’s capacity to support additional livelihood activities was widely observed, with all vendors receiving assistance from family and friends in store. A majority of stores also sold fresh vegetables and meat sourced within camp, engaging local refugee producers in the supply process, and supporting existing agricultural and animal raising activity in camp. Other livelihood impacts associated with the introduction of the FCS include a reduction in TBC supported stipend staff, additional employment opportunities with wholesale suppliers, and increased business interactions with local Thai villagers.

The FCS has positively contributed to the livelihoods of community members engaged with the system. However, there is the potential for these livelihood opportunities to be strengthened. Recommendations discussed in this report include:

  • Promoting agricultural production in camp, enabling increased supply of locally sourced produce in FCS stores
  • Continued support of FCS vendors to maintain and improve sound business practices, through ongoing training
  • Providing opportunities for greater involvement within the community, to enable benefits to be more widely spread
  • Further exploration of ways in which the FCS may be effecting other businesses, in order to ensure any possible negative impacts are minimized

In consolidating the strengths of the FCS, its associated livelihood impacts will continue to bring benefits to the refugee population living in TBC camps.



Source: The Border Consortium