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Community Based Targeting in Myanmar

By Jeremy Shoham

In May/June 2005, Jeremy Shoham was part of a WFP Office of Evaluation (OEDE) team which fielded a mission to Myanmar as part of a five country case study thematic evaluation of targeting in relief operations.

A key component of the WFP programme in Myanmar has been community based targeting (CBT) as part of the vulnerable group feeding (VGF). As a member of the evaluation team, Jeremy was involved in discussions and interviews with WFP staff and the UN Resident Representative in Yangon, undertook field site visits in Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships, northern Rakhine State, and Yenanchuang and Pakokku, Townships, and Magway Division meeting with UNHCR and co-operating partner staff, Food Management Committee members, beneficiaries, and non-beneficiary community members. This article focuses on the CBT element of the programme and lessons learnt.

Beneficiaries in Magway division building a village pond

Community based targeting (CBT) of food aid in emergencies was initially piloted in the mid-1990s in east Africa. It grew out of early experiences of community-based distributions which had been piloted in Uganda and Kenya. In CBT, the community is used to identify beneficiaries so that those who have the greatest knowledge about socio-economic factors in the targeted communities identify the most needy. This approach is usually distinguished from 'administrative' systems by the more active participation of the recipient population, rather than only its representatives, with the aim of reaching mutually agreed and acceptable eligibility criteria. Thus eligibility criteria tend to be more subjective, complex and locally specific.


The Union of Myanmar comprises states and divisions that include 135 ethnic groups in its population of 50 million people. It is a 'leastdeveloped' country and in 2003, ranked 131/175 in the UN Human Development Index. Myanmar is governed by a central government and through military command areas. The country is under sanctions, creating difficulties in sourcing international aid. UN agencies are expected to provide assistance directly to communities and not through government channels. National planning and baseline information on population numbers, vulnerability, food insecurity, socio-economic status, adult literacy, school enrolment, health and nutrition that is available is at a high level of aggregation, and there are areas of the country for which no data are available.

Recovering child with mother in ACF TFP in NRS

WFPs Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO 10066.2) in Myanmar has project sites in the northern part of Rakhine State and Magway Division. Northern Rakine State (NRS) is largely populated by people who are ethnically Rohingya (82%) and Muslim, rather than Bamar and Buddhist that make up the central government and military. Approximately one quarter of the Rohingya population of NRS (250,000 people) moved to Bangladesh as refugees in 1991-2. Under an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar, all but 18,000 of these people have returned to resettle in Myanmar in subsequent years. Of the 18,000 who have not returned, around 6,000 have been recognised for return by the Government of Myanmar (GoM) but have not yet chosen to do so, mostly for economic reasons.

The central government creates and applies laws differently to Rohingya and other ethnic groups living in NRS. The movement, citizenship, taxation, trade and other aspects of life for the Rohingyas are made extremely difficult by the laws and informal and formal taxation to which they are subject. Returning Rohingya refugees are granted Myanmar resident status. However, most other Rohingya people are stateless and without the protection of citizenship of Myanmar.

Magway Division is part of the dry zone of Myanmar. Historically it receives only 500mm of rain per year, which is possibly decreasing but insufficient data are available to confirm this. The aridity severely limits crop and livestock production and it may be that increasing numbers of the population are seasonally migrating from the Division to other parts of Myanmar for employment.

The majority of the populations of NRS and Magway are chronically poor and have weakly developed social and economic infrastructure. Like the rest of Myanmar, they are adversely affected by what most stakeholders regard as inappropriate agricultural and economic policies of the central government. NRS and Magway Division are regarded by the UN Country Team as amongst the parts of the country most vulnerable to poverty, unemployment and food insecurity. In January 2003, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) undertook an anthropometric nutritional survey in NRS and found a prevalence of 16.4% global acute malnutrition (GAM) and 3% severe acute malnutrition (SAM) in children under five in three zones. Rates of chronic malnutrition were 63.6%. Furthermore, over half of mothers (52.1%, n=701) had a Body Mass Index of < 18.5.

In NRS, government measures make the movement of food across military command areas difficult as the authorisation procedure is slow and often does not work. This has caused a number of pipeline breaks in WFP operations and continues to seriously disrupt the PRRO.

Targeting structures

The PRRO has the following components:

Targeting in Northern Rakhine State (NRS)

Geographic Targeting

In NRS, all three townships were selected for the PRRO. The village tract selection was based upon an ACF food security survey circulated in November 2002.

Community Based Targeting

CBT is the system employed for identifying recipients for the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF). The FFW programme beneficiaries are also identified through the system, although this does not involve the same degree of community involvement. Up until 2004, the method of targeting at community level, which had been employed for a number of years in NRS, involved a village meeting, organised by village elders, where WFP field monitors outlined eligibility criteria. Villagers were then asked to nominate beneficiary households.

There were a number of problems with this approach. Many people were left out, the villagers argued for an increased range of criteria in order to include more beneficiaries and criteria were not always adequately linked to food security. Also, many villagers 'felt' that the community was not adequately involved in the process and that there was too great an influence of village leaders in the process. As a result, a new system was established in 2004. This system involves WFP field monitors listing all the households in the hamlets and convening a village meeting (minimum of 50-60% must be present). WFP then suggest criteria for inclusion of individuals in VGF. These criteria may be modified at the village meeting. Village participants are placed in one of three groups that, in turn, allocate each household in the village to one of four wealth categories (rich, middle, ordinary poor, and extremely poor). These lists are then compared (triangulated) and, in order to qualify for inclusion in the VGF, households/individuals have to have been nominated as extremely poor in all three lists. At this point WFP field monitors visit the households to ensure that nominated households are extremely poor. This screening involves assessing standard of dwelling, lands use, livestock assets, furnishings and stored foods. An assessment is also made of household income and expenditure with a view to calculating surplus/savings and debt.

In NRS, an estimated 12% of villagers are enrolled as extremely poor (data from only 1800 households have been analysed at the time of writing this article). Akey difference in outcome between the old and new system is that the old system usually resulted in a 95% female headed beneficiary case load, whereas the new system also includes many other groups, e.g. landless, elderly with no support, physically and mentally handicapped, etc. so that the female headed household case load will now be an estimated 80% of beneficiaries. In order to undertake this new form of CBT, an additional 20 temporary field staff were recruited and trained at a cost of less than $5,000. This represents a very small proportion of the total project costs that were originally planned to be $12 million. The whole exercise took approximately two months and involved approximately 400 hamlets.

Members of relief committee in NRS

Food for Work (FFW)

FFW activities have also been targeted within the accessible, high vulnerability areas as identified in the ACF food security survey. The household targeting element of the FFW programming employs an elected Food Management Committee (FMC). Each FMC has equal male and female representation. The FMC are meant to first select the extremely poor and then, resources and work permitting, the ordinary poor as workers. There is a reported excess of demand for work while the tasks, which are mainly road building and pond renovation and therefore involve fairly heavy work, predispose towards greater involvement of men.


To date, the monitoring of targeting has been a weak area of the programme with limited statistical analysis. The main monitoring activity has been to report on the number of beneficiaries and tonnages of food delivered for each programme type. Targeting for the VGF has been assessed by WFP to be 88% successful in identifying the most vulnerable people in the communities. This is based upon the screening process undertaken by field monitors to verify that the communities' beneficiary lists do include only those meeting the agreed criteria for selection.

Targeting in Magway Division

Geographic Targeting

The selection of townships was based on a ranking exercise involving government departments (agriculture, livestock, education, development affairs, nutrition training), the private sector, and community based organisations (CBOs).Village tracts were selected based on the findings of an assessment conducted in the six selected townships between 15th Nov 2004 and 7th Dec 2004. This assessment primarily utilised secondary data from government township departments and qualitative ranking by two key informants from each village tract.

Workers in Magway division preparing food for distribution

CBT methodology

As this is the first year of a PRRO in Magway Division, WFP has benefited from the NRS experience and is using the revised CBT system for VGF introduced this year in NRS. Five non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are implementing the FFW through the creation of a CBO or FMC of villagers. There appears to be less adherence to targeting the poor and very poor (compared with NRS) in FFW activities, with a more relaxed policy of allowing all able-bodied person to work. The time spent by the FMCs in managing the FFW and allocating food may be considerable. Even with rotation of committee members, a few hours per day appears to be the norm. However, the FFW does coincide with a period of least activity at village level.


A monitoring system has yet to be put in place for the PRRO activities in Magway. This is largely due to the fact that staff have been engaged with getting the programme up and running.

Observations on CBT in the Myanmar PRRO

The CBT component of the programme has been very successful. Recent refinements have considerably strengthened the system in terms of ensuring a lower exclusion error. Household screening by WFP/NGOs and the mission field work shows that the poorest of the poor are invariably targeted (inclusion estimated at 88%). This exemplifies the learning that has taken place in the programme.

CBT appears to bypass political structures at village level and may also contribute to strengthening of civil society, as well as establishing an instrument for other development activities.

CBT may work particularly well in the Myanmar context as other 'poor' are included in FFW/FFT and school feeding, so that the community do not feel under so much pressure to include everyone in the VGF. However, these options may not be available on this scale in other societies where there is less educational and management capacity at village level to implement large scale FFW and FFT activities.

The CBT approach employed in Myanmar necessitated the recruitment of extra, temporary staff (20 in NRS) to establish the system and also took considerable time and investment of resources. There are, however, no data available on comparative costs with other forms of targeting.

For further information, contact Jeremy Shoham,

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Reference this page

Jeremy Shoham (). Community Based Targeting in Myanmar. Field Exchange 26, November 2005. p25.



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