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The 2007/2008 food prices hike has increased the interest in social safety nets programmes to fight food insecurity. Targeting the most in need is central to achieve effectiveness of such interventions. In 2009 in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, a food voucher (FV) programme targeted the 25 000 most vulnerable households (8.3% of the population). Targeting used a two-stage process: first geographical selection of poorest districts (∼90 000 households); then, in those districts, identification of the most vulnerable households according to a proxy-means test (PMT). Targeted households were entitled to receive FV for 1 year. A first survey was conducted at the beginning of the FV distribution on a representative sample of 2273 households drawn from the poorest districts. One year later a second survey, conducted on a subsample of same households (n = 901), identified those who actually received FV (beneficiary). The performance of the whole process was assessed against household food expenditure, used as the reference measure for vulnerability with a cut-off point of 1513 FCFA (corresponding to the 8.3th percentile of the distribution of expenditure). The ‘normalized share of transfers going to vulnerable households’ (NSTVH), i.e. proportion of FVs allocated to households below the cut-point, was the main criteria of judgement. Almost twice as many FV were allocated to vulnerable households as compared with a theoretical random distribution all over Ouagadougou (NSTVH = 1.85). When considering the sole targeted districts the NSTVH was only 0.84 (i.e. no more effective than a random distribution), meaning that the geographical stage was effective to select vulnerable districts while the PMT did not perform well to identify the most vulnerable households in those districts. Results could have been improved if only targeted households had received FV (NSTVH = 2.61 and 1.18 for the whole Ouagadougou and targeted districts, respectively). Improved targeting procedures or alternate targeting instruments are needed.