Tag Archives: social cash transfers

Proven and affordable ways to fight poverty and hunger

A recent article in the magazine Newsweek, praises social cash transfers as a way of reducing the gap between rich and poor. The article appears in the Newsweek magazine dated December 7th 2009, and is written by Mac Margolis.

Margolis looks at the example of Brazil which, he says, had already in 2008, met the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. In the process, since 2003, Brazil has lifted 21 million citizens out of poverty.

This is remarkable, considering that in many parts of Africa, not only are we unlikely to meet this Millennium Development Goal, but are actually moving backwards, with levels of poverty increasing.

Margolis talks about a range of measures implemented by the Brazilian government, including economic reforms, and an aggressive drive to get children out of the workplace and into school. This move, which began in the early 1990s, is now paying off, as children from poor families are able to get much better jobs and earn higher pay than they would have without the benefit of education.

But very importantly, Margolis also praises Bolsa Familia, a social cash transfer programme in Brazil, that gives a monthly allowance to poor families, as long as they keep their children in school and regularly visit health facilities.

Margolis says this programme has proved effective in helping the poor, while costing very little — less than half of 1 percent of GDP.

A Costed Programme to End Child Malnutrition

Save the Children recently released a report, outlining a plan of action to fight child hunger. According to Save the Children, the period from conception to a child’s second birthday is crucial for development. If the child is malnourished during this period, she or he will suffer permanent damage.

The guide, called Hungry for Change, outlines a costed, eight-step package for improving the diets of pregnant women, and children under the age of two. The package includes:

  • breastfeeding support and promotion,
  • micronutrient supplementation and deworming,
  • nutrition-friendly agriculture and livestock policies,
  • safety neds and social cash transfers,
  • fortified foods,
  • education on nutrition and hygiene,
  • reducing risk, early warning and response,
  • treatment of severe acute malnutrition.

When it comes to social cash transfers, the report says that such transfers have been shown to have a positive effect on children’s diets. In Swaziland, a six-month cash transfer programme improved dietary diversity in young children, while an emergency cash safety net programme in Niger in 2008 enabled families to buy better quality foods.

It is crucial though, that transfers should reach children early in life – so Save the Children recommends the use of age-criteria when deciding who gets such grants, rather than means testing. Ideally, such cash transfers should be given to women, because when women have more control over family resources, this ensures the greatest impact on child nutrition. The value of transfers should be around one third of household consumption. They should be provided regularly — such as once a month.

Unlike the case of Brazil’s Bolsa Familia, Save the Children caution against attaching conditions such as school or clinic attendance, as in many low-income countries, schools and clinics are few and far between.

So, what is the cost of the eight steps the guide outlines? Save the Children estimate that the package would cost a total of US$127 per year for each child under the age of two, and US$47 for each pregnant woman. This works out at an average of 1.63% of GDP for most of the 8 poor countries focused on in the report.


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Poverty and social transfers in Zambia

RHVP recently hosted a SADC parliamentary forum workshop on poverty and social transfers. Gelson Tembo, of the department of Agricultural Economics and Extension Education at the University of Zambia, presented a paper that gives an excellent overview of poverty and social transfers in Zambia.  Here is a summary of his presentation:

Extent of Poverty in Zambia

Zambia has a population of 11.5 million people. Of these, 64 percent are classified as poor, and 54 percent as extremely poor. But this is split unevenly between rural and urban areas. In rural areas, 80 of people are poor, while the figure is 35 percent in cities and towns.

In urban areas unemployment is the biggest problem, while people in rural areas depend on agriculture – and when this does not deliver, people generally have little else to fall back on.

Agriculture and poverty

Most smallholder farmers have small pieces of land, and so can’t generally earn a sustainable income from their farms. Only a tiny proportion of smallholder farmers produce more maize than they need for themselves and their families, and many don’t even produce enough for their own families, so need to buy extra maize.

According to Tembo, the government often fails to take this into account and so its policies can add to poverty and hunger. For example, the Food Reserve Agency (FRA) as well as private business, usually tries to buy up all the surplus maize from rural areas. This goes to urban areas where it’s sold to millers who sell the maize meal at high prices. So nothing is left for rural people to buy. Also, this practice creates problems for poor people in the cities, who would prefer to buy grain and take it themselves to small, cheaper mills for grinding.

Two categories of poor households

In Zambia, vulnerable households are grouped into two categories:

Low Capacity Households: Low capacity households are those that are just managing to get by and support themselves. But their situation is risky and they could easily fall further into poverty, especially if they experience a shock such as drought or flood, or the loss of a breadwinner.

Incapacitated Households: Incapacitated households are those that are incapable of supporting their own needs. They tend to be headed by elderly people, who care for many dependents; or they are child-headed.

In Zambia, about 200,000 households (or 10 percent of the population) have been classified as being critically poor and incapacitated. Sixty (60) percent of critically poor and incapacitated households are caring for orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), and around 20 000 households are child-headed.

Low-Capacity Households

It is the job of the Department of Community Development (DCD) of the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services (MCDSS), to implement social protection programmes aimed at low-capacity households.  These include: the Food Security Pack, the Micro-bankers Trust, and the Public Works Programme.

Food security pack

The targeted food security pack (FSP) was established in 2000 and has nation-wide coverage. The main aim of the FSP is to reduce poverty and malnutrition by improving crop production and household food security.

It does this by, among other things, promoting crop and enterprise diversification, promoting farming methods that help to restore soil fertility and productivity, and training NGOs, farmers and traders in business-related skills.

The FSP is meant to benefit a group of smallholder agricultural households considered to be vulnerable but viable. The FSP is implemented by a local NGO, the Programme Against Malnutrition (PAM), under a broader umbrella of the Community Welfare Assistance Committees (CWACs).

The planned target group for the FSP is 200,000 households per year for three to five years. But because of poor funding, the target has never been met – both in terms of what’s provided as part of the pack, and the number of beneficiaries covered.

The largest number of beneficiaries the programme has ever reached in a single year was 150,000 (in 2003/4) and this has fallen much lower in recent years (to around 40 000 beneficiaries in 2005/6, for example).

The Micro-Bankers’ Trust

The Micro Bankers Trust (MBT) operates in 25 of the country’s 72 districts. It gives low-capacity households access to micro-credit facilities.

Public Works Programme

The Public Works Programme (PWP) gives work to the unemployed poor households until they are able to find employment.

Critically poor, incapacitated households

The Department of Social Welfare (DSW) is charged with reducing hunger, extreme poverty and destitution among incapacitated households. Major initiatives under the DSW include the Public Welfare Assistance Scheme (PWAS) and social cash transfers (SCTs).

The Public Welfare Assistance Scheme

The PWAS is a nation-wide programme and is one of the government’s major Social Safety Net initiatives.  The PWAS assists the most vulnerable households through educational support, health care support, social support and repatriation of stranded persons.  Community committees called the Community Welfare Assistance Committees (CWACs) are responsible for identifying vulnerable households and allocating resources to them.

Major target groups include aged persons, disabled people or the chronically ill, single-headed households, orphans and neglected children, displaced people or disaster victims, and others that are genuinely unable to support themselves.

Social Cash Transfers

Social cash transfers (SCTs) are seen as a priority in least-developed countries such as Zambia. In Zambia, pilot SCT schemes have been in existence since 2003. Their main aim is to reduce extreme poverty among the poorest 10 percent of households with insufficient or no labour capacity.

The first pilot scheme began in Kalomo in 2003. Pilot schemes have since spread to four other districts – Chipata, Katete, Kazungula and Monze.

Except for Katete, all other pilot SCT schemes use a community-based targeting system, facilitated by community structures of the PWAS. In Katete, the SCT scheme gives cash transfers to those aged 60 years or older. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security (MLSS) has expressed interest in implementing and scaling up the Katete old-age pension scheme.

In all these schemes, the cash transfers given to the households are not meant to lift them out of poverty, but merely to get them out of extreme poverty by allowing them to afford an extra meal each day. The specific amounts given to beneficiary households varies according to the nature and size of the household, and across pilot districts.

The MCDSS, donors and civil society have agreed on the need to scale up the pilots to the rest of the country. This will be done in phases, and so that each province will have at least one district participating in the scheme. The current plans are to scale up the scheme to 10 additional districts by 2013.

Cross-cutting issues

The social protection sector faces a number of challenges, which hamper its ability to deliver its services in an effective and efficient manner. The three kinds of challenges relate to financing, coordination, and monitoring and evaluation.


Generally, funding to the social sector in Zambia is poor, and it is usually one of the first to be downsized in case of budgetary difficulties. Within the sector, allocations towards key social protection interventions, such as the Food Security Pack, and the PWAS have been declining over time. Until 2008, the government did not provide any financial support towards the SCT schemes. While the donors provided all the funds for the schemes, their lack of clear long-term commitment further discouraged government support.

It has been the government’s view that it would be beyond its means to implement the scheme without donor support.


Recently, the sector players formed the Social Protection Sector Advisory Group (SP-SAG) as a way to strengthen social protection coordination. This is a very high-level forum with poor links to provincial, district and community actors. This has resulted in a weak and inconsistent flow of information from the top to the grass root actors.

In October 2008 civil society organizations established a civil society social protection platform, under the auspices of the Grow Up Free From Poverty (GUFFP) coalition. This was meant to improve their bargaining power in the SP-SAG. But the mandate of the platform is not yet clear as some prominent civil society organizations have not yet subscribed to the platform. So the sector still lacks effective civil society participation.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The Zambian social protection sector lacks a coherent monitoring and evaluation system. Most of the interventions have not been evaluated to shed light on their efficiency and cost effectiveness.

Impact of Social Cash Transfers

Nevertheless, some studies have been undertaken to assess the impact of the social cash transfers. The research has found that:

The SCTs helped raise households’ consumption spending per capita, by 50-80 percent. The greatest increase has been in non-food related spending.

In Chipata, beneficiary households were 30 percent more likely to invest in micro-enterprises than they would have been had they not participated in the scheme.

In the rural areas of Kalomo and Kazungula, beneficiary households in these two districts owned three times more small livestock than they would have had they not been beneficiaries of SCTs.

When it comes to school enrolment, beneficiary households were actually worse off than if they had not benefitted from the scheme. The only exception is Kalomo, where boys in beneficiary households were 6-8 percent more likely to be enrolled than they would have been had they not belonged to beneficiary households.

School attendance rates for children who were already enrolled in school improved only in the urban scheme, which also had a benefit related to school attendance.


According to Tembo, given existing poverty levels, Zambia needs an effective and well-coordinated social protection system. He says that the government should give the social sector as much importance in the budgeting process as all other sectors.

Experience from the pilot SCT schemes demonstrates that it is possible to use social transfers to positively influence the lives of incapacitated households with long-term implications.


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Wahenga Reporter 1

This is the first edition of Wahenga Reporter, a digest of news and views on poverty, vulnerability and social protection. We will be posting updates regularly on our Wahenga blog at or on Wahenga.net. You may also subscribe to receive new posts via email by clicking here.

A ranger of further resources can be found at the Wahenga.net website. If you would like to get in touch with one of the experts on Social Protection, Vulnerability Assessment, Climate Change working for the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme in southern Africa, please contact brett@rhvp.org.

Zimbabwe aid programmes should take remittances into account

On Wahenga.net, Lionel Cliffe argues that donors, NGOs and humanitarian aid groups working in Zimbabwe need to take account of remittances from abroad, when shaping programmes to assist the poor. According to figures Cliffe cites, around 200 000 Zimbabweans are living in the UK alone, and they send home an average of GBP300 each every month. Cliffe also says that the rapidly changing situation in Zimbabwe means planners of aid programmes need to reconsider how interventions are structured. For example, the dollarisation of the economy means that in many cases, cash transfers might now be preferable to food vouchers. See his comment here.

IFRC announces long term support to 600 000 in Zambezi River Basin

In Geneva, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has announced the launch of a long-term, cross-border initiative to support hundreds of thousands of chronically vulnerable people living along the Zambezi river basin in seven countries. The Zambezi River Basin Initiative is a joint programme between the Angolan, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe Red Cross Societies. It aims to support more than 600,000 people living in villages and towns along the river basin over at least the next eight years. See the press release here.

RHVP study finds cash transfers in Zambia achieve positive impacts

A study of 3 social cash transfer pilot projects in Zambia has found that cash transfers to poor households in Chipata, Kalomo and Kazungula, succeeded in improving the welfare of the recipients. The study also found that aside from buying food, recipients used some of the cash to invest in livestock, micro-enterprises, and children’s education. In addition to this, the reserach made some important findings on how such transfers should be targeted. The study represents the first comprehensive investigation into the impact of social cash transfer programmes in southern Africa outside of South Africa. The brief on the study is available here.

Seasonal hunger finally getting attention

A new book on the neglected topic of seasonal hunger, is starting to refocus international attention on the issue. After 30 years of neglect, global experts are gathering at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex this week, to discuss the problem.

The renewed attention has been sparked by a new book: Seasonal Hunger – Fighting Cycles of Quiet Starvation Among the World’s Rural Poor, by Stephen Devereux, Bapu Vaitla of Tufts University and Samuel Hauenstein Swan of NGO Action Against Hunger.

As reported by IRIN, the book points out that most of the world’s 600 million hungry and under-nourished people suffer seasonal hunger rather than effects of conflict or natural disasters, but donors and governments often treat recurring nutritional problems as one-off emergencies and this weakens their response actions.

The authors are calling on donors, governments and NGOs to put in place measures such as community-based interventions with ready-to-use foods, cash transfers and other measures to boost social safety nets, and nutritional health promotion programmes for pre-school-age children.

The book was reviewed in January on Wahenga.net.

UN Deputy Secretary-General highlights need for social protection

The Deputy Secretary General of the UN has highlighted the need for social safety nets and other social protection measures, in order to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis on Africa and least developed countries. Dr Asha-Rose Migiro was speaking in New York at a General Assembly Conference side event. Her full speech can be found here.

Call for social safety nets to protect vulnerable children in Malawi

Community based organisations in Malawi are struggling to access funding which would help them support Malawi’s most vulnerable children, according to the Regional Network for Equity in Health in East and Southern Africa (EQUINET).

IRIN reports that EQUINET has recommended the widening of community social safety nets, introducing communal farming schemes, and income-generating projects to support OVC. It also called on the government directly to address the shortages in CBO funding, and improve social protection services.

Social protection needed as 1 billion go hungry

According to a report released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation in late June, more than a billion people — a sixth of the world’s population — are now hungry. According to the FAO’s Director-General, Jacques Diouf,  100 million more people are going hungry than last year.  Diouf said this was a result of the global economic crisis, and high food prices. He called for more comprehensive social protection programs to improve food access for those in need.

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