What is the role of cash transfer programmes in achieving zero hunger in sub-Saharan Africa?


Lisa Hjelm, UNICEF Office of Research-Innocenti, February 2016

The number of people who are undernourished globally is approximately 795 million. Although there has been a significant progress with 167 million fewer hungry people over the last ten years, high levels of food insecurity has persisted in sub-Saharan Africa, where 23% of the population is still undernourished.

Tackling persistent food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa will be challenging and the aim is high. Sustainable Development Goal 2.1 target to end hunger and ensure access to food by all people by 2030. To reach the target, a multi-sectoral approach will be needed. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggest that agricultural development can reduce poverty and food insecurity more effectively when integrated with social protection. Along the same lines, it has been argued that efforts in nutrition and agriculture should be brought together with social protection as one part in accelerating improved food security and nutrition.

Cash transfers are cornerstones of social protection programmes in many countries. These programmes generally target the poorest and most vulnerable in the population, who often suffer from high levels of food insecurity. The cash transfers can impact food security in several ways. First and most directly, when households are provided with some extra money, they can buy more food and more diverse types of food. Additionally, if the transfers are regular they can reduce food gaps over the year. Finally, transfers can reduce long-term food insecurity through investments in agricultural practices or other businesses which generate income.

One example of how the cash transfer lead to improved food security is from Ethiopia where a participant in the social cash transfer pilot programme mentioned that “Before the SCTPP we used to sell our crop produce to buy pepper, coffee, and others. Now we are not selling our crops to buy these things, instead we use the cash to buy soap, coffee, school materials, and pepper. When we used to sell our crops we used to go hungry, but now we don’t need to go hungry anymore” (Evaluation of the SCTPP, Tigray region, Ethiopia)

Large impact evaluations of government-run cash transfer programmes in sub-Saharan Africa have demonstrated how cash transfers affect food security. Some of the findings from eight cash transfer programmes included in The Transfer Project have been reviewed and summarized. The review shows that all cash transfer programmes have had a positive impact on at least one dimension of food security, providing strong evidence that cash transfer programmes help reduce food insecurity.

In contrast, no impacts on food security were seen in some cases. This raises some important questions for researchers and policymakers: What was the timing of the survey in relation to the last cash transfer? Are the transfers regular and predictable enough for people to change their consumption patterns? Is the value of the transfer large enough to make an impact? For example, in Zambia where we see large impact on food security, the transfer as share of beneficiary consumption is one of the largest. When taken into consideration together with regional evidence, these non-impact findings can help to improve design and implementation of future cash transfer programmes.

Together with complementary efforts, it is clear that cash transfer programmes have a strong and important role in achieving zero hunger by 2030.

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