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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Cash Transfers Transforming Lives of the Poor

Ntandoyenkosi Ncube

JOHANNESBURG, May 12 2010 (IPS) - When Letesia Mbewe was nominated as a beneficiary in a cash transfer pilot project in Zambia’s Chipata district, she had no idea the project would change her life and that of her three children.

Cash transfers in Southern Africa have transformed the lives of the poor, who can now purchase food and grain for their families. Credit: Ntandoyenkosi Ncube

Cash transfers in Southern Africa have transformed the lives of the poor, who can now purchase food and grain for their families. Credit: Ntandoyenkosi Ncube

Mbewe, who spent most of her days tilling the fields struggling to earn enough to pay for one meal a day for her family, can now afford three meals a day. She can also send her children to school.

But Mbewe is not the only one to benefit from cash transfers. According to a 2009 World Bank report titled “Conditional Cash Transfer: Reducing Present and Future Poverty”, cash transfers have led to many positive results in poor communities. These include: higher household consumption; increased use of preventive health services; a reduction in child labour; and higher school enrolment.

“In the morning I go to draw water from the well. From there I prepare food for the school-going children. I prepare porridge for them. After they have eaten they go to school. Then I also go to the field where I do some farming,” Mbewe said of her new daily routine in a documentary produced by the Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP).

RHVP is a Johannesburg-based research organisation which supports improvements in policy and programme approaches to hunger and vulnerability in SADC.

The documentary titled: “A Transfer Out of Poverty”, released during a media workshop in Johannesburg in April, illustrates how cash transfers pilot projects are transforming conditions of poor communities in Zambia, Mozambique and in Lesotho where social transfers are in form of Old Age pensions.

“When I receive the transfer the first thing I do is to buy two bags of maize, which I take to hammer mills to grind into mealie meal. Then I also look into the needs of (my) children who are going to school. This involves buying books, buying uniforms and (paying) any other fees that the school may be asking for,” Mbewe said.

According to RHVP, in Southern Africa where traditional response to hunger has been to treat it as an emergency food aid, governments are developing social protection policies to protect, promote and transform the livelihoods and welfare of the poorest households.

In March 2004 SADC government representatives signed the Livingstone Declaration in Zambia that recognises social protection as a right and encourages governments to come up with plans – and budgets – for their own national social protection plans.

This comes in form of conditional and non-conditional cash transfer programs, where the responsibility for breaking out of poverty is shared by the state and poor households can reduce poverty both in the short and long term, particularly when supported by donor communities.

“Social cash transfers are being seen in policy circles as a highly effective instrument for combating poverty,” said Thilde Stevens, acting chief director of Monitoring and Evaluation at the South African department of social development.

The Chipata pilot project is implemented by Zambia’s Public Welfare Assistance Scheme in partnership CARE International. Before the project Chipata was one Zambia’s districts that was highly affected by poverty, with over 20 percent of the population living below the poverty line.

“When we started interacting with the beneficiaries it was very clear that these people were living on begging. Most of the children were not going to school because the parents could not afford (to) and also because there was no food. Also, children were involved in trading because they (would) do anything that could help them earn a living,” CARE International Social Cash Transfers Development coordinator, Alfred Chibinga said.

“With the coming of the social cash transfer we have seen an increased number of these children, who were involved with trading, going back to school,” Chibinga said.

RHVP policy coordinator, John Rook, said cash transfers or social transfers can take the form of cash, food, agricultural input like seeds or fertiliser, assets like livestock or tools, or some sort of combination of these. But more and more, the attention is on cash transfers.

“It is important that cash transfers are regular and predictable for instance a specific amount paid every month, or every three months. Whatever it is, it must be regular. And predictable – people must be able to know when the transfers will come and the amount they will be getting,” Rook told IPS.

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