From cash to independence in Malawi

Selovana Phiri was able to buy her bicucle thanks to the Social Cash Transfer Programme. (Photo: FAO/Amos Gumulira)

Selovana Phiri was able to buy her bicucle thanks to the Social Cash Transfer Programme. (Photo: FAO/Amos Gumulira)

Namaketa Nasoni, from Chimteka Village in Mchinji District, Malawi, a mother of five children, has been a widow since her husband died three years ago. Since then, she went without the income needed to feed her children or pay school fees for her firstborn child who is in secondary school, and three others in primary school. Her difficulties were compounded when, during the rainy season, her house was blown away by strong winds.

Life was very hard for Nasoni before she started receiving a cah transfer, thorugh Mtukula Pakhomo (Chichewa for “empowering the household”), which started as a pilot project in Mchinji District in 2006.

The Malawian government, through the SCTP, provides monthly cash transfers to ultrapoor and labour-constrained households, with the intention of alleviating poverty and encouraging school attendance. In Mchinji there are moe than 45 000 beneficiaries, and 70% of the beneficiary households are female-headed. In total, the SCTP is serving more than 150 000 households and 665 000 beneficiaries.

Since Nasoni started receiving the monthly cash transfers under the SCTP, her life changed, as she was able to buy food for her children and essential household items. “Before I started receiving cash transfers, I used to lack a lot of things. But now, I am able to buy food for my family — I bought a bicycle, plates and a blanket”, Nasoni explains.

In Zomba, in the northern part of Malawi, Florida, 62, and Mifa, 5,are neighbours staying in the same homestead, both benefitting from the SCTP. While Florida is taking care of five grandchildren, Mifa is the head of a multigenerational household of five people, including her chronically ill sister and daughter, and one granddaughter. Prior to the cash transfer Mifa and Florida could not sustain themselves and their dependants on subsistence farming alone. According to its size and the number of school-going children in their household, Florida and Mifa receive monthly cash transfers of 3 700 Kwacha (R70) per month, plus a school bonus of 500 Kwacha (R9.50) for each child going to primary school and 1 000 (R18.70) Kwacha for each child going to secondary school.

“My life has changed after receiving the transfer. I was able to pay school fees and buy food for my grandchildren”, says Florida. She perceived a significant change in her life after she received the very first transfer. “The transfers helped me to take care of my sister and daughter, who are both suffering from epilepsy. Before I accessed the transfers, I was often not able to get essential drugs and enough food to feed them,” says Mifa. In the long term, both women are planning to improve their houses and further enable their children and grandchildren to attend school.

Towards saving

The intervention goes beyond the cash transfer, however. Nasoni is also member of the Tigwirizane Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group in her village, a self-managed community-based group providing access to basic financial services. VSL groups are usually composed of 10 to 20 self-selected individuals who meet weekly to save and take small loans from the group savings.

VSL members pay monthly interest at a rate determined by the group. After approximately 12 months, all savings and interest earnings are shared out among all members, based on a formula that links the payout to the individual amount saved.

The VSL concept was introduced in Mchinji District by Save the Children International in 2012. The aim of the project is to link SCTP beneficiaries to informal financial services and to strengthen their general level of resilience. Programmes of this kind are key in allowing SCTP beneficiaries in future to graduate from the programme and become self-sufficient.

Nasoni saves part of the transfer that she receives under the SCTP with the VSL group. “Sometimes I save 100 Kwacha (R1.90) per week, other times 200 Kwacha (R3.75). When times are good I even save 1 000 Kwacha (R18.70),” she says, “and after one year, we share the money and I once received 10 400 Kwacha (R195). My plan is to build a better house with this money. I have already moulded bricks for this project. I plan to mould 4 000 bricks.”

In addition to being part of the VSL group, Nasoni uses part of the SCTP transfer money for a small business selling groundnuts in her community. The proceeds are used to further support her children.

Florida is confident that one day she will no longer need the programme, and give other needy community members the chance to benefit from the SCTP. “I want to invest part of the transfers into my house and enable my grandchildren to access education, so that they can take care of me once I am old”.