Zambia shows dedication to its poorest families

twenty-eight-year old Ruth Simutombo is one of the beneficiaries of the Social Cash Transfer (SCT) programme. She lives with her son Patrick and her sister’s son, Sichimwa, in Ng’andu Village in the Southern Province of Kazungula, which is where the programme first started in 2003 and that now reaches more than 240 000 households across the country.

It is late afternoon and she is slowly stirring the nshima — pap, the staple food in Zambia – while she recounts how being part of the transfer programme changed her life.

“I used to live in dire conditions. I could not afford buying my own house so we were sharing that of my grandmother’s. Now, with the money I receive every month, I moved into a new house with both children, bought them school uniforms and can pay for their school fees. Patrick wants to become a lawyer and Sichimwa a teacher … and now I can help make those dreams into reality.”

Ruth is also part of a training programme that teaches families how to save and invest money. Thanks to the new skills she learned, she was able to open a small shop in the local market that sells fruit, soft drinks and vegetables.

Ruth is just one of many examples of the positive impacts of cash transfers in the country. Working to reduce poverty levels and its intergenerational transfer, the government, through the SCT, targets labour-constrained and extremely poor households. For a household to become eligible, they must meet certain criteria, which include location of residence, proportion of household members of working age that are fit to work and welfare levels.

The main objective of the programme is to reduce extreme poverty and the intergenerational transfer of poverty. It has been operating in Zambia since 2003 and is implemented by the ministry of community development, mother and child health. Some of the positive impacts among beneficiary households include reduced poverty, increased food security, improved child wellbeing, improved living conditions and greater productivity and asset ownership.

“I will always be grateful for the support I receive,” says Poniso Mondandi from Makalanguza village while she waits in line for the 140 Kwacha (about R195) she receives every two months.

“Without the help, I wouldn’t have been able to open my small shop where I sell home-made bread buns, hats and dried vegetables. I wouldn’t have hired somebody to work on my farm or sent my grandchildren to school.”

Evidence generated by the FAO, together with UNICEF and the American Institutes for Research, shows that the programme is having positive effects across the country, increasing food security, productivity and ownership of productive assets while improving living conditions, including child wellbeing. Thanks to cash transfers, families increased the amount of land dedicated to crop production by 36%, while expenditure on materials for agriculture more than doubled. This increased the value of the harvest by almost 37%, with the production being mainly sold in local markets. Research also shows that there was an important improvement in terms of food security and an increase in the share of households owning livestock such as goats, cows and chickens.

This evidence led to major policy change in Zambia. By highlighting the impact of social cash transfers on human capital and productivity, these findings challenged the perceptions that these measures create dependency, showing that beneficiaries are not just passive recipients of aid but use the money received to invest and improve their livelihoods. As a result, cash transfer programmes are recognized more and more as being one of the most flexible and effective instruments for addressing the needs of rural populations, in particular those dependent on agriculture.

Based on these results, the Government of Zambia has recently increased the coverage of the Social Cash Transfer Programme at national level.

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