I have just returned from rural Tanzania, where I got to see one of the largest social protection programmes in Africa in action. The Productive Social Safety Net provides three types of support to poor and food insecure households: conditional cash transfers, ‘cash for work’ and livelihood enhancement.
I traveled to the Mbarali district to observe cash transfer payments in two villages- Mwaluma and Mabadaga. Located near the Zambian border, Mbarali relies largely on logging and agriculture as a source of income. Both villages are receiving the cash transfers but have not yet started receiving the public works or the livelihood enhancement components of the programme. We were able to speak to recipients about the impacts cash transfers were having on their lives.
The first recipient we interviewed was a young, vibrant woman named Magreth. The 22-year-old told us how the cash was helping to build a future for her children. As a single mother, she managed to invest in rice farming and eventually purchased a pig. She showed us one of the new piglets and mentioned holding off on any sales until the animals grew in order to fetch a better price at the market. The steady, reliable income from Productive Social Safety Nets allows her to delay immediate sales in order to bargain for a better price later.
Despite her old age and disability, Evelina, another recipient of the programme, shared how the cash allowed her to invest in a small business selling prepared food. Despite her lack of mobility, she excitedly told us about being able to eat three meals a day using her cash transfer. She told us that money from the cash transfer gave her independence, and that she finally feels good about herself.
The final recipient we interviewed was a father with several girls at home, all attending school. He was proud to show everyone the goats he had amassed in part from the cash he received as a recipient of the support.
I have been researching the impacts of cash transfers in Africa since 2010. Prior to that, rigorous evidence and research around cash transfers was largely drawn from Latin American countries. However, evidence on cash transfers in Africa has been growing and can now be used to inform programming in the continent.
The reason we conduct research is to see if a given programme is working to improve the lives of people, and if not, how it can be improved or replaced. You may be interested in how the programme works to improve multiple outcomes e.g. health, nutrition, agricultural output or maternal health. The big outcome of interest in this field is how to alleviate long term poverty, or even to ‘break the inter-generational cycle of poverty’, but that is very complex and nuanced. We can answer an easier question: What is the cash being spent on?
As a researcher who spends most of her time working with numbers, percentages and p-values, getting out to the field to see people benefiting from a programme is immensely satisfying. I could have told you before this trip that recipients of cash transfers are spending money on goats and other livestock and not alcohol or tobacco, or that more children are typically enrolled in school thanks to the cash being provided to their caregivers. However, we also know that cash transfers are not a “silver bullet” – they cannot solve every problem.
Tanzania is at a turning point. The health and social advancements over the last 50 years have increased life expectancy, decreased child mortality and morbidity and resulted in over 80% enrolment in primary school. These triumphs, coupled with an enduringly high fertility rate, have left Tanzania with an exploding population.
Cash transfers will not be enough for everyone. Not all recipients are as innovative as young Magreth. Some will need support to help them manage money, to think long term about savings and investing and to help plan a successful business. Furthermore, empowering youth to reach their full productive potential is an essential component of Tanzania harnessing what is known as the “demographic dividend.”
Despite the obvious successes of the programme, the message was strong: youth need opportunities. They are engaging in risky behaviors due to lack of opportunities, getting married young, having children young. Currently, youth are overlooked in the PSSN, where messaging is focused on nutrition and schooling for young children. The programme is making a bold move by adding the public works and livelihoods enhancement components to their social protection plan. Ensuring these measures adequately involve youth, as well as increasing youth-focused programming on sexual and reproductive health may prevent the next generations from needing similar poverty-alleviation assistance.