Two of the most chronically food insecure districts in Zimbabwe are Binga and Kariba. More than 40,000 people in these areas often cannot acquire nutritionally adequate foods during the lean season, contributing to nearly a third of the nation’s child population suffering from chronic malnourishment. When the harvests or rains are bad, Save the Children typically delivers U.S. food commodities (cereals, oil, and pulses) to feed vulnerable families through the UN World Food Programme. In the lean season of 2014, we tried something different.
In October 2014, through a USAID Emergency Food Security Program, funded by Food For Peace, we transferred cash to more than 6,700 food insecure households (around 30,250 people) using a mobile phone network system for six months.
Participants who could work were required to attend either a cash-for- training or cash-for-work activity one day a week throughout the growing season (carefully timed not to interfere with planning or harvesting times). In addition to receiving immediate hunger relief, participants were trained to use conservation agriculture techniques or helped restore or build community-chosen assets such as diptanks for livestock and community gardens. A small subset of households—typically led by disabled, pregnant, or elderly individuals— received unconditional mobile cash transfers.
Based on five focus groups held with 94 participants, the use of mobile money had three main outcomes for the targeted families.
Cash transfers, primarily via the mobile service provider EcoNet, made getting food quickly easier, made connecting with others easier, and put food decision-making power in the palm of the participants’ hands.