BRIEF

Niger: Can cash transfers and parenting training improve early childhood development?

October 3, 2016



More than half of the people in Niger can’t count on regular meals and half of all children are stunted from malnutrition. The Government of Niger is using cash transfers and parenting training to try to improve food security as well as nutrition and early childhood development. Researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of this program on households’ food security, as well as on the nutrition and development of children under five.

Research area: Early Childhood Nutrition, Development, and Health

Country: Niger

Evaluation Sample: 150 clusters of poor villages in two regions of Niger (Dosso and Maradi)

Timeline: 2012 - 2016

Intervention: Unconditional cash transfers, parenting training

Researchers: Patrick Premand, World Bank; Oumar Barry, FLSH-UCAD Dakar; Marc-Francois Smitz, Cellule Filets Sociaux; Charles M. Super, UCONN Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Marian Zeitlin, Tufts University

Partners: ‎United Nations Children’s FundNational Statistical Agency, NigerUniversity of Connecticut, Department of Human Development and Family Studies; CRAMS: Centre de recherche action par la médiation sociale, NigerSwiss Tropical and Public Health InstituteRiseal

 

Proper nutrition and psycho-social stimulation is critical for the physical and cognitive development of young children. Many programs in sub-Saharan Africa have provided short-term responses to food crises. Families need sustained programs to become more resilient and ensure that children get the nutrition they need year round to thrive. Conditional cash transfers have proven successful in reducing poverty, improving health check-ups for children and school attendance, but they can be hard to implement in countries where the supply of health and education services is lagging behind. In West Africa, policymakers are increasingly relying on unconditional cash transfers combined with accompanying measures designed to encourage households to invest in their children’s human capital. In Niger, cash transfers are being twinned with accompanying measures seeking to encourage parents to improve the nutrition, health and psycho-social development of their children. The evaluation will help policymakers understand whether unconditional cash transfers can be an effective tool to boost food consumption and nutrition, and to what extent accompanying measures provide value-added and further encourage investments in children’s development.

Context

Niger, a landlocked country of about 17 million in sub-Saharan Africa, faces severe challenges in early childhood nutrition and development. About three quarters of the people in the country live on less than US $2 per day. In addition, the fertility rate is one of the highest in the world (7.6 children per woman) and half the country’s children are stunted because of malnutrition. In 2011, the Government of Niger, with support from the World Bank and UNICEF, established a safety net program to combat poverty and food insecurity. Among other things, the program combines cash transfers targeted to women in poor rural households with bi-weekly informational meetings and home visits on nutrition, health, child protection and psycho-social stimulation. The government plans to reach 80,000 households, more than 500,000 people, by 2017. This impact evaluation will measure the program’s effectiveness, giving the government evidence it can use in implementing the program and for future scale-up.

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Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank

Intervention and Evaluation Details

The evaluation is focused on two components of the Niger safety net program:

Unconditional cash transfers: The program is geographically targeted to the poorest communes of the country. Within participating villages, data is collected from all households and a poverty targeting formula is applied to establish a list of the poorest households, which is later validated by the community. Women in the poorest households receive US $20 a month for two years.

Accompanying measures to encourage parenting practices conducive to Early Childhood Development: All women in beneficiary villages are invited to attend monthly village assemblies on childhood nutrition, hygiene, health and stimulation, and other issues related to healthy development. Village assemblies are delivered by a local non-governmental organization working in the field of childhood nutrition and health. In addition, two other monthly activities seek to boost knowledge of parenting skills and nutrition: a small group meeting for up to 25 beneficiaries; and home visits for each beneficiary. These additional activities are delivered by a community educator. While cash transfers beneficiaries are invited to attend these activities, the cash transfer is not conditional on their participation. In practice, however, over 90% of program beneficiaries participate, along with many non-beneficiaries in program villages.

Evaluation

The evaluation uses a multi-arms randomized design. The program’s initial phase targeted the regions of Dosso and Maradi in southern Niger, which together account for about 40 percent of the country’s poor. For the evaluation, eligible villages were grouped into clusters of around 150 households. One hundred and fifty clusters were randomly selected by public lottery for the program. These clusters were randomly placed into one of three groups of 50: a control group that didn’t receive any intervention, a group that receives cash transfers, and a group that receives cash transfers and the package of accompanying measures to encourage parenting practices conducive to Early Childhood Development.

Before the beginning of the program, a baseline survey collected a broad range of data on households, women of child-bearing age and children younger than five years old, with a focus on food security, nutrition, as well as child nutrition, health and cognitive development. A follow-up survey two years later, just before a family leaves the program, will collect similar data. A separate study will assess the quality of implementation, and cost data will also be assembled.

By comparing the outcomes of clusters in the two treatment groups and the control group, researchers can estimate the impact of the cash transfers, as well as the value-added of the parenting training on childhood development indicators.

Policy Impact

Unconditional cash transfers with accompanying measures are increasingly popular in low-income settings where conditional cash transfer programs are very hard to put in place. The results of this evaluation can help inform a broader rollout of the program in Niger, as well as provide evidence for other countries in sub-Saharan Africa seeking to implement similar programs. In addition, the evaluation will illustrate the types of complementarities that can be obtained by combining a cash transfer program with a parenting training module seeking to promote holistic early childhood development.