A New Approach to Social Protection in Madagascar Empowers the Poor to Help Themselves

October 28, 2014


On September 29, President Hery Rajaonarimampianina launched a social safety net pilot program which targets 5,000 of Madagascar’s poorest households. 

@ Felana Rajaonarivelo

  • Over the past several years, natural disasters and a prolonged political crisis have hampered Madagascar’s efforts to reduce poverty
  • More than 13 million Malagasy people, or 60% of the population, lack adequate resources to meet the daily food intake of 2,100 calories, resulting in widespread malnutrition
  • 5,000 households currently benefit from a Conditional Cash Transfer pilot program that delivered its first payment to selected families on September 29, 2014

ANTANANARIVO, October 28, 2014 - Arinesta is a carpenter and a father of 5 children living in the Ampanihy district, in southwest Madagascar. Five years ago, Cyclone Haruna swept through Arinesta’s region causing landslides and flooding. It also drove many families already living in precarious situations into a food crisis and extreme poverty, limiting the small spending power they did have. Artisans like Arinesta have been left jobless since, as the population can no longer afford to buy furniture.

“I had to sell my assets and reduce my food expenses in order to cope with the situation. In the past, we had cassava for lunch and rice for diner. Now, we eat cassava for both meals and skip breakfast,” laments Arinesta.

According to the March 2014 Poverty, Gender, and Inequality Assessment (PGIA) report, about 60% of the country’s population lives in extreme poverty. Arinesta and his family are part of the 13 million Malagasy who cannot meet the daily food intake of 2,100 calories.

" Sometimes people mistake social protection for aid. In fact, from the perspective of a country’s development, a strategic and targeted social protection policy allows the poor to help themselves. It gives them the means to become productive members of society and thus contribute to the local economy. "

Coralie Gevers

World Bank Country Manager for Madagascar

While poverty levels have always been high in the country, the situation has taken a turn for the worse over the last several years. Natural disasters in some regions combined with socioeconomic effects of the 2009 to 2013 political crisis are the predominant causes. With health and nutritional needs becoming increasingly acute, it is clear that the few social protection programs that currently exist are grossly insufficient to support the population.

In Madagascar, public expenditures for social protection remain extremely low, even when compared to African countries. For instance, spending for social protection in nine other African countries represented 4.4% of GDP in 2007, with a rising trend over the last decade. This figure was only 1.5% in 2008 in Madagascar, one year before the political crisis which rolled back public expenditures for social protection to 1.1% in 2010 (In absolute numbers, expenditures for social protection decreased from USD 145 million in 2008 to USD 56 million in 2010).

In addition, the composition of these expenditures has completely changed since the beginning of the crisis. Since 2009, they have almost exclusively consisted of payments toward a public pension fund, sharply reducing expenditures for social protection, namely in the areas of social safety net programs.

However, since the first half of 2014, newly appointed authorities have demonstrated a keen commitment to this sector.

“Going forward, I commit to making social protection in Madagascar a lever for growth and a tool to reduce social inequalities, both of which are critical for political stability and indispensable conditions for the future of the country,” declared President Hery Rajaonarimampianina during an international forum on social protection in May 2014 in Antananarivo.

Under the patronage of President Rajaonarimampianina, this high-level meeting was attended by members of government, as well as national and international experts, and representatives of non-governmental organizations and development partners working in social protection-related activities. Patricia Vieira da Costa, Deputy Secretary for Extreme Poverty Eradication of the Government of  Brazil, presented the example of her country which allocates 0.46% of its budget to social protection, supporting one of the world’s largest Conditional Cash Transfer Programs, the Bolsa Familia. According to Vieira da Costa, each dollar invested in this sector contributes to an increase of $ 1.7 in the country’s GDP.

Following the forum, a social protection policy development process was launched, led by the Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Women’s Promotion, with support from development partners, including the World Bank. Minister Eleonore Johasy intends to complete the first draft of the country’s future social protection policy by the end of 2014.

For the World Bank, social protection policies have the ability to create equity and promote opportunity. “Sometimes people mistake social protection for aid. In fact, from the perspective of a country’s development, a strategic and targeted social protection policy allows the poor to help themselves. It gives them the means to become productive members of society and thus contribute to the local economy,” highlights Coralie Gevers, World Bank Country Manager for Madagascar.

In light of this, the World Bank is supporting the preparation of a new social safety net project for the poorest households, which includes a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program for families that count among the extreme poor. The objective of this new type of social safety net program is twofold: it will provide extremely poor families with short term income support while encouraging their children’s school enrollment and attendance, and will promote the use of nutritious food and child-suitable feeding practices. The project also includes a short term employment program for disaster affected households so that they don’t have to sell their assets to cope with the crisis, as was the case for Arinesta.

Currently there are 5,000 households from Betafo (in the Vakinankaratra region) benefiting from a pilot program launched by the President Hery Rajaonarimampianina on September 29, 2014. In total, 16,000 students will benefit from an operation called « Vatsin’Ankohonana » (Family Grant), implemented by the Development Intervention Fund (FID), in collaboration with the Ministry of Population, Social Protection, and Women’s Promotion, the Ministry of Education, and the National Nutrition Office (ONN). Its extension is planned for July 2015 and will be based on the outcomes of an evaluation and lessons learned from the pilot program.

“We want to support the Government of Madagascar as it changes its approach to social protection, moving from an emergency driven approach to a developmental approach. This transition will help establish a reliable social safety net system for the poorest and the most vulnerable households,” says Andrea Vermehren, Lead Social Protection Specialist at the World Bank.