Improving Children’s Nutrition through Cash Transfers to Poor Mothers

December 17, 2014

Photo Credit: Biplob

  • Bangladesh made remarkable success in poverty reduction over the last decades. In the last decade only, Bangladesh has reduced poverty by one-third but it still accounts for 6 percent of the world’s poor population.
  • The Income Support Program for the Poorest (ISPP) project will benefit 10% of the extremely poor population.
  • The project will provide income support to about 600,000 poorest mothers for participating in activities aimed to improve their children's nutrition and cognitive development.

Despite Bangladesh’s remarkable record in reducing poverty, the presence of high numbers of extremely poor people poses a daunting development challenge for the Government. Bangladesh has successfully reduced child and maternal mortality, but the country still remains among the 10 countries with highest prevalence of malnutrition: 41% children below the age of 5 are stunted, according to the World Health Organization.

Well targeted and implemented conditional cash transfers have a significant impact on reducing poverty and improving nutrition levels. To support this, the World Bank approved the US$300.00 million Income Support Program for the Poorest (ISPP) Project, along with two other projects on December 16, 2014. Based on the pilot initiative called ‘Shombhob’, ISPP aims to provide conditional cash transfers to the 600,000 poorest mothers with the objective of reducing their consumption poverty while improving their children's nutrition and cognitive development. The project will benefit 10% of the poorest, or 2.7 million people in 42 of the poorest Upazilas in the country.  


Well-designed safety nets can improve child health and nutrition outcomes, while contributing to poverty reduction goals. The Government of Bangladesh currently spends over 14 percent of its budget on over 100 safety net programs. But only a negligible amount of the budget supports programs that aim to improve maternal and child nutrition and cognitive development.

The Union Parishads (local governments) responsible for implementation of most social safety nets suffer from weak administration capacity. They do not receive any administrative budget for carrying out there activities. Nor do the ministries that implement various safety nets coordinate at the local union level. Thus setting up common administrative platforms at the union level for safety net beneficiary identification, enrolment, and payment can fill the critical gap in the implementation of social safety nets.


Ensuring adequate nutrition prenatally and in the first two years of life helps to maximize a child’s intelligence and brain development. Cognitive development in the first five years of life is critically important to boosting the earning capacity of children when they grow up, and prevent poverty form being passed on to next generation. The ISPP will provide income support to the poorest mothers if they participate in activities aimed to improve their children's nutrition and cognitive development. The project will cover 42 poorest in Upazilas in Northern Bangladesh that lags behind in nutrition indicators.

Pregnant women and mothers of children below 5 years from extremely poor households will be eligible to participate in the project. By fulfilling their responsibilities, the participating mothers will receive cash transfers electronically into their own post office accounts using smart cash cards. Mothers will receive payment for fulfilling the following co-responsibilities:

i) pregnant mothers need to ensure four antenatal care visits;
ii) mothers will be required to regularly monitor their child’s growth - height and weight; as well as attend child nutrition and development education sessions every month.

Working with the local government division, the project will support local level government institutions to help implement these cash transfers. It will also improve the coordination among safety net programs at the local level by building common administrative platforms. For example, the project will help the Union Parishads to implement biometric-enabled enrolment and electronic cash payments.

The project aims to break the cycle that binds poor children to poor nutrition and cognitive deficiencies that in turn prevent them from reaching their full potential as adults. Further, strong administrative systems at the local level will ensure safety nets are supporting the poor rural women to improve their financial inclusion and literacy, and thereby have a transformational impact on their empowerment.

Desired Results:

  • The project will provide conditional cash transfers to 600,000 of the poorest mothers for improving their children’s nutrition.
  • Better monitoring of age wise growth and improved nutrition and cognitive development of children below the age of five belonging to participating poor households.
  • The unions would maintain a single beneficiary registry of at least five safety net programs to ensure accurate monitoring of safety net beneficiaries.
  • Introduction of smart cash card would ensure that the right person is receiving payment in the right amount.