In Madagascar, safety net programs promote nutrition, early childhood development, support productive activities of the poor

September 19, 2016

The Government of Madagascar, with support from the World Bank's Fund for the Poorest (IDA), provides more than 80,000 poor households with regular cash transfers while promoting nutrition, early childhood development, school attendance of children and productive activities of families. More than 75% of cash recipients are women. Initial reports show children’s primary school attendance rates improved to 97%.


Amid effects of a political crisis and weakened governance, agro-climatic instability, and an unfolding food security crisis, the Malagasy population is falling deeper into poverty and is increasingly unable to cope with exogenous shocks and daily life. With a stagnant economy for the last 30 years, Madagascar has become one of the poorest countries in the world, with close to 80 percent of the population (almost 19 million people) living below $1.90 per day and an estimated 70 percent of the population is extremely poor.

Food security and nutrition remain a primary concern as half of children under 5 years of age suffer from stunting. Repeated climatic shocks, the latest caused by the El Nino phenomenon, have brought severe droughts to the southern region while floods are affecting northern region of the country, increasing risks to the populatoin.

These factors, combined with high malnutrition and low school attendance, create an environment prime for the intergenerational transmission of poverty.


The Government of Madagascar, with support from the World Bank's Fund for the Poorest (IDA), has set up two safety net programs: 

  • The  Human Development (conditional) Cash Transfer (HDCT) program for 40,000 households with children ages 0 - 12, linked to primary school attendance and promoting early childhood development and nutrition of young children including through a behavioral design approach; and 
  • The Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) which provides a reliable source of income for 32,000 participating households (50% of which are female) through cash for work activities designed to enhance communities’ climate resilience through, for example, landscape management through terracing, organic soil improvement, and anti-erosion measures such as reforestation and/or water conservation.  


Through the conditional cash transfer scheme, beneficiaries in Madagascar receive regular cash support.

Photo by Mohamad Al-Arief/ World Bank

The safety net programs include several important innovations:

  • As part of the Human Development Cash Transfer program, women beneficiaries are elected as “mother leaders” and receive “training for trainers” on topics such as leadership, citizen engagement, early childhood stimulation, nutrition, family planning and health practices which they then share with other beneficiaries in regular meetings that also include cultural activities (singing, dancing, story-telling etc.);
  • Support for women’s self-affirmation and financial planning through behavioral interventions. These fun and collaborative sessions are implemented directly before mothers receive the payments, every two months. They are designed to focus the beneficiaries’ attention on the longer-term well-being of their families, linking lessons from the training directly to decisions related to the spending of cash transfers.
  • The Productive Safety Net program includes behavioral nudging on payday that enhance thinking about savings and future investments. Beneficiaries are also being asked to take time planning their own productive “project” with some orientation in ‘business development”.
  • The safety net programs are accompanied by rigorous impact evaluations that measure the effects of the transfers as well as the behavioral interventions, with the objective to inform future policy making in social protection in Madagascar. 


The conditional cash transfer program ensures children from poor and vulnerable households attend school.

Photo by Mohamad Al-Arief / World Bank


The safety net programs cover 500,000 extreme poor people, mostly women and children

  • At least 75% of cash benefits go directly to women
  • School attendance rate of beneficiary children is 97%
  • Expected increase in food consumption and food diversity, especially for young children
  • 32,000 households participating in regular cash for work activities
  • 2,000 groups organized through elected Mother Leader
  • Design and implementation of two randomized control trial Impact Evaluations for each of the safety net programs
  • Building a national beneficiary registry for social safety net beneficiaries


Georgette and other women in her community have regular meetings to learn about best practices for their children's health, education and nutrition.

Mohamad Al Arief/ World Bank

Bank Group Contribution

The Madagascar Social Safety Net Project (SSNP) supports the establishment and expansion of the mentioned safety net programs as well as a disaster response fund through a credit of $40 million from the World Bank's Fund for the Poorest (IDA).

In addition, $450,000 is funded through the Rapid Social Response Program, where the World Bank is supporting the government in developing closer links between the country’s nutrition agenda and safety nets, using behavioral designs, training and complementary activities in the implementation of the safety net programs. 


The programs implemented by the Intervention Fund for Development (FID) and the Ministry of Population, Social Protection and Promotion of Women (MPSPPW), the latter of which is in charge of overall coordination, monitoring and evaluation of the country’s social protection policy. Collaboration with the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture and the National Nutrition Office is a key element of implementation.

To enhance the impacts of the cash transfers, the World Bank team is collaborating with a team of behavioral economists that is advising the implementing agencies in designing a set of behavioral science “nudges” - subtle adjustments, including the incorporation of plan-making and positive psychology - as part of the HDCT program to link cash transfers to the promotion of self-affirmation and enhance perception of beneficiaries’ agency.

Finally, UNICEF is building on the human development cash transfer program and is providing additional financing to provide complementary cash transfers for lower secondary students.

Moving Forward

The government of Madagascar has requested additional financing to provide cash transfers as an early recovery response to the recent drought caused by El Nino that’s affecting the southern region of the country. The regular cash transfers given to beneficiaries will be combined with enhanced nutritional services as well as livelihood recovery grants to restart their livelihood and as a source of income.

The Government of Madagascar is also asking development partners to consider and/or increase their engagement in safety net programs with complementary activities that invest in human capital of the extreme poor. Enhancing the nexus between agriculture, nutrition and social protection, and understanding the importance of investing in early childhood development, is a key axis in the next stage of a multi-sectoral strategy to poverty reduction. 

Last Updated: Sep 19, 2016