Pulitzer Fellow Reports on Progress of Malawi Cash-Transfer Program

August 20, 2013

Kerstin Egenhofer, a BU School of Public Health student studying international health, has chosen the cash transfer program in Malawi for her first project as a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Malawi’s cash transfer program provides small direct payments of cash — usually the equivalent of $5-15 monthly, depending on various factors — to the country’s poorest households. Its effectiveness has been studied by several teams of BUSPH researchers, including one led by Candace Miller, a BUSPH assistant professor of international health at the Center for Global Health & Development

Miller’s team found that the modest, highly-targeted infusions of cash improve the quality of life for the families who receive them, as well as helps stimulate the local economy. Data from village groups in the Mchinji district of Malawi was examined to determine the program’s affect on the economy. Researchers found that the cash payments to poor families stimulated business at local groceries and trading centers, conntributed to increased food production, and even helped other poor families in the area through the hiring of labor for small jobs, or via loans, food and gifts.

Egenhofer interviewed cash-transfer reciepients in the village of Khombedza, a 40-minute drive from the shores of Lake Malawi and two hours east of the nation’s capital, Lilongwe. In the town, Egenhofer learned, many residents support themselves by farming or finding temporary day work:

“When Martias Sayimon swings himself onto his bicycle he shows no sign of his heavy limp. The 35-year-old Malawian cruises past women selling tomatoes along the main road in Khombedza and market stalls where whole grilled goats are on display. As he comes to a turnoff that leads down a winding dirt path he pulls over, pausing to call out greetings to friends.

Sayimon is the local chairperson of a cash transfer program in this rural Malawian village. Part of his job is to oversee the distribution of a small monthly payment to a cluster of ultra-poor households. Sometimes, like today, he also makes house calls. With his bicycle he travels around the village to see how the neediest families in this community are faring. It takes about 10 minutes for him to get to Monica Nagwengwe’s home. Nagwengwe smiles when she sees him coming.

Nagwengwe, 30, has few possessions besides the roof over her head, some cooking utensils, and a cane sleeping mat. She shares everything with her own four children and two of her sister’s children she took in after her sister died. The household of seven receives a cash transfer of 2,200 kwacha, approximately US $7, per month. After greeting Sayimon she takes a seat on the freshly swept ground in front of her home and lists the large and small changes in her life since she started receiving the cash transfer. “We can buy soap and things for our daily needs,” she says. “And my children are going to school.”

Read the full story at the Huffington Post