Author: Lene Poulsen and Danielle Fabre
The Project ‘Cash Transfer to Protect Blanket Feeding’ in Niger was launched by UNICEF in June 2010. The Project was a direct response to the growing evidence that blanket supplementary feeding rations distributed to children of 6 to 23 months of age in food insecure communities were consumed by older children as well and in many cases all household members. The effectiveness of the blanket feeding to reduce the extremely high acute malnutrition among young children was thus challenged.
To ensure a quick response and recognizing that markets were well functioning in Niger, the Cash Transfer modality was chosen as the best intervention mechanism to protect the blanket feeding in communities located at a maximum distance of 10 kilometers to the nearest food market. The Project complements other projects distributing protection rations in communities with no immediate market access. The size of the protection rations were determined to cover the food needs of an average household identified as 7 persons. To provide consistency between the different protection interventions, the amount of cash to be transferred to households receiving blanket feeding was determined at 20,000 FCFA per month corresponding to the value of the protection ration rations.
The Project was implemented in the departments of Koni and Illela in the Tahoua region and the Tessaoua department in the Maradi region. Two international NGOs were sub-contracted to implement the Project: CARE in Koni and Illela, and Save the Children in Tessaoua. CARE and Save the Children were already involved in the distribution of Blanket Feeding distribution and had experience with cash transfer activities to respond to food insecurity in the three departments. In total, the Project distributed 60,000 FCFA to 35,000 households from September until December 2010.
The Project was implemented under the overall supervision of the National Scheme for the Prevention and Management of Food Crises, DNPGCA, which is the national coordinating body for all partners active in food security, including UNICEF and line ministries. To facilitate project monitoring, UNICEF subcontracted the national Food Market Information System, SIMA, and the national Statistical Institute, INS to prepare market and post distribution monitoring surveys. In addition, INS was contracted to prepare focus group discussions in the communities targeted by the Project to allow a qualitative assessment of perceptions of the cash transfer initiative. To strengthen national capacity, the Project included activities to provide the DNPGCA structures at central and sub-regional and regional levels with the skills for coordination, targeting and monitoring cash transfers in emergencies.
The direct objective of the Project was to ensure proper use of blanket feeding and the outcome was that 32,000 households with at least one child younger than 2 years would use the blanket feeding for the targeted children. Considering the concern for the very young children, cash was also transferred to pregnant and breastfeeding women in the same communities.
According to the Terms of Reference (TOR, annex 5.1) the objective of the Final Evaluation is to assess the relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, and sustainability of cash transfers by UNICEF and its partners in the emergency response in Niger in 2010. More specifically, the Evaluation seeks to assess 1/the impact of cash transfers on the use of BF within the households and as an alternative to protection rations, 2/the efficiency and effectiveness of the Project approach to cash transfer, and 3/the likelihood that cash transfers can be applied effectively in the future by local and national stakeholders. Special attention will be given to the role of women and men and the respect of a right-based approach.
The major target groups of the findings, conclusions, and recommendations of the Evaluation are UNICEF, CCA and the regional and sub-regional committees, CARE, SC, and the different groupings in Niger with a stake in cash transfers for emergency.
The Evaluation was carried out in December and January 2010 / 11 and included a two-week stay in Niger for visits to Niamey and Project locations in Tessaoua, Koni, and Illéla. The Evaluation program was very well organized by UNICEF in collaboration with CARE and SC who also provided transport and other logistical support. The organization ensured a smooth and focused evaluation exercise. The Evaluation appreciated the great support provided by UNICEF Niger and found it very useful to have the HQ focal point in Niger during the Evaluation. As the consultants recruited for the Project management and administration had already left when the Evaluation took place, telephone interviews were organized at a later stage to provide additional information.
The Evaluation has considered the following key activities involved in the Project:
• Distribution of Blanket Feeding, Cash, and Protection Rations,
• Capacity Development,
• Harmonization, alignment, and coordination with local and national initiatives, incl. coherence with development activities,
• Capacity Development, and
• Awareness raising and advocacy.
During the Evaluation’s visit to Tessaoua, Illéla, and Konni, interviews were held with field staff of implementing partners (CARE and SC), UNICEF field staff, representatives of regional and sub-regional committees (CR and CRS), trader representatives, cash handlers and other agents involved in the cash distribution, women beneficiaries of the cash, as well communities having received cash.
The field visits were complemented by interviews with implementing partners in Niamey, UNICEF staff, representatives from the national authorities (CCA and SAP), SIMA, and INS. Moreover, the Evaluation had interviews with other INGOSs involved in cash transfer initiatives in Niger and participated in a general presentation of Cash transfer experience in Niger organized by DG ECHO and OFDA and met other partners such as FEWS NET. Annex 5.8 presents resource persons who have informed the Evaluation.
In addition, the Evaluation has been informed by background documentation: project documents, progress reports, and other relevant documentation provided by UNICEF, SC, and CARE. Of special interest have been the Post Distribution Monitoring (PDM) reports as well as reports from the Focus Group Discussions organized by INS at the end of the third and last distribution with BF beneficiaries and other community members. The PDM surveys used a stratified random sample of households, representative at the level of the two project areas in Tahoua and Maradi, and at the level of two types of assistance analyzed: Cash and BF protection rations. It was a panel survey with the same households interviewed three times.
To ensure consistency between the scope of the Evaluation and the discussions with resource persons, assessments of CARE and SC’s implementation of the Project, review of documents, and field observations an Evaluation Matrix was developed during the inception phase. The Matrix is organized around the evaluation criteria: relevance, efficiency, effectiveness, impact, and sustainability. The Matrix decomposes the criteria and focus areas into sub-questions with identification of sources of information and it was used to guide the discussions with the different resource persons. The Matrix is presented in Annex 5.7. Annex 5.8 presents the working definitions of different concepts applied by the Evaluation.
The Evaluation finds that the cash transfer modality was relevant to protect the blanket feeding in the three departments. SIMA surveys confirmed that the markets were well functioning and before the distributions and the cash did not have any direct impact on the market prices. The cash modality allowed for a relatively fast mobilization of the intervention with partners already active in the project areas and with experience from other cash transfer initiatives.
The fact, that the Project mainly intervened after the harvest has been criticized by some partners as being too late. However, focus group discussions showed that the beneficiaries were satisfied with the cash distribution and confirmed that it had allowed improved resilience of the households. Moreover, households showed preference for cash after the harvest, while the majority of households showed preference for food over cash during the hunger season before the harvest. From the post distribution monitoring it appears that more than 70% of the transferred cash has been used for to purchase food for the households while the same households generally spend around 50% on food. The improved resilience seems thus linked to the cash allowing to free up financial resources in the households for other critical expenses such as health and education.
The Project has had a positive on the protection of Blanket Feeding and the cash transfer modality allowed a swift response to the food security emergency. In summary, the Project has contributed to the right food at the right people at the right time; i.e. that the needs of children under two and pregnant and breastfeeding women, or the ‘1,000 day challenge’ are met.
Critical for the success of the Project has been the partnership of organizations with substantive technical and local experience whether national institutions such as DNPGSA, SIMA, or INS, INGOs such as CARE and SC, or UN agencies, particularly UNICEF and WFP. Moreover, the partnership builds on trust among the different partners from ongoing collaboration.
The Project has had positive impact on the understanding of cash transfer as an implementation tool to complement other response mechanisms to food insecurity. However, there are still no clear agreements of what skills and capacity is need to participate effectively in cash operations. This challenge is not unique for this Emergency Cash Transfer Project but corresponds to a general concern about the lack of guidelines that can be applied in multi-stakeholder emergency cash transfer projects, which seeks to strengthen national capacity.
The Project implementation has been challenged by the limited capacity and interest of local NGOs and the private sector to participate in cash handling.
As the Cash Project was a test, a number of procedures were new and probably more time consuming because of that. Over the three distributions, an increased efficiency could also be observed; e.g., time used for organizing the distributions decreased.
While beneficiaries are satisfied with the cash transfers, a majority of households would prefer to receive food or a combination of food and cash instead of cash alone. This in spite of the increasing purchasing power of the cash during the Project.
Overall, there were no significant differences in the performance, effectiveness, and efficiency of the two different protection mechanisms: cash and protection rations with respect to the contributing to the objective of the Project, i.e. protection of the blanket feeding.
Some targeting challenges still need to be addressed; including how to ensure that unregistered children will be integrated. The challenge is not unique to the Project but is of special importance for this type of operation.
The application of a single amount of cash to all households does not take into account the great difference in household size.
Important investment has been put in the monitoring of the distribution. While the monitoring has generated a number of interesting information their use for project management has not been optimized.
While the Project has made a deliberate effort to distribute the cash to women, the consequences on the role of women of the Project implementation modalities has not been sufficiently addressed; e.g., the distribution of large banknotes cannot be used on the local market that women will typically use. While women might be the direct receiver of the cash there is no guarantee that they will maintain the power over the use of the cash.
The Project has complemented the distribution of cash with awareness raising activities. Most of these activities tend to repeat messages that have been the focus of nutrition programs since 2005. While the repetition can be positive, the Project is not likely to have an impact on the food behavior in the households except for the use of blanket feeding exclusively for children of 6 to 23 months of age.
UNICEF should include the cash transfer modality as an option for comparative response analysis in its emergency response analysis. General funding guidelines should be prepared.
UNICEF should work together with partners in Niger to promote harmonization of cash transfer initiatives, including targeting principles, definition of amount to be transferred taking into account different household sizes and needs, and monitoring structures.
For future responses, UNICEF should consider greater use of options for the beneficiaries, particularly offering a mix of food and cash.
In collaboration with other international partners in Niger, UNICEF should promote general capacity development of the skills for national partners to identify, development, implement, and monitor emergency cash transfers. Special attention should be given to identify local partners that can ensure the cash handling.
In collaboration with other partners in Niger, UNICEF should take initiative to simplify the monitoring and evaluation structure of emergency cash transfers, including identification of a minimum level of indicators and development of modalities to ensure greater participation of communities in monitoring and evaluation.
Project management of future emergency cash transfer initiatives should be based on monitoring, including post distribution monitoring and market surveys. This will require greater timeliness of surveys, which would be facilitated by the recommended simplification of the monitoring instruments.
UNICEF should make greater use of existing gender expertise and make proper analysis of potential gender impact from the different Project activities.
To promote early response in slow-onset emergencies, UNICEF should take initiative to ensure that existing information systems on food security provide proper information determine when a cash transfer intervention is appropriate.
To strengthen the impact of awareness raising activities, UNICED should make greater use of its in-house expertise on nutritional communication to design and implement awareness raising components in cash transfer projects.
To strengthen coordination, harmonization, and promote the understanding of the modality of emergency cash transfer, a special website should be established from the beginning of the project with all project related information available; e.g. PDMs, SIMA reports, reports from monitoring visits, etc.
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