The success of Merankabandi

‘Cash plus’ programme improves nutritional health of vulnerable children in Burundi

Patrick Nitegeka
Smiling mother sitting outside with a baby on her lap and a child eating next to her
UNICEFBurundi/2020/Ngendakumana
23 March 2022

Merankabandi is a national social safety net programme designed to ensure access to decent living conditions for households in extreme poverty through cash transfers and complementary activities.

Evelyne, a mother living in Ruyigi in south-eastern Burundi, is a proud beneficiary of such ‘cash plus’ programme.

"Before Merankabandi, I could not afford and did not know how to feed my children well,” she says. “This affected their health. They often had diarrhea, suffered from malaria and we often went to the health centre.”

“Merankabandi really lifted us out of financial poverty, but more importantly out of ignorance," she adds. "I am very grateful for this programme.”

A woman prepares food
UNICEFBurundi/2020/Ngendakumana

Evelyne's household is one of 56,090 households that have seen their children's lives improve. These beneficiary households were selected by the Merankabandi programme in four provinces (Gitega, Karusi, Kirundo and Ruyigi) from the poorest economic welfare quintile in their respective hills, with children aged 0-12 years.

This programme adopts an approach combining an unconditional, bimonthly monetary transfer ('cash') over a period of 30 months and support for beneficiaries through complementary activities ('plus') over a period of 36 months. This approach is a unique innovation in Burundi that increases the impact of the programme and the sustainability of human capital investments.

"In addition to cash transfers, I benefited from awareness sessions on different themes such as the importance of the window of opportunity of the first 1000 days for infants, the benefits of complementary foods according to the 5 stars formula,” says Evelyne. “Thanks to Light Mothers who are community workers coaching community mothers to prepare balanced diets and encourage for best nutritional practices, I learned to prepare nice food for my children.”

As Evelyn explains, Merankabandi programme interventions improve the nutritional status of the programme's child beneficiaries.

“Today I know how to cook a balanced diet with meat or fish, fat, sweet potato, and beans…a diverse diet helps children to be healthy,” she says. “My children are doing well now, and they don't get sick like they used to."

Mother holds baby in her arms
UNICEFBurundi/2020/Ngendakumana

The results of the follow-up data collected in March 2021 show that the rate of chronic malnutrition in beneficiary households, formerly classified as being in the lowest economic welfare quintile, is now 51.8 per cent, thus approaching the national rate of 52 per cent. This is a substantial drop from 2017’s rate of 69.1 per cent as reported in the Burundi Demographic and Health Survey (DHS III 2016-2017).

On the other hand, data collected on non-beneficiary households belonging to the same quintile revealed that the stunting rate is 72.4 per cent in Ruyigi Province and 62.3 per cent in Karusi Province. These results allow us to state that this combination of cash transfers and complementary activities has had an impact on the nutritional status of children under five in beneficiary households.

UNICEFBurundi/2020

UNICEF is a partner of the Merankabandi programme and provides technical assistance in the implementation of complementary activities with a focus on quality assurance based on internationally recognized standards in communication for development. UNICEF also supports the analysis of complementary activities' performance to support advocacy for programme expansion at the national level. Finally, UNICEF supports capacity building, quality control, monitoring activities and research.

Mindful that malnutrition significantly reduces a child's chances of survival, while affecting their long-term health and intellectual development, UNICEF Burundi supports the scaling-up of this 'cash plus' programme for all provinces of the country, so that other children like Evelyne’s can benefit from its interventions so effective and beneficial in the fight to reduce chronic malnutrition in Burundi.