Blog: How Cash Transfers are Boosting Child Nutrition in Zambia

Cash transfers and links to services are providing vital support to vulnerable households

Tiwine Muchipa, Youth Engagement and Communications Associate, UNICEF Zambia
A man hands over an emergency cash transfer to a woman and child
03 March 2021

After a long day of work and travelling over 40km on sand roads to Luandui village in western Zambia, I’m sitting on a small bench in the local health clinic. Hundreds of people from vulnerable households have just finished picking up their COVID-19 emergency cash transfer, a payment of 400 kwacha ($18) each month to support them during the pandemic.

My attention is caught by a child standing with her feet in the sand. I look up and see her holding on to an elderly woman’s chitenge (fabric wrapper). I watch as the woman collects some therapeutic food from the clinic and then leaves to sit under the shade of a nearby tree. The little girl plays with a small piece of paper. 

I realize I’ve seen the elderly woman earlier that day at the distribution of the cash transfers. Through the help of someone from the clinic who can translate, she introduces herself: “My name is Shishemu Matongo and this is Grace my granddaughter, who is 3 years and 5 months old,” she says, though the granddaughter looks younger than her years. 

“Yes, I was here very early in the morning to collect the C-ECT payment on behalf of my daughter who is little Grace’s mother. She was unable to come because she is disabled and had to look after the other children. After picking up the payment I rushed home to pick Grace and her under-five card so that we could collect the ready-to-use-therapeutic food [RUTF] for the coming week as the first batch was finished.”

A grandmother with baby on back in mask holding RUTF

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative economic impact on vulnerable communities in Zambia. In addition to sickness and death, many households have seen their livelihoods impacted and face an increased risk of child malnutrition, school dropout and poorer health.

The emergency cash transfers give an important boost during these difficult times, and in addition, households are counselled on how to best use the funds to improve their family’s nutrition, such as by buying nutritious food and making investments in income-generating activities.

Mrs. Matongo invites us to her house, which she says isn’t far. But it turns out to be longer than expected – another sandy drive, and then a trek along a narrow path through sorghum fields.

A few minutes after we arrive, a neighbour comes over to greet us. We find we share some languages so we could converse to allow Mrs Matongo to tell more of her story. 

“I live in Luandui village with my children and two grandchildren. Life has not been easy as my first-born daughter is disabled both mentally and physically. At first I thought it was only her sight that was affected but after I took her to the hospital doctors examined her and discovered that she was mentally challenged.” 

She pauses for a deep breath before continuing. “My daughter has had three children, of which the first one died. The sole responsibility is left to me to ensure that these children are safe and taken care of.” 

Mrs Matongo’s daughter is enrolled in the government’s Social Cash Transfer programme, which provides payments to vulnerable families nationwide, including persons with disability. Unlike the Emergency Cash Transfer, which is only for the six months to help cushion the needs of the family during a crisis period, the Social Cash Transfer is a long-term programme that aims to reduce extreme poverty.

“Through the Social Cash Transfer programme, I managed to get some clothes for the children and bought two goats to rear,” said Mrs Matongo. “With the payment of K360 last year I buried it in the ground as my daughter was pregnant and I knew we would need some money to provide for the baby when born. That is the money I used to buy the baby clothes, and basin when the child was born. 

“I noticed that Grace’s health seemed to be deteriorating, yet there was not much I could do about it due to financial constraints. One day I was unwell and went to the local clinic. When the clinical staff attended to me they observed Grace and immediately checked their records and discovered she was never been taken for the under 5 check-ups. They requested to follow us home and encouraged me to take her for the under 5 sessions where they checked her weight, screened her and she was put on ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). 

“It was at that point that I heard about the COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer that was going to be paid as a lump-sum amount to aid the SCT beneficiaries during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would say this money couldn’t have come at a better time than now when Grace is on RUTF. 

“I was so excited when I got the payment this morning and the first thing I planned to do was travel to town and get some various dried food stuff to improve the household diet especially my grandchildren, purchase chickens to rear and a few basic items like soap to wash the children’s clothes. 

“I am very grateful. As an old woman there is only as much that I can do, yet this help will go a long way. The lump-sum payment makes it much easier to budget and invest.”  

As she finishes, Mrs. Matongo continually claps her hands – a sign of gratitude in the local tradition. 

As we leave, we thank Ms Matongo for welcoming us and sharing her story. 

The COVID-19 Emergency Cash Transfer programme is reaching a total of 204,000 vulnerable households in Zambia, including 6,423 households in Mongu District. The programme is implemented by the Government of the Republic of Zambia with support from the United Nations with funding from the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany through the KFW Development Bank, the Republic of Ireland, the Swedish international development cooperation agency (Sida), and UK aid from the British people. 

Grandma with two grandchildren in arms in Zambia