It takes a long and winding road to reach Group Village Headman Ngunda in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kasumbu in Dedza District. The village is 28 kilometers from the Dedza Boma. What impresses me along the way was nature’s beauty of natural trees around the area despite high levels of deforestation in most areas across the country.
Still in fairyland, I find myself in Ngunda Village in the midst of villagers who came from different directions. While in the village, one woman approaches me and narrates to testify how the Social Cash Transfers program has helped her, and changed her life.
75-year old Esnart Asidi, says in 2016 officials from Dedza District Council came to register beneficiaries for a Social Cash Transfer Programme in the area and she was identified as one of the beneficiaries because she is widow and she lives with her daughter 21-year old Akwamala, her granddaughter Miriam who is 12 years and Allena,11 years old.
It is late afternoon standing outside her house taking care of maize which is the staple food in Malawi, while she recounts how being part of the transfer programme changed her life.
“I used to live in dire conditions. I could not afford buying my own food and other necessities during lean periods. Now, with the money I receive every month, I do manage to buy my grandchildren school uniforms and can pay for their school fees. Miriam wants to become a nurse and Allena a teacher… and now I can help make those the dreams a reality.”
Esnart is just one of many examples of the positive impacts of cash transfers in the country. For a household to become eligible, they must meet certain criteria which include where they live, the proportion of the household that are of working age, that are fit to work, and on welfare levels.
The Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) IV Programme, that makes the cash transfers possible, is funded by the World Bank to the tune of US$ 75 Million is providing productive safety nets to elderly and vulnerable households through cash transfers while some beneficiaries participate in the public works programmes.
According to available data from the District Council, indicates that Dedza has 15,750 targeted households out of which 11,381 are female headed, 4000 males headed and 142 child-headed households during the time the 3-year project running from 2015 – 2018
The transfer levels have been reviewed to an average of K4, 500 per household per month, based on the cost of living. The initial figures are 1 person household (K1, 000), 2-person household (K 1,500), 3-person household (K1, 950), 4+ persons household (K2, 400). Educational bonus, is for those with children enrolled in primary school (K300) per child and children that are enrolled in secondary school (K800) per child.
The programme impacted not only the direct beneficiaries but also the communities they live in. Meanwhile, Group Village Headman Ngunda concurred with many beneficiaries that the project is reducing the levels of poverty for his subjects since it was introduced in the village.
However, he urged government to reach out to more people, because of the worsening poverty in his area. “I appeal to government to increase the number of beneficiaries of the socio cash transfer because the ones who are accessing it now are less than the demand on the ground,” Ngunda pleaded.
Desk Officer for the Socio Cash Transfer at Dedza District Council, Given Mukisi has praised the role the programme has played in improving livelihoods of rural communities in the district.
Among others Mukisi cited, people’s ability to buy households assets, food and being able to send children to school with uniform as some of the notable achievements in the programme.
“Some said they have gone into business while others said they’re just saving the money in the Community Savings and Investment Promotion COMSIP, at the end when they’ll be sharing their shares and be able to start small businesses or buy something,” Mukisi said.
She said about K2 Billion has so far been disbursed to beneficiaries in the district.
Despite these successes, Mukisi said the program is facing challenges such as inadequate transport for the cash distribution exercise and FDH Bank’s failure to handle daily cash requirements for both socio cash transfers and public works programmes which hindering effective implementation of the programme.
MASAF IV project became effective on 16th September 2014 and will be implemented in four years. The project is expected to directly benefit approximately 752,960 poor households through cash transfers for productive community-driven public works, social cash transfers and livelihoods. The project is being implemented through the Local Development Fund (LDF) mechanism at a district level.