Title:
Protecting the poorest: Tackling hunger in northern Kenya
Start Date:
May 2008
Completion Date:
April 2012
Client(s):
Government of Kenya
Funder(s):
DFID
Location:
Kenya, Eastern Africa,
Key Contact:
Fred Merttens
Summary:
An innovative social protection scheme that has improved food security and reduced the impact of extreme poverty in northern Kenya is now being scaled-up in line with recommendations from this comprehensive evaluation project. The Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) is the Kenyan Government’s response to the severe and widespread effects of the crippling droughts that afflict the arid and semi-arid areas of the country. The programme aims to reduce the vulnerability of the region’s poorest households to external shocks by stabilising their incomes and strengthening their livelihoods through the delivery of regular, unconditional cash transfers. Our team used a comprehensive mixed-methods approach to monitor and evaluate the programme over its three year pilot period. The approach included a rigorous impact evaluation based on a randomised control trial household survey as well as an assessment of the performance of three alternative household targeting mechanisms. Survey results were augmented with evidence from qualitative research activities including focus group discussions and key informant interviews. This project provides a robust measure of programme impact as well as valuable insights into the usefulness of HSNP and areas for improving and refining its efficiency and performance, including recommendations for more effective targeting. As a result, the latest phase of HSNP has the potential to protect even more households against the slide into chronic poverty and food insecurity.

The Challenge

The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Northern Kenya experience high food insecurity and recurrent periods of severe drought. As a result, families often become dependent on emergency food aid and have to resort to selling off livestock, weakening their livelihoods and sliding into a vicious cycle of poverty.

The Kenyan Government, with support from DFID, established its innovative Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) to address these issues by providing an unconditional, regular source of income that has the potential to stabilise household food consumption and free up resources for sustainable investment in areas such as health and education.

During its pilot period, the HSNP delivered regular cash transfers to some 69,000 households in four of the worst affected counties in the region. Vulnerable households and individuals received 2,150 Kenyan shillings bi-monthly via a simple smartcard and paypoint system.

This project assessed the effectiveness of the programme at tackling hunger and poverty as well as its usefulness as part of a wider national protection strategy.

Our Approach

Our team used a mixed-methods approach to evaluate the effectiveness of the HSNP. This included a rigorous impact evaluation based on surveys of over 4,800 households, assessments of different programme targeting mechanisms and on-going monitoring of routine programme operations.

We designed a randomised control trial to select households in both a treatment group (those households receiving the cash transfer) and a control group (those households not due to start receiving the transfer immediately). Households were surveyed at the start of the pilot and again at twelve month intervals over the next two years. A difference-in-difference methodology was applied to quantify the impact of the programme on various indicators including those for poverty, welfare and livelihoods. This was backed by a comprehensive impact heterogeneity analysis to assess the extent to which programme impacts varied across different types of household.

Quantitative data was complemented by evidence collected from focus group discussions, key informant interviews and participatory activities including social mapping and timeline construction.

Specific activities undertaken by the team included:
  • Designing and implementing a mixed-methods evaluation including:
    • Three-round household panel survey based on a randomised controlled trial design
    • Three-rounds of qualitative research including focus group discussions, household case studies and key informant interviews
  • Comprehensive assessment of programme impact and performance, including:
    • Impact heterogeneity analysis to assess impact variations across different households
    • Targeting analysis to assess the programme’s performance in reaching the intended target population
    • Assessing the comparative performance of three distinct household targeting mechanisms – social pension, dependency ratio and community-based targeting
  • Conducting routine programme operational monitoring in order to provide data on the effectiveness of programme operations

Outcomes and Wider Impacts

This comprehensive evaluation project has provided crucial insights into the role of the HSNP as a social protection tool in Kenya. As a result, policy-makers and other key stakeholders are now better informed about the impact of cash transfers on people’s lives and wellbeing. Specifically, we found that the HSNP can protect households against a slide into extreme poverty, improve food security and reduce the need to resort to negative coping strategies such as selling off livestock in the face of external shocks. In addition, using a community-based targeting mechanism combined with proxy means testing allowed for the most efficient targeting of the poorest households and improved the overall effectiveness of the programme.

Recommendations from this project are now being used to inform the next phase of the HSNP, including the incorporation of a new targeting mechanism to benefit more of the most vulnerable households. The project has also provided an important basis against which to consider the integration of HSNP into a wider social protection programme in Kenya. For example, HNSP’s usefulness as a cushion against external events such as droughts suggests that cash transfers could form an important shock response element complementing other protection measures.