Evaluation of the Kenya Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP)

The Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) is a cash transfer (CT) aimed at the extremely poor population of northern Kenya.

The HSNP provides regular, unconditional cash transfers (CTs) to 100,000 households in four counties of northern Kenya: Marsabit, Mandera, Turkana, and Wajir. These ‘routine’ transfers are supplemented by emergency payments to the rest of the population in times of severe or extreme drought. It is one of four CT programmes in Kenya, which together form the National Safety Net Programme (NSNP), which harmonises these programmes within an integrated system of national social protection. The HSNP is funded by the Government of Kenya and the UK Department for International Development (DFID). In addition, the World Bank’s Programme for Results (P4R) provides funding to the NSNP.

Our evaluation of the HSNP provided a comprehensive assessment of the HSNP in order to demonstrate the performance and impact of the programme for the benefit of implementers, funders, other stakeholders, and those interested in CTs more generally. The evaluation findings fed into on-going programme operations, and future programmatic and funding decisions.


The arid and semi-arid lands of northern Kenya experience high food insecurity and recurrent periods of severe drought. As a result, families often become dependent on emergency food aid or have to resort to selling off livestock in order to afford food. This weakens their livelihoods and can cause a slide into a vicious cycle of poverty. The Kenyan Government, with support from DFID, established its innovative HSNP in 2009. It aims 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 livelihoods and human capital, and, in addition, irregular ‘emergency’ payments to other households (those not receiving the regular transfer) in times of severe or extreme drought.

The first phase of the HSNP tested a variety of targeting mechanisms, delivering regular cash transfers to 69,000 households across the four worst affected counties in the region. After this successful pilot period, the second, scaled-up phase of the programme began. During this phase the HSNP reached up to 100,000 households with regular payments every other month. In addition, emergency individual payments are made to a much wider portion of the population (up to 75%) in the case of severe or extreme drought. The payments are delivered directly to beneficiary bank accounts, and can be accessed using standard bank debit cards from local bank branches and a network of pay agents operating across the programme’s four counties. This project provided an independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the programme in terms of its impact at tackling hunger and poverty, its operational performance, as well as its usefulness as part of a wider national protection strategy.

Our approach

The evaluation of HSNP Phase 1 used a rigorous mixed-methods impact evaluation approach to monitor and evaluate the programme over its three year pilot period. A randomised control trial (RCT) design was employed where select households were randomly assigned to treatment (those receiving the cash transfer) and control groups (those households not due to start receiving the transfer immediately). 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 analysis was backed by a comprehensive impact heterogeneity analysis to assess the extent to which programme impacts varied across different types of households. The quantitative approach was complemented by multiple rounds of qualitative research to understand and analyse the context in which the programme was administered, those impacts that were not easy to comprehend quantitively, and triangulate the quantitative results. The evaluation also included an assessment of programme targeting performance and operational effectiveness. For these purposes a longitudinal household survey of over 4,800 households was conducted over three years at baseline, midline, and endline. The qualitative data were gathered alongside the quantitative data through focus group discussions, key informant interviews, and participatory activities including social mapping and timeline construction.

For Phase 2 of the HSNP evaluation, we assessed the impact of the programme on the local economy as well as beneficiary households and sought to build on the earlier work by designing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) functions that could be embedded within HSNP operations. We supplemented these impact evaluation and operational monitoring studies with a series of bespoke policy analyses. The evaluation comprised four core elements:

  • Mixed-methods approach impact evaluation

A mixed-methods quasi-experimental impact evaluation approach was employed utilising a local economy-wide impact evaluation (LEWIE), regression discontinuity design (RDD), and propensity score matching (PSM) alongside multiple rounds of qualitative research to provide a comprehensive assessment of the impact of the programme at the local economy and household levels. Whilst the qualitative approach relied on multiple rounds of research based on participatory methods, including an exploratory study on opportunities and risks for youth and a special study on lump sum payments, a single round of quantitative data collection based on a 6000 household survey underpinned both the LEWIE and the quantitative impact evaluation.

  • Operational evaluation

The operational evaluation included a costing study, a process review of the emergency payments system, live operational monitoring of HSNP bi-monthly payment cycles, and a legacy study focusing on the degree to which systems built by HSNP are sustainable over the long term.

  • Policy analysis

This included an assessment of HSNP phase 2 targeting, an assessment of the new harmonised targeting protocol pilot for the NSNP, LEWIE analysis of the national drought emergency of 2016-17, a study on fiscal space for social protection in Kenya, and a strategic policy review of the HSNP and its place within the NSNP.

  • Communications and learning

A communications and learning workstream was included to disseminate the findings of the various evaluation activities to a relevant group of stakeholders and build knowledge within the Programme Implementation and Learning Unit (PILU) about how to carry forward the evaluation work.


The evaluation provided crucial information about the impact and performance of the second phase of the HSNP in order to both support accountability of the programme to its funders (including Kenyan tax payers) and inform the design of future phases of the programme and wider NSNP. The findings generated by the evaluation fed directly into ongoing national policy debates and helped to build the evidence base around social protection both nationally and internationally.

Find out more about HSNP:

HSNP homepage

Evaluation of HSNP pilot phase The World Bank and NSNP

BBC World Service covers HSNP: What is the best way of ensuring aid money is used effectively and efficiently?

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