Poverty reduction strategies implemented by the government have attracted much discourse with some critics doubting the impact it has on poor people especially in rural areas.
On the other hand, government has insisted that the programmes have helped many vulnerable households and the disabled.
To help uplift the vulnerable, Zambia has been implementing the 7th National development plan (7NDP) from 2017 which is expected to end next year. One of the five pillars under the 7NDP is the second pillar which seeks to reduce poverty and vulnerability among the poor in Zambia.
Under this pillar, government in collaboration with various sector holders has been implementing nationally appropriate social protection programs and projects aimed at ending poverty and reduce vulnerability by 2030, especially among vulnerable but viable women, youths, the elderly and persons living with disabilities.
Under the 7NDP period 2017-2021, a total of 242,000 households have been earmarked to benefit from the social cash transfer schemes in 78 districts country wide compared to 7563 households in 19 districts under 5th national development plan period. While 111,400 low capacity households will receive food security packs to support agricultural productivity for enhanced household food security.
Since the formulation and subsequent implementation of National Social Protection Policy of 2014, government has dedicated efforts to ensure that the role of social protection in propoor growth remains central and increases in systemic efficiency.
Nyimba is one of the 78 districts that is implementing social protection programmes and projects such as the Social cash transfer schemes, food security packs, supporting women’s livelihood project. These programs and projects are implemented through the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services, departments of social welfare and community development.
The ministry in the district is implementing social protection programs in an integrated manner. A householder that receives social cash transfer is also a targeted beneficiary of the food security packs and is further a beneficiary of the productivity grant under the supporting women’s livelihood program.
If this particular beneficiary household has female school going children, the girls are sponsored up to grade 12 under the Keeping Girl’s in School program implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of General education.
In Nyimba district 64,666 households are receiving the social cash transfer while 1,613 households are benefiting under the supporting women’s livelihood program.
One of the beneficiary of the integrated social protection program is 59 years old Joyce Banda, a vegetable at the Nyimba main market. She narrates that from the 2,700 productivity grant received under the supporting women’s livelihood program, she boosted her vegetable business and with the profits, she has managed to renovate her house.
“ In addition to the social cash transfer, I also receive the productivity grant. With the K2, 700 productivity grant that I received, I have boosted my business. I have more merchandise on my stand now that I used previously. With the profits, I have renovated my 4 roomed iron sheet house, bought a bicycle to easy my movement from the market to home. I am further saving with a village bank group. The support that I get from government has really transformed my life. Even if I was to be weaned off the program, my standard of living and that of my household will continue to improve” Joyce narrated.
Just like Joyce, lixa Tembo 34, a single mother of 4 children has through the productivity product and social cash transfer, has managed to expand her fish trading business. Tembo who is currently a members of a village banking group plans to expand her business by becoming a dry fish wholesaler.
She narrated that since she started receiving the social cash transfer, sending her children to school has never been this easy.
John Sakala is a visually impaired beneficiary of the social cash transfer and food security pack. He added that the agricultural inputs that he receives, have greatly improved his household’s food security and nutrition.
“The farming inputs that I receive under the food security pack program greatly improve our meals. I always encourage my children to best utilize these inputs to improve harvest. Hunger is no longer an issue as we have inputs that allow us to have enough food after harvest” he said.
And Nyimba District Community Development officer, Mrs Maltildah Mwanza said the various integrated programs aimed at reducing poverty and vulnerability among the poor in Nyimba are bearing positive results as can be attributed to the number of beneficiaries that have been weaned off programs.
“We have weaned off 310 beneficiaries who were on the food security pack program. After being on the program for 3 years, the farmers have been linked to the farmers input support program (FISP) under the ministry of agriculture and are now able to make the farmer’s deposits; something which they previously could not afford. “
“We are encouraging beneficiaries that have been weaned off the program to engage in alternative livelihood activities such as the rearing of goats and chickens. We are in the process of procuring goats for the weaned off beneficiary to enable them engage in continued alternative livelihood activities on a pass on basis. We are grateful to government for different interventions targeting the same family aimed at improving their living stand. We are very happy as Nyimba district because the social protection programs are changing the lives of the beneficiaries,” she said.
Mrs Mwanza said the deliberate approach of targeting the same beneficiaries with various social protection program is yielding faster results as the households are adequately coverage from natural shocks such as droughts, floods and most recently, Covid-19 pandemic as the social cash transfer beneficiaries will soon be receiving “ The Covid-19 relish social cash transfer”.
“ We have been implementing integrated social protection programs since last year (2019). Previously, our vulnerability reduction programs were uncoordinated therefore, impact was difficult to assess. But with the integrated approach, we are able to see the impact that our programs are having on the lives of the beneficiaries. We have so many success stories of how lives have been impacted and changed forever because of the integrated social protection programs.” She said.
As outlined in the Vision 2030, Zambia aims to become a prosperous middle-income country with a thriving middle class. Social protections programs therefore provide a strong momentum to accelerate accomplishment of pillar 2 under the 7NDP.
It is by transforming the lives of households such as those of Joyce Banda, Lixa Tembo and John Sakala, can the country reduce poverty and vulnerability thereby achieving not only pillar 2 of the 7ND, but as well as the sustainable development goals as a whole.
A coherent and harmonized social protection therefore is core to graduating households from a state of high vulnerability and poverty to one of resilience, with an increased capacity to invest in productive assets and hence improved livelihood security.