In search of the Holy Grail: can unconditional cash transfers graduate households out of poverty in Zambia?

Publication Details

3ie Funded Evaluation, DPW1.1042. A link to the completed study will appear here when available.

Sudhanshu Handa, Gelson Tembo
Institutional affiliations
None specified
Grant-holding institution
None specified
Sub-Saharan Africa (includes East and West Africa)
None specified
Public Financial Management
Gender analysis
Public Financial Management
Gender analysis
Equity Focus
Evaluation design
Randomised Control Trials (RCT)
Ongoing 3ie Funded Studies
3ie Funding Window
Development Priorities Window 1


This study is to assess whether the impacts of the Zambian government’s Child Grant Program (CGP) persist two years after the programme ended.


Since 2005, the Government of Zambia has been experimenting with cash transfer programmes as a way of addressing deep poverty and food insecurity among rural households. The CGP was one such programme implemented between 2010 and 2015. After a policy reform in 2014, it was merged with a larger programme and the beneficiaries of CGP were no longer eligible for cash transfers. Two large randomised control trials (RCTs) reported significant protective and productive effects of the CGP on households. This evaluation, two years after the programme ended, is to assess whether unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) represent a viable option for governments to address current and future poverty or if these programmes simply address short-term protection without representing a real pathway out of poverty.

Research questions

Can unconditional cash transfer programmes provide a sustained pathway out of poverty?


Intervention design

The intervention to evaluate is the Zambian government’s Child Grant Program (CGP) implemented in three rural districts  Zambia that targeted all households with a child under age 3. The programme provided a flat $12 monthly unconditional grant, paid bimonthly, to households. Due to a policy reform in 2014, it was merged into a larger programme and the CGP beneficiaries were no longer eligible for the cash transfer.

Theory of change

The cash transfer is expected to have a direct effect on household consumption, on the use of services, and possibly even on productive activity after some time. The programme is expected to have an immediate impact of increased spending for basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, some of which will influence children’s health, nutrition and material wellbeing. With time, once these basic needs are met, it is expected that the influx of new cash might then trigger further responses within the household economy. For example, by providing room for other productive investment or activity, the use of services and the ability to free up older children to attend school. Positive benefits from the cash transfer rely on a number of assumptions. Firstly, it assumes that markets exist and are sufficiently responsive to increases in demand so that households can purchase food and other basic needs. Secondly, it assumes that prices would not rise due to supply constraints, thus value of transfer in local markets and purchasing power of cash would not be eroded due to general inflation.

Evaluation design

The study takes advantage of a four-year RCT conducted between 2010 and 2014 to evaluate the CGP. A household survey will be conducted on the same households (N=2515) in 2017 using the same questionnaire to estimate consumption, assets and productive activity among the control and treatment arms. A difference-in-differences estimation will be used to test whether these key outcomes are the same between (previously) treated and control households.

Scroll to Top