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Turning Research Into Practice: Evaluating the impact of conditional cash transfers in Burkina Faso

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March 2010 Damien de Walque

One of the most exciting opportunities for a World Bank researcher is when he or she gets to team up with a task team leader (TTL) in operations to develop a prospective impact evaluation of an innovative component of a Bank project. Over the past five years, Damien de Walque has had just such an opportunity, collaborating with the Africa region to evaluate the impact of conditional cash transfers (CCTs) in Nahouri province in rural Burkina Faso. 

The impact evaluation uses a randomized experimental design to compare the effectiveness of four resource transfer programs for poor households: CCTs given to the mother, CCTs given to the father, unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) given to the mother, and UCTs given to the father. In the CCT villages, households receive the transfer only if they meet the conditions—school enrollment and attendance by any children aged 6-15, and preventive health visits for younger children. By contrast, in the UCT case, households need only meet the initial eligibility conditions. The study will compare the impact that these four interventions have on educational, health, and early childhood development outcomes between 2008 and 2010.

Long-term partnership with TTLs and the Government

This research collaboration was initiated in 2004 by a request from the TTL of the health and HIV/AIDS operations in Burkina Faso, who wanted to help the Government of Burkina Faso think through the most effective way to support communities made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. As a team and discussing with the local authorities, we realized that it was difficult operationally to focus exclusively on households affected directly by HIV/AIDS, and we therefore designed together the current project, which aims at providing safety nets to all vulnerable households. This effort resulted in a long, smooth, and effective research collaboration that spanned the tenure of three Bank TTLs and two successive Bank projects. DECRG’s role has been to raise the funds for the research, implement the survey, and carry out the impact evaluation. The Government, using funds from the Bank Health and HIV/AIDS Project, distributes the cash transfers and verifies the conditionality for the CCTs. In verifying the conditionality, the government is relying on a structure of village committees for fighting HIV/AIDS (Comités Villageois de Lutte contre le SIDA - CVLS) that were established by a previous HIV/AIDS project and that have now been trained especially for that purpose.

The province-level pilot and the research are currently ongoing. The cash transfers started in October 2008 and will end in June 2010. A baseline survey was fielded in May 2008, a first follow-up survey took place in May 2009, and the second is scheduled for May-June 2010.

Making cash transfer programs work in an African context

While CCT programs have proliferated in the past decade, there remain open questions and issues about their implementation and the mechanisms by which they have an impact in different institutional environments [1]. The conclusions from the Burkina Faso impact evaluation will help shed light on three important policy-relevant issues. First is the question of administrative prerequisites for CCT effectiveness. CCT programs first proved their worth in Latin America, where they were able to rely on a certain level of administrative capacity (the ability to target households, plan meetings to notify households of their obligations and rights, monitor household compliance and conditionality, and transfer funds to families). The question has been raised of whether the programs can be successfully implemented by African central or local governments, where administrative capacity is typically lower; the Burkina experiments will help answer that question.

A second open question is whether CCT programs are effective in improving education and health outcomes mainly because of the cash transfers or because of the conditionality. By directly comparing conditional cash transfers with unconditional cash transfers, the Burkina Faso project will offer insights to policy makers on whether it is the additional income or the explicit incentive mechanism that leads to any program impacts.

Third, the evaluation explicitly asks whether the gender of the transfer recipient influences the program’s impact. It examines the potentially differential impacts resulting from giving cash transfers to mothers versus fathers. Numerous analyses of intra-household bargaining indicate that resources under the mother’s control have a stronger positive impact on a child’s health and schooling than do resources controlled by the father. However, almost all current cash transfer programs give the resources to the mother, so it is not possible to disentangle how much of any impact is due to the recipient’s gender, how much is due to the income effect, and how much is due to the change in relative prices associated with the conditionality.

By addressing those questions, the Burkina Faso impact evaluation aims to contribute both to the efficient design of safety nets in the country and to a better understanding of the mechanisms by which CCTs have an impact, which might benefit other countries in Africa and elsewhere as they implement similar CCTs or other social protection programs.


DAMIEN DE WALQUE is a Senior Economist in the Development Research Group (Human Development and Public Services Team). His research interests include health and education and the interactions between them. He is working on evaluating the impact of Human Development interventions and policies in several African countries.

References

1. Fiszbein, A., N. Schady, F.H.G. Ferreira, M. Grosh, N. Kelleher, P. Olinto, and E. Skoufias. 2009. Conditional Cash Transfers: Reducing Present & Future Poverty. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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