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Food, goats and cash for assets programmes during emergency drought response inKenya

By Geoff Brouwer

Geoff Brouwer worked as a research and communications consultant for World Renew-formerly the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) - in Kenya for their International Disaster Response team. After working briefly in Canadian politics he took on several research assignments in Kenya examining various topics including community water management and the Kenyan Water Act. He is currently completing his Master’s degree in Ottawa at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs.

World Renew extends thanks and recognition to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Canadian Food Grains Bank (CFGB), Integral Alliance and ACT Alliance for their generous support in the Horn of Africa. The author also gratefully acknowledges and recognizes the dedication of World Renew’s partner Christian Community Services (CCS) and their continued work in communities throughout Kenya. Lastly the author would like to express deep gratitude to the welcoming communities and individuals who participated in the research.

Women gathering to collect water from a water pan in Kilifi

This field article is based on a comparative study of four relief and emergency response activities - one Cash-for-Assets (CFA), one Goat-for-Assets (GFA), and two Food-for-Assets (FFA) projects - implemented by World Renew, formerly the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC), in response to the 2011 drought in Kenya. The fieldwork included surveys that were collected intermittently throughout the project cycles in addition to focus group discussions and interviews with key informants, which were carried out over several months in early 2012. The objective was to gather a deeper understanding of the various modes of asset-exchange and their differences as emergency responses.

Background and purpose

The vast majority of humanitarian aid worldwide (90%) is provided as in-kind transfers such as food, livestock, seeds, and shelter rather than in the form of cash.1 However, it is being widely observed that there is an ongoing trend, exhibited by humanitarian organisations and governments alike, moving towards less traditional modes of relief intervention, especially cash transfers. Correspondingly, there has been an expanding body of knowledge in the past decade on the use of cash as an alternative means of relief in a variety of emergencies.

The bulk of existing literature indicates that the motive behind this is two-fold. In cases where markets are functional, cash is said to be more cost effective, more efficient and have a more positive effect on local economies.2 Because in-kind food aid requires substantial logistical support and organisation, it often incurs a higher financial cost. Secondly, several studies have highlighted the fact that providing cash is more respectful of human dignity as it is less paternalistic and respects the autonomy of recipients to make choices and prioritise their needs which, in turn, also achieves a higher rate of satisfaction.3

Yet despite the growing literature surrounding cash transfers, little critical attention has examined how and in what ways beneficiaries and communities respond to the mode of exchange. While claims have been made on the efficiency of a cash intervention compared to food, it is also important to examine the perspectives and preferences of recipients, investigate the differences of impacts on livelihoods, determine how well each met their objectives, and assess the challenges and limitations faced by each mode of intervention.


This study employs both qualitative and quantitative methods. Surveys with project beneficiaries were completed before and after activities to assess impact. Focus group discussions were completed in order to gather a broader understanding of how projects impacted beneficiaries and communities. The focus groups were selected randomly (see Table 1).

Table 1: Sample estimations for SMART nutritional survey by Chaco department
Project No. of focus groups Participants (male: female) Focus group participants as % of total participants
Food-for- Assets 4 – Mbeere 3 – Kilifi 50 (17:33) – Mbeere 30 (9:21) – Kilifi 5% 8%
Cash-for- Assets 5 45 (15:30) 9.5%
Goats-for- Assets 4 59 (22:37) 9.8%
Total: 16 184 (63:121) --


A total of 18 focus group discussions were completed involving a total of 184 participants comprised 121 women and 63 men. The average size was 10.2 persons per group, but ranged from a minimum of five to 21 in certain cases. Additional participatory methods were used such as filed observations and interviews with key informants including beneficiaries, local government officers, project coordinators and community leaders.

Project summaries

Food-for-Assets (FFA)

The FFA projects examined in this study were implemented in two different counties in Kenya, Mbeere and Kilifi. The two projects were designed as short-term interventions during the hunger months between September 2011 and January 2012 in response to failed harvests of the 2011 drought. Both projects targeted agro-pastoralists in semi-arid areas and aimed to provide a 50% food ration (50 kg maize, 10 kg split peas) to 1,000 households (HH) and 2,400 HH respectively. Beneficiaries from each HH were required to participate in work activities on community assets such as water pans in Kilifi but also tree planting, and community farms in Mbeere. The targeting criteria for the two projects were similar: farmers who lost 90% of their harvests, herders who lost a significant number of their animals, or families who were eating less than one meal a day. Due to the high level of need and the severity of food insecurity, priority was given to the highly vulnerable e.g. women- and childheaded households, orphans, elderly, chronically ill and the disabled. The expected outcomes of the project were to increase food consumption, improve resilience to drought, access to water and increase crop production.

Cash-for-Assets (CFA)

The CFA project was conducted in Kilifi district targeting 600 HH and shared many similarities to the FFA activities. While the identified locations in Kilifi overlapped with some FFA projects, they targeted different beneficiaries. The cash-transfer projects started later from October 2011 – February 2012 dispensing 2,500 KES/month via nearby banking systems in exchange for participation (10 day/month) in the construction and rehabilitation of water pans. Initially targeting 600 participant households, the project was only able to retain 475 HH due to a variety of constraints that are discussed below. As with the FFA projects the objectives of this intervention were to increase household food consumption as well as increase community resilience to drought. Households were targeted if they had lost 50% of their harvest and were consuming less than 2 meals per day.

Goats-for-Assets (GFA)

The GFA projects had distinctly different objectives, since the activities followed after the end of the 2011 drought. Targeting 600 HH in Mbeere from the months of February-May 2012, families were required to participate in the completion of water pans and dams in exchange for participation in a goat re-stocking programme. A work programme involving 10- 12 work days per month was rewarded at the project’s completion with a hybrid milkproducing goat for each family, training in livestock care, and a male goat shared between five families. The project was designed to improve livestock health, increase household food security and to alleviate suffering from the drought by supporting livelihoods through the availability and accessibility of water.


Beneficiary participation

A widespread observation made in all projects was the disproportionate involvement of female participants to males on the various work schemes. In each of the work sites, women made up the majority of the participants, ranging between 70-95%. Targeting criteria played some role in this, as those selected were often widows and single mothers. However, this does not account for the female participation rates at certain work sites being as high as 90-95%. The most common community explanation for this was that many men had left for larger towns to find casual labour or were engaged in other activities such as farming or charcoal burning. It was also suggested that the provision of food and water were traditionally a woman’s responsibility, and since most of the work projects involved water pans and, at least indirectly, the provision of food, women were often sent on behalf of male household-heads to complete work activities.

However, men were more involved in the CFA projects. Group discussions revealed that men were more interested in receiving cash payments than food. Several men described being proud of finding employment and numerous women explained how men were returning from nearby towns to find employment at home. One challenge with this type of employment was that some participants would cease to work on water pans once the cash payments were finished, indicating a limited degree of ownership.

Another challenge with the CFA was that target beneficiary numbers fell to 475 due to drop out. Five of the six water pans failed to have the target number of beneficiaries and in one case nearly 50% of participants left the project. The reasons given by participants and project coordinators varied. One major factor was difficulties in the delivery of cash through the banking system. A number of beneficiaries remarked that they had not received payments from the banks, and others had difficulties establishing an account due to lack of identification. Secondly, since some travelled long distances to access banking services and were ultimately turned down, they were discouraged. Another factor was the difficulty of the work; as the project progressed the work became increasingly difficult leading some to conclude that the pay was insufficient.

Both the GFA and FFA projects were more successful in reaching planned beneficiary numbers. Project coordinators noted that there was a higher level of demand for the projects than there were food rations available. It was also noted that non-direct beneficiaries participated in the work activities of FFA projects because they also recognised the benefit of the water pans. Similarly, the FFA work activities in Kilifi continued beyond the food distributions contrasting with the lack of participation in the cash-transfer projects in the same region.

Impacts on food security and livelihoods

Nearly all respondents highlighted the primary benefit of being able to send their children to school. Cash inputs allowed families to pay off growing debts to schools and have their children return to education, while those receiving food were able to use money for school fees rather than food expenditures. Both programmes also allowed families to send their children to school on full stomachs. An equally important benefit from both projects was the resulting increase in food consumption at the household level. All focus groups described having more energy and increased health due to the cash or food, which allowed them to engage in productive work activities such as farming. A third major benefit cited in all but two communities was how families were able to retain their livestock and avoiding selling them for poor prices in order to earn cash for food.

These benefits to food security were also evident from the survey results. The two FFA activities showed substantial increases in the number of meals per day. The baseline surveys showed that in Kilifi and Mbeere, 46.5% and 57% of targeted beneficiaries respectively were consuming two or more meals per day, compared to 73% and 97% upon project completion. In Mbeere, this included an increase in those consuming three meals a day from 3.7% to 40%. Reliance on negative coping mechanisms also showed strong signs of decline in Mbeere including the proportion of those limiting meal portion sizes from 70% to 39%, those begging for food on a daily basis from 7.3% to 0.5% as well as a decrease in charcoal burning activities.

Similar effects were identified in the CFW project. Before the implementation of the project during the hunger months, just 39% of families were eating two or more meals per day (average over the month), with the majority eating just one meal. Upon completion of the project, consumption of two or more meals per day had risen to 69% showing an increase of 30% (see Table 3). This rise was unlikely to be due to improved seasonal food availability as the projects ended before the harvest was mature – projects were designed to carry communities through to the harvest after the next rains, but not into the harvest, as to not deter farming activities. However, the survey found that the benefits were not sustained for long periods. A common complaint from recipients of food relief was the inadequacy of food rations. Just 34.6% of households reported that the rations lasted more than two weeks. The food allowances were designed to accommodate a household of eight persons, yet many households stated that ration had to be shared amongst many more, including neighbours and guests. Consequently, food rations were often inadequate in eliminating hunger during the project months. The CFA projects revealed similar findings.

Table 2: Summary of asset-exchange projects
Project Location Number of households (male: female) Duration Inputs Outcomes
Foodfor- Assets



2,400 HH (1,301:1,290) Sept 2011 – Jan 2012 (5 months) Food grains (maize, split peas), seeds (fruit trees, grass, crops) Increased food consumption, access to water and improved harvests


1000 HH (412:427) Oct 2011 – Feb 2012 (5 months)
Cashfor- Assets K ilifi 475 HH Oct 2011 – Feb 2012 (5 months) 2,500 KES per month (10 work days) Increased food consumption, access to water and improve livelihoods
Goatsfor- Assets Mbeere 600 HH Jan 2012 – May 2012 (5 months) 600 female, 30 males goats, rehabilitation work on 6 water pans Increased water accessibility, animal support services, increased food security


Table 3: Daily meal consumption
  Location Baseline survey: 2+ meals per day End of project survey: 2+ meals per day % change
FFA Kilifi 46% 73% +27%
Mbeere 57% 97% +40%
CFA Kilifi 39% 69% +30%


Some focus group participants explained how money was too liquid and they were not accustomed to having such a large sum of cash at one time. According to surveys, at least 75% of the cash recipients would withdraw the total amount of cash from their bank account, much of which was spent within the first week.

Other impacts

Focus group discussion helped identify other significant impacts which were not identified in the surveys. One commonly identified benefit was the effects on family unity and cohesion. Groups from both the FFA and CFA expressed how payments (cash or food) allowed families to solve their immediate conflicts. Certain families had described how when their households began lacking food or cash, disagreements arose between husbands and wives, and occasionally between children and parents. There were numerous accounts of how wives had moved to their parents’ home, or husbands to another city or live with another woman. Several informants described the healing of relationships as coinciding with the intervention. Moreover, men and women in both cash and food transfer programmes described how their sex drive returned resulting, in some cases, in new pregnancies.

However, in three of the five focus groups conducted during the CFA programme, several respondents described how the influx of cash also brought about conflicts. A group of women described how the ability to conceal or hide cash would lead to suspicion and doubt. Spouses were known to question each other on how much money remained or where it was spent. Those who highlighted this conflict also described how an in-kind transfer, such as food, would not lead to this type of challenge. A small number of individuals also recounted that certain individuals involved in the project had spent portions of money on alcohol or gambling.

Unique to the CFA projects was how the high participation of women gave them a greater control over cash in the household. Despite there being a higher participation of males in CFA compared to GFA or FFA work sites, the majority of participants were still women. Survey results showed that 56% of the bank accounts were registered under female participants, while just 30% were registered under male (14% were registered under the names of neighbours or friends). Ninety two percent of respondents indicated that it was the first time that they had possessed a bank account. Female participants described how having their own income allowed them to attain greater power over making decisions about household purchases than before. Previously, some married women described having to ask for money from their husbands to make purchases, whereas now husbands were asking for spending money. Monthly surveys throughout the project cycle indicated that on average women made HH financial decisions 47% of the time, whereas 51% of the time decisions were reported as shared between HH heads. Women commonly expressed both pride and happiness in being the breadwinners.

Beneficiary preferences

A significant portion of focus group discussions was spent on dialogue surrounding the beneficiary preferences for the different types of programme. In each of the GFA and FFA projects, nearly all recipients chose their current mode of transfer over the alternative of cash. Occasionally a food recipient would show partiality towards cash but this was an anomaly; consensus in nearly every group indicated satisfaction with what they were receiving. Conversely, those who were enrolled in CFA programmes were split between payment in cash or food. Of the five focus groups done in the CFA locations, four exhibited more than half favouring in-kind food to cash, one of which even unanimously agreed on food. It was evident, however, that many of those expressing a desire for cash had few opportunities to earn income, while some preferring food had alternative means of income (such as casual labour or charcoal burning). Comparatively, male participants exhibited a greater preference for cash than their female counterparts, although the preference for cash was still in a minority.

Those preferring cash-transfers explained that being given money allowed them to address a number of needs, not just hunger. While hunger was consistently regarded as the most pressing need, it was pointed out that other pressing needs could not be solved with food, e.g. medical costs, school fees and payments of debts. Those preferring cash also highlighted their satisfaction with being able to make choices themselves. Some specifically expressed satisfaction with being able to choose between different types of food such as purchasing oil, meat or salt. A less common explanation given for a preference of cash was how neighbouring families expected to be given a portion of food in the FFA programme food until it was used up. It is uncommon to “hoard” food during a drought period, especially when others are going hungry. Cash recipients expressed high levels of possessiveness and ownership over their cash as they felt they earned it, and described feeling less of an inclination to share.

Those preferring food (approximately half those given cash and nearly all of those given food), attributed their preference to a variety of reasons. Most focus group participants agreed the hunger was the primary need that needed to be addressed. Parents expressed how when food was not in the home not only were they hungry, but also distressed because their children were weak or sick. This was a common point of tension and grief for families. Individuals further described how not having food to serve their family fuelled arguments and conflicts in the home. Thus, when food was provided peace was restored in the home.

Other preferences for food stemmed from a critique of cash. Some of the respondents who had received cash but preferred food described how cash was variable in its purchasing power. During the early months of the project, when prices were volatile and often inflated (at times doubled), they lost purchasing power. Furthermore, others described their inability to limit spending; none had described previously making savings and were unaccustomed to keeping cash. Accordingly, a month’s food allocation cannot easily be consumed in a week, while cash can. Several individuals described lack of discipline and being “tempted” into making trivial purchases. Nearly 40% of focus group participants described how the cash was finished within the first week.

Finally, the vast majority of GFA participants expressed preference for goats over cash and food during focus group discussions. It is important to note the GFA project was specifically implemented after the dry season and correspondingly food needs were less pressing. Explanations from community members conveyed how both food and cash are fleeting and would be quickly consumed, while a goat, especially a high milk-producing hybrid, can produce income and food for years to come. Furthermore, goats would also periodically give birth to offspring and produce manure for the fertilisation of their farms. One respondent in Mbeere indicated that goats acted as a savings account or insurance mechanism, as they could be sold in dry spells. Lastly, goats have intrinsic value as a sign of wealth and are often used in traditional customs such as in the payments of a dowry.

Women and Men in a Kilifi community working on a large water pan

Payment uses

The questionnaires for the CFA projects indicated that spending habits of beneficiaries changed throughout the project cycle but consistently showed the largest expenditure was on food. Mid-project, when food prices were highest, 85% of households spent at least half of their income on food, while 55% spent over three quarters of the cash on food. The end of project survey indicated that by March 2012, after the short rains harvest, only 6% of households spent three-quarters or more of their income on food, while 73% spent more than half. The end of project survey indicated that 14% spent most on school fees while expenditures on servicing debts, paying medical costs and livestock care accounted for about a third of the cash transfer. These findings were consistent with focus group findings. Occasionally, households would have to pay large amounts towards school fees for secondary or college education or towards an unexpected medical emergency. While just 19% of beneficiaries managed some minimal savings (81% saved none), focus groups discussions were unable to locate any individual who had any substantial funds left in their account. While many liked the idea of having a bank account, they indicated that it was merely a mechanism to transfer funds and that it was not possible to maintain savings for the future without a steady income.

Surveys from the FFA projects revealed that between 88-90% of delivered food was consumed by the intended household. A portion of the food (19.8% in Mbeere and 12.0% in Kilifi) was shared or given to neighbours. For the GFA project, focus group discussions were not conducted after the distribution of goats, and an end of project survey has not yet been completed.


Current guidelines increasingly stipulate that where markets are functional, CFA programmes are superior to food distributions specifically in terms of efficiency. While this may be the case, other key factors including gender participation, beneficiary preference, project ownership, adverse impacts and behavioural responses should also be considered. The above case studies carried out by World Renew shows that while there are many similarities between different models of asset exchange, they are not interchangeable and cannot be expected to achieve identical results.

For more information, contact: Geoff Brouwer, or

Show footnotes

1Kelaher, D and Dollery B, 2008. Cash and in-kind food aid transfers: the case of tsunami emergency aid in Banda Aceh. International Review of Public Administration 13(2):117-128.

2World Food Programme. Cash and food transfers for food security and nutrition: emerging insights and knowledge gaps from WFP’s experience. October, 2006.

3M Benjamin, C Donovan, and V Kelly. 2009. Can cash transfers promote food security in the context of volatile commodity prices? A review of empirical evidence. Agricultural Economics. Michigan. Kelaher D, and Dollery B. 2008. Cash and in-kind food aid transfers: the case of tsunami emergency aid in Banda Aceh. International Review of Public Administration 13 (2): 117-128. Pierson R. T. Ntata. 2010. Bridging the hunger gap with cash transfers : experiences from Malawi. Development in Practice 20 (3): 422 – 427.

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Reference this page

Geoff Brouwer (2012). Food, goats and cash for assets programmes during emergency drought response inKenya. Field Exchange 44, December 2012. p38.