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Food Security in Malawi: Direct and Indirect Effects of Its Public Works Program

Jessica Goldberg
Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park & Non-Resident Fellow, Center for Global Development

Justin Sandefur
Research Fellow, Center for Global Development


Michael Clemens
Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development

Do labor-intensive public works programs (PWPs) serve as an important social protection tools to supplement the income of poor households and improve public infrastructure? In their paper, Goldberg and coauthors conduct a unique nationally-representative evaluation of the Malawi Social Action Fund, Malawi's largest social protection program, using across- and within-village randomization to estimate the effects of the program on its stated objectives: food security and use of agricultural inputs.

Despite the commitment to the program and the substantial resources devoted to it, Goldberg and coauthors find no evidence that it improves food security, but that it actually generates negative spillover effects that reduce the food security of untreated households in two of the country's three geographic regions. Moreover, variations intended to improve the design of the program by shifting earnings opportunities to the country's lean season from harvest season do not generate positive impacts on food security.

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