Adaptive social protection and migration. The case of cash transfers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi


This report presents the results of a short qualitative study aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of the links between cash transfers and migration and the implications for long term adaptation in the context of rapid climate change. Interviews with cash transfer project beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi suggest that overall, cash transfers have had little impact on the decision to migrate. In the few cases where cash was used for migration, this was in very poor cash-constrained households in remote areas where the costs of migration were high as in the case of rural Ethiopia. However, in most other cases, the amounts of cash awarded were too low for cash transfers to have any significant effect on facilitating migration.

In some other cases, another possible reason for the lack of connection between cash transfers and migration is that young migrants leave without the knowledge or permission of their guardians (who are the direct recipients of the cash transfers). Young people increasingly migrate to capital cities hoping to find better employment and/or education opportunities. Most of these cities however are themselves vulnerable to adverse impacts of climate change. It is unlikely that any change in the cash programme design will alter this rural to urban migration trend. Instead policy should work to support mobility by reducing its risks and maximizing its benefits.

The research also found some evidence in Ethiopia and Malawi that cash transfers can reduce the need to migrate, in particular amongst relatively older people who do not want to move away from their native villages. Arguably this could have negative impacts in the longer term (mal-adaptation) by trapping people in livelihood strategies that are not sustainable in the context of deteriorating conditions for farming brought about by shifts in climate patterns. This predicament is somewhat tempered however by the fact that some of the cash recipients staying behind have succeeded in diversifying out of agriculture, through e.g. investing in non-farm activities such as petty trade. But as in the case of migration, these tend to be the relatively better endowed, with the aptitude for risk-taking and entrepreneurial skills.

For older people who have chosen to stay back, cash provides only a temporary solution, which will not reduce vulnerability in the longer term especially if cropping/livestock keeping conditions continue to deteriorate. But these disadvantages need to be seen against the position that they are in their life cycle and whether they are able to adapt to worsening circumstances if cash transfers were to bewithdrawn or they were resettled.

Finally, this research highlights the urgent need to develop policy responses that address vulnerable rural-urban migrants. Current debates on social protection for migrants mainly address the portability and access to rights for international movements between countries. In contrast debates about internal (domestic) migrants are rare. Urgent action is required to address the social protection needs of internal migrants and move away from policies that attempt to control such migration. In the light of this finding, recommendations are made for more research directly linking social protection and internal migration.

Overall, the interviews provide important insights into the migration decision-making process and the role of cash transfers in that process. In that regard, the interviews extend the analysis of the determinants of migration by demonstrating the importance of factors other than economic factors such as aspirations ‘for a better life’ or escaping neglect and abuse among young migrants.

The findings of this research however need to be interpreted with caution, as they are based on a small number of interviews. In particular they should not be used to guide decisions related to the design of cash transfer projects in the future. Instead, further analysis needs to be conducted, based on a larger sample across regions, programmes and countries and recommendations made for possible ways forward.

This report has been produced by the Research Programme Consortium for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) Adaptation Knowledge and Tools programme and published through Evidence on Demand.

The Adaptation Knowledge and Tools programme is a DFID-funded programme intended to maximise the effectiveness of UK and international investment in climate change adaptation and resilience. The knowledge and tools generated through this programme are expected to promote greater understanding of what constitutes best practice in adaptation, as well as better international cohesion and coordination around adaptation. Through these entry points the programme expects to increase the quality ofinternational and UK adaptation programming and reduce its risk.


Deshingkar, P.; Godfrey Wood, R.; Béné, C. Adaptive social protection and migration. The case of cash transfers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi. Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK (2015) 47 pp.

Adaptive social protection and migration. The case of cash transfers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi

Published 1 January 2015