Three Essays on Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: Multidimensional Poverty Change in Zimbabwe; Long-Term Impact of Cash Transfers in Niger; and Targeting Efficiency of Social Protection Programs in Cameroon

This dissertation focuses on identifying the poor in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and the potential of social assistance programs to address their condition. Each essay is related to one particular key step of the poverty alleviation agenda: poverty definition and measurement in Zimbabwe; targeting poor households in Cameroon; and impact evaluation of anti-poverty interventions in Niger.

The first essay explores changes in poverty across multiple dimensions in a period of dramatic economic crisis and recovery in Zimbabwe. The essay analyzes changes in household well-being between 2001, 2007 and 2011/12, using an Alkire-Foster multidimensional poverty index. Results indicate a large increase in multidimensional poverty across between 2001 and 2007, followed by a (smaller) decrease in poverty between 2007 and 2011/12 (recovery period after the hyperinflation peak in 2008). However, decomposition of the index shows significantly different trends in poverty dimensions over time, as for instance health related dimensions continued to deteriorate after 2007.

The second essay contributes to the policy debate on targeting by studying the ex-post efficiency of two targeting mechanisms employed in a cash transfer project in rural Cameroon: Proxy Means Testing (PMT) and community targeting. Results show a poor iii performance of community targeting in selecting households with low per capita consumption, compared to PMT targeting– whose errors remain high nonetheless. Communities tend to select small, isolated households with low physical and human capital, regardless of their actual consumption level, but produce variable outcomes. Overall results suggest that a higher coverage contributes to reducing targeting errors, and that better guidance should be provided to communities if the policy objective is to select low per capita consumption individuals.

The third essay investigate whether cash transfers induce investments in assets and productive activities that survive the termination of program payments using data from an unconditional cash transfer project in Niger 18 months after its termination. Based on quasi-experimental methods, results indicate that local saving/credit systems (tontines) participation and livestock ownership significantly increased among project participants. There is also evidence of improvement in private assets, micro-enterprises and agriculture. The findings imply that cash transfer programs can have long-term sustainable impacts in rural SSA.