We assess the relative impacts of receiving cash versus food transfers using a randomized design. Drawing on data collected in eastern Niger, we find that households randomized to receive a food basket experienced larger, positive impact on measures of food consumption and diet quality than those receiving the cash transfer. Receiving food also reduced the use of a number of coping strategies. These differences held both at the height of the lean season and after the harvest. However, households receiving cash spent more money on agricultural inputs. Less than five percent of food was sold or exchanged for other goods. Food and cash were delivered with the same degree of frequency and timeliness but the food transfers cost 15 percent more to implement.And from the conclusions (pp. 19-20)
The food transfers, however, cost 15 percent more to implement, as the monthly transfer value was roughly 55 USD and the modality- specific cost was 12.91 USD per food transfer and only 4.00 USD per cash transfer. This implies that had all transfers been provided in cash, coverage could have been increased by 15 percent. Given the scale of this program, that could have meant providing cash assistance to 741 additional households (roughly 5041 individuals).
While food recipients experienced greater food security benefits in the short term, we cannot assess the relative benefits in the long term; the fact that households receiving cash spent more on agricultural inputs may mean that these households have higher incomes in the future. Finally, the specific context of this study is important. Our results are informative about the relative impacts of food and cash transfers in an extremely poor, rural setting, which is important for a number of food assistance and safety net programs. Caution should be exercised, however, in extrapolating these results to settings much different than those found in rural Niger.