This study uses new survey data to assess the impact of food assistance on outcomes related to food security, nutrition and education, during conflict in northern Mali.
Mali, a large landlocked country in the Sahel region of West Africa, is one of the least developed and most food insecure countries in the world. Mali has suffered from a series of political, constitutional and military crises since January 2012, including the loss of government control of northern territories between April 2012 and January 2013. In response to these complex crises, a range of humanitarian aid interventions were scaled up.
This study included two sets of research questions. The first set was descriptive, in which the study team employed mixed-methods to characterise exposure to conflict and food assistance in the survey population:
- What are the characteristics of conflict experienced in the study areas?
- Which population groups were most affected and what coping strategies were adopted?
- What humanitarian interventions were scaled up, where were they scaled up and how were they targeted?
The second set of research questions focused on the evaluation of the impact of conflict and the mitigating effects of food assistance:
- What is the impact of conflict on household food security, child malnutrition and other outcomes?
- What are the effects of food assistance on conflict-affected populations?
- What coping strategies were most effective in mitigating the effects of conflict?
- How did humanitarian aid influence the effectiveness of coping strategies at the household and community level?
This study employs longitudinal and quasi-experimental methods, and is based on two survey rounds, five years apart, in the Mopti region in northern Mali. The team collected data from 66 communities randomly selected from within food-insecure districts. Study outcomes included household expenditures, food consumption (measured through 7-d recall), child nutritional status, school enrolment, attendance and attainment. Programme impact is estimated by combining propensity score matching and difference-in-differences.
In terms of food security and nutrition, food assistance was found to increase household non-food and food expenditures, as well as micronutrient availability.
Disaggregating by degree of conflict exposure showed that the effects on expenditures and children’s height were mostly concentrated in areas not in the immediate vicinity of the conflict: the effects on height were also concentrated in households in these areas who received at least two forms of food assistance. In villages where armed groups were present, food assistance improved household micronutrient availability from food consumption, including zinc and vitamin A.
In terms of education outcomes, school feeding led to increases in enrolment by 11 percentage points and to about an additional half a year of schooling. Attendance among boys residing in households receiving general food distribution, however, decreased by about 20 per cent compared to the comparison group.
Disaggregating by conflict intensity showed that receipt of any programme led to increases in enrolment mostly in higher conflict intensity areas, and that the negative effects of general food distribution on attendance were also concentrated in the most affected areas. Conversely, school feeding mostly increased attainment of children residing in areas not in the immediate vicinity of the conflict.
Programme receipt triggered adjustments in child labour: school feeding led to lower girls’ participation and time spent at work, while general food distribution increased children’s labour, particularly for boys.
Evidence from this study suggests that there is scope to improve the design and scale up of food assistance interventions during conflict. However, humanitarian operations during conflict face important trade-offs: on the one hand, programme scale and effectiveness, and on the other, the practicalities of operating in areas under the control of armed groups (including security, governance and transparency).