School feeding or general food distribution? Quasi-experimental evidence on the educational impacts of emergency food assistance during conflict in Mali
This report (PDF) by UNICEF relies on a unique precrisis baseline and five-year follow-up to investigate the effects of emergency school feeding and general food distribution (GFD) on children’s schooling during conflict in Mali. It estimates programme impact on child enrolment, absenteeism and attainment by combining difference in differences with propensity score matching. School feeding led to increases in enrolment by 11 percentage points and to about an additional half-year of completed schooling. Attendance among boys residing in households receiving GFD, however, declined by about 20 per cent over the comparison group. Disaggregating by conflict intensity showed that receipt of any programme led to rises in enrolment mostly in high-intensity conflict areas and that the negative effects of GFD on attendance were also concentrated in the most affected areas. Conversely, school feeding mostly raised attainment among children residing in areas not in the immediate vicinity of the conflict. Programme receipt triggered adjustments in child labour. Thus, school feeding led to lower participation and time spent in work among girls, while GFD raised children’s labour, particularly among boys. The educational implications of food assistance should be considered in planning humanitarian responses to bridge the gap between emergency assistance and development by promoting children’s education. Important questions remain on the provision of humanitarian aid during conflict. For instance, as with cash transfers, it may that variations in the size and duration of the transfers may influence the impact of both programmes, but particularly GFD, in different ways. This also has implications in terms of the costs of both programmes, as well as for the different modalities of the same programme (such as cooked meals versus snacks). Also, how should one go about optimizing food assistance to balance the trade-offs between education goals and food security goals? This remains an important area for further research.