Digital food vouchers offered to South African women during pregnancy have been found to have a statistically significant positive impact on levels of hunger among expectant mothers, their children and on mental health.

On Tuesday, 31 May 2022,the Grow Great Campaign, Stellenbosch University and partners released a follow-up report to their 2020/21 CoCare Maternal Support Study, which adds to public calls for extending the R480/month Child Support Grant (CSG) into the pregnancy period. The CSG is currently offered to guardians of children aged 0 – 18. 

“The CoCare initiative offered 2,775 vulnerable pregnant women in the Cape Metro area a R300 food voucher every two weeks for approximately four months over some of the harshest COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020 and 2021,” said Dr Kopano Matlwa Mabaso, Executive Director of The Grow Great Campaign.

SA’s high rate of physical stunting originates in pregnancy

In South Africa, one-third of pregnant women live in households that run out of money for food and over 60% of mothers of young children live on less than R1,227 per month, also known as the upper-bound poverty line. 

“When a pregnant mother doesn’t have enough money to buy food, her unborn baby is affected – often with lifelong consequences,” said Dr Matlwa Mabaso.

“During the first five years of life, the human brain and body cannot develop optimally without nutritious food. This includes the nutrients the baby receives from his or her mother while still in the womb.”  

“Children whose development has been compromised by persistent malnutrition in the first five years are physically stunted. Their lifelong health and school performance will be below their peers’ average and prevents them from participating in the economy fully as adults, locking them in vicious cycles of poverty.”

Just R480 extra per month can improve mother and child hunger, and mothers’ mental health

The CoCare survey found that recipients of the cash transfers who participated in the telephonic survey, not only reported lower rates of hunger (36% at the start of the initiative vs 24% at 4 month follow-up), but also lower rates of maternal depression (30% at the start of the initiative vs 21% follow-up). Maternal depression is linked to compromised socioemotional and cognitive development among children.

The cash transfers had a further positive impact on children in the home, as 15% of the recipients reported child hunger at follow-up compared to 22% at baseline.

The vast majority of pregnant women, 87%, spent their transfers on food, while the remainder bought baby necessities such as nappies.

Call to extend Child Support Grant into pregnancy period

“This study supports public calls to extend social grant support to poor and vulnerable pregnant women, as this can make a significant improvement on food security and mental health,” said Dr Matlwa Mabaso.  

The extension of the Child Support Grant into pregnancy is estimated to cost an extra 1.2% of the total grant budget for 2021/22. In comparison, the cost of lost human potential due to stunting is estimated at 7-10% of South Africa’s GDP.

“But possibly the most important outcome will be on South Africa’s next generation by protecting children from the devastating lifelong effects that physical stunting will have on their health, education, and potential.”

Download the full report here.