Adaptive Safety Nets for Rural Africa: Drought-Sensitive Targeting with Sparse Data

This paper combines remote-sensed data and individual child-, mother-, and household-level data from the Demographic and Health Surveys for five countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) to design a prototype drought-contingent targeting framework that may be used in scarce-data contexts. To accomplish this, the paper: (i) develops simple and easy-to-communicate measures of drought shocks; (ii) shows that droughts have a large impact on child stunting in these five countries—comparable, in size, to the effects of mother’s illiteracy and a fall to a lower wealth quintile; and (iii) shows that, in this context, decision trees and logistic regressions predict stunting as accurately (out-of-sample) as machine learning methods that are not interpretable.