ZIMBABWE has started paying poor families between US$10 and US$25 monthly cash grants, depending on family size, through the Harmonised Social Cash Transfer Scheme.
At least US$1,7 million has been spent so far on over 18 000 households in 10 districts, and the programme will eventually cover the whole country.
The programme is a non-conditional cash transfer scheme that targets poor households and is funded by donors and the Government.
The Government plans to help 250 000 poor families by 2015.
Targetted households are headed by children and the elderly.
Direct cash grants are now preferred around the world over subsidies, since subsidies help the rich and poor alike and in many cases the poor cannot afford even subsidised food. Secretary for Labour and Social Services Mr Lancaster Museka said the programme was being rolled out in phases.
"The programme is in a phased approach with the goal of reaching all 65 districts by 2015," he said.
Districts covered so far are Mangwe (Matabeleland South), Umguza (Matabeleland North), Mzilikazi (Bulawayo Urban), Epworth (Harare), Makoni (Manicaland), Rushinga (Mashonaland Central), Goromonzi (Mashonaland East), Kariba (Mashonaland West), Chivi (Masvingo) and Zvishavane (Midlands).
Mr Museka said the districts were selected on the basis of poverty incidence from the 2010 crop assessment reports correlated with the 2003 Poverty Assessment Survey and poverty data from the Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee.
Disbursements were being made every two months and the volume of transfers was on a sliding scale in line with family size.
"To date, two cycles of cash disbursements have taken place," Mr Museka said.
"A delayed payment cycle for May and June is being prepared and will be paid within the coming few weeks."
The Ministry of Labour and Social Services has already invited bidders to carry out a study for the next group's needy districts.
"The modalities for payments remain the same when the next 10 districts are brought on board to make a total of 20 districts that will be receiving payments in 2013," said Mr Museka.
"The process will be repeated towards the end of next year and the coming years with an additional 10 districts added per year until full national coverage is reached."
HSCT is jointly funded by Government and donors.
"The donors who have pooled their resources so far are DFID, SIDA, the Netherlands Government and European Commission," he said.
"Unicef provides additional financial and technical support over and above the donor funds it manages through the Child Protection Fund.
"Government, through fiscal funding to the ministry (Labour and Social Services) matches the donor funds on a 50-50 basis and this year it committed US$7 million which was revised downwards to US$2 million during the Mid-Term budget review by the Ministry of Finance.
"The funding will increase annually both from donors through the CPF and Government."
There are over one million orphans in Zimbabwe and only 527 000 have registered access to external support. Traditional family and community mechanisms to support orphans have been under financial strain, resulting in more children facing difficulties in accessing healthcare, education and other basic amenities.
Once a household benefits from HCTS, it will automatically access other social services support programmes.
These include free education under the Basic Education Assistance Module, access to health services, farming inputs and food distribution schemes.
Apart from the elderly and child-headed families, households with large numbers of dependents and those with chronically-ill or persons living with disabilities will benefit.
Zimbabwe has introduced a number of safety nets to cushion the poor in the past few years.
Such programmes include food-for-work in which people carry out community projects and receive food packages.