Poverty and malnutrition are major problems in South Africa, especially among black people in rural areas. The poorest are heavily dependent on social pensions, remittances, low wages, piece jobs and, to a very small extent, household agriculture. Industrial safety nets are weak and do not necessarily help the vulnerable to overcome their poverty. This article draws on the experience of Operation Hunger, a South African NGO founded in 1980, to examine the impact of poverty?alleviation programmes on the recipients. The article reviews the strategies employed by the government and NGOs to strengthen vulnerable households, food aid, public works and agricultural programmes ? drawing on Operation Hunger's experience in these areas. The article concludes that targeting, monitoring and evaluating, and piloting development programmes are crucial, and stresses the importance of NGOs in this regard.