This article analyses household-based food transfers as an expression of multi-local livelihoods. Transfers of maize outside the co-resident household unit are analysed on the basis of data from 2857 smallholder households across nine African countries. The study complements a growing interest in the role of food transfers for urban food security, through considering the food security implications for sending households. Food transfers in the top income quintile consist of distributing surplus production, whereas in the lower quintiles, transfers clearly compromise the food security of the sending households. The spatial mismatch between household production and consumption points to the need for development strategies that consider these wider subsistence obligations. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.