Social Protection Programs and Food Security

The 2010 European Report on Social Protection for Inclusive Development established a comprehensive definition of social protection, defining the concept as:

‘‘A specific set of actions to address the vulnerability of people’s life through social insurance, offering protection against risk and adversity throughout life; through social assistance, offering payments and in kind transfers to support and enable the poor; and through inclusion efforts that enhance the capability of the marginalised to access social insurance and assistance’’.

While mentioning poverty reduction and risk management, however, this definition does not explicitly discuss how social protection relates to food security. A new article in Food Policy expands the discussion of social protection to include food security in Africa south of the Sahara. The inclusion of social justice principles in the design of social protection programs can lead to increased food security, given that at its core, the purpose of a social protection program is to manage vulnerability. Specifically, the article lays out how social protection programs can promote food security in three ways:

  1. Stabilizing incomes by  mitigating seasonal stress and managing risk and insuring against shocks;
  2. Raising incomes by promoting agriculture and enhancing rural livelihoods; and
  3. Enhancing social justice by empowering poor farmers, pastoralists, and landless laborers.

The article focuses on rural areas as poverty and food insecurity tend to be concentrated in rural communities in Africa and most of the region’s social protection interventions are either on a national scale or implemented only in rural areas.  

In terms of stabilizing incomes, the author cites several interventions that can be used to help protect households from fluctuations in food prices or food supply. These mechanisms include agricultural insurance (specifically, weather-indexed insurance), public works programs, food aid, and conditional or unconditional cash transfers. The article presents Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme as one example of an income stabilization scheme. The program includes a public works arm for those with the capacity to work with a direct support arm providing unconditional grants for those without the ability to work (such as the disabled and older populations). However, the author observed several weaknesses in the program: the cash transfers might have contributed to food price inflation, given that it in certain areas, traders were slow to match the increase in demand, the cash transfers failed to improve seasonality of food prices seasonality and by the end, beneficiaries preferred to shift back from cash transfers towards food aid since the value of cash declined due to inflation and the 2007-2008 food crisis.

The author describes the different strategies implemented to raise incomes, first addressing the direct programs such as cash transfers, noting that raising returns to land and labor tend to be more sustainable over time even if they are harder to implement due to policy constraints. The author highlights that investment in agriculture raises productivity and rural incomes, not only of the producers, but also of traders, landless workers, and service and input providers in the area, with a positive impact on fiscal resources given the higher incomes. Social protection programs can also target seasonal hunger by allowing people to sustain their nutrition in times of crisis but the design of the program needs to be addressed carefully since either cash transfers or food aid can have negative effects in the market and for wellbeing poorly implemented.

The author notes the importance of social protection as a mean for ensuring timely access to affordable inputs to farmers, using the case of the Malawi Agricultural Input Subsidy Programme (MAISP) and Input Trade Fairs (ITF) in Mozambique. MAISP allowed for an increase of 16 percent of the national maize harvest, at a fifth of the cost of a traditional food aid program. Over time, the subsidies proved fundamental to help farmers shield their households from seasonal food insecurity and price fluctuations. ITF facilitated the interaction between traders and farmers through a voucher system for seeds and other inputs, and proved to be effective even if expensive.

Social protection programs also can help building rural infrastructure and strengthening institutions. These programs can lead to improvement in governance, contributing to more democratic implementation. The author describes three examples of approaches that can increase social justice: rights-based approaches, community-based targeting, and accountability mechanisms. Rights-based approaches are permanent in nature, run by governments, and beneficiaries are determined based on a social contract between citizens. An example of this is the “Community Work Programme” in South Africa that intends to provide a minimum of work at a minimum wage and looks for covering gaps of employment.

Community-based targeting makes use of local knowledge to identify prospective beneficiaries. This approach is very popular, given that is defined by being participatory and inclusive. Finally, accountability mechanisms can be weaved into a program so power structures are transformed over time, allowing for the citizens to have some authority over a government-run program. For example, in Burundi and northern Kenya, strategies for citizens to record grievances on social protection programs have successfully been established.

Finally, the author provides a number of different strategies through which social transfers can be implemented to better protect the household. These include mechanisms where the transfer is made in part food and part cash, replacing the transfer for a voucher, or conditioning the duration of cash transfer to only periods of high volatility. The author summarizes that there is not one solution that will work in each situation and projects should be tailored to specific needs and contexts, but there’s a clear synergy to be exploited between social protection programs and household food security.

For more detailed information, please consult the full document in the following link.

Written by Sara Gustafson and Florencia Paz, IFPRI

Photo credit:Flickr, Dept of Foreign Affairs