In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the number of malnourished children has dropped considerably.
Photo: © DFID/

Social protection, food security and asset formation

Even as debate stirs on the most preferred mode of transfer, a team of scientists at the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI) find social protection programmes increase food consumption, caloric acquisition, and formation of productive assets globally.

The Sustainable Development Goals agreed to by the 193 member states of the United Nations have committed the global community to ending poverty and hunger by 2030. There are many ways in which this can be accomplished, such as increasing the productivity of smallholders, raising levels of education or reducing barriers to entry to high-return activities, to name a few.

In the last 20 years, social protection has emerged as an additional policy tool to address poverty and hunger in developing countries, and there has been a rapid increase in the number of social protection programmes and the total number of beneficiaries these cover. It is estimated that as of 2013, nearly one billion people around the world receive one form of social protection, cash transfers.

A team of scientists at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, D.C., USA, constructed a new database of studies of these programmes that report impacts on food security outcomes and asset formation. Their meta-analysis finds that social protection programmes improve both the quantity and the quality of food consumed by beneficiaries.

The magnitudes of these effect sizes are meaningful. The average social protection programme increases the value of food consumed/expenditure by 13 per cent and caloric acquisition by 8 per cent, the study revealed. Food expenditure rises faster than caloric acquisition because households use transfers to improve the quality of their diet, most notably increasing their consumption of calories from animal source foods. Since the consumption of animal source foods in these populations is low, and because there are significant nutritional benefits to increasing the consumption of them, this is a positive outcome, the scientists note.

The IFPRI meta-analysis also finds that social protection programmes lead to increased asset holdings as measured by livestock, non-farm productive assets, farm productive assets and savings. There is no impact on land holdings, although the number of studies that assess these is small.


Melissa Hidrobo, John Hoddinott, Neha Kumar, Meghan Olivier:

Social Protection, Food Security, and Asset Formation

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