The 1.5 Billion People Question: Food, Vouchers or Cash Transfers?

A new report by the World Bank shows how food and voucher programmes remain relevant, although vulnerable people are increasingly supported by cash systems.

The report The 1.5 Billion People Question: Food, Vouchers or Cash Transfers?  was published by the World Bank in September 2017. It reveals that while countries increasingly support people with cash as a form of safety net, food-based programs are still important interventions in some contexts.

The study shows that cash, vouchers and food transfers are effective in improving food security, with the former two more likely to achieve these goals at lower costs. Food, which claims about 61 per cent of the poor’s expenditures, is a pressing daily concern for people at the bottom of the income ladder. 

An effective food-based social assistance programme can make a critical difference and help release household resources for other needs. Vouchers and cash transfers are shown to complement food-based transfers to support additional policy goals such as in nutrition and agriculture.

The report also discusses how the use of modern technology in food programmes shows enormous potential for improving these delivery systems. For example, in some low-income states in India, technological tools helped to expand the coverage of food distribution and curb rates of exclusion of the poor from the programme.

The diversity of contexts within countries – for example the availability of food in local markets– may call for maintaining flexibility in programme choices. Political and economic factors,
past practices, and the multiplicity of objectives can also help explain why governments retain food-based interventions.

Case studies of programmes in six countries, namely Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Sri Lanka, and the United States of America are presented in the study. Although these include middle- and high-income countries, the lessons are relevant to lower-income countries as well.

Download report: The 1.5 Billion People Question: Food, Vouchers or Cash Transfers?

(The World Bank/ile)