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Re: Social protection to protect and promote nutrition

Mr. Yesake Demeke Andeyhun Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Yesake Demeke

Dear FSN Forum,

to respond to the question of debate: what are the main issues for policy-makers to consider in the design, formulation and implementation of nutrition-enhancing social protection measures?, please find below an article adapted from my unpublished Master’s thesis on Africa’s food availability, accessibility and utilization analysis.

With kind regards

Yesake D. Andeyhun

Msc (Agric) Agricultural Economics (final year student)
Stellenbosch University
South Africa

Social protection to protect and promote nutrition: a case for the poorest rural households

While the poor in most of Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) are largely susceptible to food production, accessibility and utilization shocks coupled with the high level of prevalence of poverty and their high income share expenditure on food, the importance of social protection and safety nets is extremely important. The main essence of safety nets is provision of equity and efficiency (Alderman, Hoddinott 2007).

In this regard social protection can be defined 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 marginalized to access social insurance and assistance” (European communities, 2010; cited in(Devereux 2012).

According to Devereux (2012), this definition has three components: social assistance (protection against poverty); social insurance (protection against vulnerability); and social injustice and exclusion (social risks such as discrimination or abuse).  He argued that food security can be enhanced through social protection by income stabilization, raising income and promoting social justice. Income stabilization can be maintained by agricultural insurance, offering temporary employment on public work programmes, giving food aid or cash transfers to targeted individuals, through provision of employment guarantee and managing food supplies through strategic grain reserves (Devereux 2012).

Effective social protection interventions can raise income and create asset especially in rural Africa through promotion of small scale farmers, off farmers and land less poor(Alderman, Hoddinott 2007, Devereux 2012). While there is a positive synergy between agricultural promotions and social protection; impact of social protection when effectively implemented in promoting agricultural growth and poverty reduction is vital (Devereux 2012). Carefully designed social protection schemes can reduce seasonal hunger; increase farm income (which allows better nutrition and stabilize agricultural yield), also through weather indexed insurance it promotes farmers risk taking behaviors; such as adopting high yield varieties and so on(Devereux 2012, Ethiopian Government 2009).

It can also be effectively designed to include agricultural input subsidies, inputs for work and input trade fairs; also interventions that enhance public works projects which construct roads that link markets and reduce transaction costs are effective(Ethiopian Government 2009). In this regard social protection should be well designed that public work must not attract farm labor in a way it compromises farming or food aid should not discourage local production and trade; and also cash transfers should not be introduced where markets are so weak which might lead to inflation (Devereux 2012, Ethiopian Government 2009).

The social justice aspect of social protection can be implemented by examining and tackling the main social and political causes of marginalization and exclusion of the poor and vulnerable groups (Devereux 2012). Accordingly, addressing of these fundamental issues is effective and sustainable even more than dealing with technical issues such as input subsidy and food aid. For that, he identified rights based approaches, which are permanent programs such as those implemented by government rather than external donor projects; hence it is based on rights and social contract. Although sometimes it is exposed to local elites and powerful groups in the village, community based targeting is also effective in identifying more vulnerable communities. Social audits are another mechanism for effective implementation of rights based approach and enhancing improved service delivery and good governance (Devereux 2012).

The effectiveness of social protection in rural Africa in poverty reduction, food security and better nutrition, has been demonstrated in Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) of Ethiopia (Ethiopian Government 2009). The programme launched in 2005 at larger scale with estimated budget of 500 million USD comprising around one million participants, selected based on geographic and community targeting (Gilligan, Hoddinott et al. 2009). And as of April 2009, around 56,895 households have been graduated from the programme up on sizable improvements on asset holding and food availability (Ethiopian Government 2009). It mostly uses public work scheme paying beneficiaries 10birr/day[1] or 3 kilograms of cereals for work on labour intensive projects of building community assets during January and June of each year so that it doesn’t interfere with peak farming season(Ethiopian Government 2009). While a small proportion of beneficiaries (elderly or disabled) get direct support, the program has been complemented by agricultural productivity enhancement services; such as access to credit, extension services, technology transfer and irrigation and water harvesting schemes(Gilligan, Hoddinott et al. 2009).

In conclusion social protection schemes should be designed in more sustainable manner to address the poorest and vulnerable groups, favoring asset holding, income generation and social justice. Theoretically this approach is also supported by Sen’s capability approach, in which the main focus should be on building capacity and addressing the root causes of vulnerability. Experience has showed that, non-targeted direct cash transfer and food aid increased dependency and deteriorated realization of local capability. In this regard the experience of Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), which enhanced large scale poverty reduction and food security through better nutritional intervention, is one of the best models to be adopted in the rest of rural poor regions.


ALDERMAN, H. and HODDINOTT, J., 2007. Growth-promoting social safety nets. International Food Policy Research Institute.

DEVEREUX, S., 2012. Social Protection for Enhanced Food
Security in Sub-Saharan Africa.
WP 2012-010. Brighton, UK: UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa.

ETHIOPIAN GOVERNMENT, 2009. Food Security Programme 2010-2014: Productive Safety Net. Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

GILLIGAN, D., HODDINOTT, J., KUMAR, N. and TAFFESSE, A., 2009. Can Social Protection work in Africa? Evidence on the impact of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme on food security, assets and incentives. Evidence on the Impact of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme on Food Security, Assets and Incentives (August 18, 2009), .

[1] It was initially 6 birr/day and it grew to 10birr/day in 2010  (note that 1USD=17.5 birr, in current value)