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Re: Social protection to protect and promote nutrition

Janice Meerman FAO , Italy

Design, Formulation and Implementation Considerations:

While social safety nets are rightly touted as an important way to protect vulnerable groups from food price spikes and other shocks, it is important to note that risk management activities for producers are often adversely affected by ad-hoc safety net programmes designed to support consumers. For example, untargeted staple food subsidies can divert government investment in warehouse receipt systems, commodity exchanges and other price risk management tools. In contrast, high quality, well-targeted safety nets grounded in broader social protection programmes deliver timely, multi-year, guaranteed and predictable transfers to the poor without undermining investment in risk management tools.

From a nutrition perspective, safety nets work best when they protect consumption by preventing decreases in dietary quality and quantity. Again, it is important to consider design, as staple food subsidies can create disincentives to dietary diversity. A second, but no less important, consideration is protection of income and livelihoods. The former is essential to protecting nutrition status in the short-term, while the latter is necessary for increasing longer-term resilience and decreasing risk aversion, both of which are essential to preventing coping mechanisms which can impact nutrition indirectly.

In regards to formulation and implementation, the World Bank’s Global Monitoring Report 2012 includes “building blocks” for effective social protection programmes, as listed below. Many have already been cited by other contributors to this forum:

  • Identification: Mechanisms to identify eligible beneficiaries and promote empowerment should be established.
  • Targeting and eligibility: Simplified approaches drawing on available information, bearing in mind costs, should be used.
  • Enrollment: Either a census-style survey or an on demand system may be used effectively. Each can be appropriate at different stages of program development, or they can be used simultaneously.
  • Timely payments: New technologies can help, but simple, traditional systems can also work.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: Basic monitoring systems should be established, as a foundation for immediate impact evaluation and to establish the database required for future evaluation. (World Bank 2012. Global Monitoring Report: Food Prices, Nutrition, and the Millennium Development Goals. Washington DC: World Bank.)

In regards to best practices and lessons learned:

Cash transfers have been repeatedly shown to improve child growth and increase both total household food security and dietary diversity. However if inflation is high, food transfers may be a better choice than cash.

School-feeding programmes in developing countries can include a meal at school and take-home rations.  Both have been shown to improve nutritional status, not only for schoolchildren but also for their younger siblings. However, costs may prove prohibitive, for example in some low-income African countries school-feeding programmes have been shown to be on par with basic education costs. Moreover, implementation may be difficult in remote areas, reducing cost-efficacy.  That said, in terms of design, school feeding programmes are easy to scale up during a crisis. On balance, it is unclear whether the costs of implementation outweigh the benefits

Cash-for-work programmes are naturally self targeting and as such offer a good delivery platform for a nutrition component. This can include nutrition education, regular home visits by community health and nutrition workers and distribution of food supplements during the lean season. Ideally, the nutrition component leverages the effects of the additional income provided by the programme to improve intake. Including a nutrition component in cash-for-work schemes can also increase the chances that female employment has a net positive effect on child welfare.

This contribution draws on The Impact of High Food Prices on Nutrition (Meerman & Aphane) posted on the ICN2 website. Full references for the 2012 World Bank GMR as well as other articles and reports which informed this contribution may be found in the paper.