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Social Protection for Food Security: HLPE consultation on the V0 draft of the Report

In October 2010 the newly reformed UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) requested its High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) to conduct a study on social protection, and in particular, to assess: “ways to lessen vulnerability through social and productive safety nets programs and policies with respect to food and nutritional security, taking into consideration differing conditions across countries and regions. This should include a review of the impact of existing policies for the improvement of living conditions and resilience of vulnerable populations, especially small scale rural producers, urban and rural poor as well as women and children. It should also take into account benefits for improving local production and livelihoods and promoting better nutrition.

Final findings are to be presented at the CFS Plenary session in October 2012.

The High Level Panel of Experts for Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) now seeks input on the following V0 draft of its report to address this mandate. This e-consultation will be used by the HLPE Project Team to further elaborate the report, which will then be submitted to external expert review, before finalization by the Project Team under Steering Committee guidance and oversight.

Social protection has risen rapidly up the development policy agenda in the last decade. Although increasingly dominated by conditional and unconditional cash transfer programmes, social protection in fact describes a wide range of instruments that aim to alleviate poverty and manage livelihood risks. Many of these interventions have direct, intended implications for food security. Some of them, such as food price subsidies and strategic grain reserves, were explicitly designed to enhance or protect household and national food security.

So there are powerful synergies between social protection and food security, but these have not yet been fully conceptualised and analysed. This report therefore aims to bring together available evidence on the main social protection instruments that impact directly on food security. The report also reviews current thinking on relevant debates such as targeting, cash versus food transfers, ‘dependency syndrome’, intervening in food markets and affordability.

At the same time advocacy for food security has increasingly been influenced by evolving international and national developments with respect to the right to adequate food and related human rights as established in international human rights law. There is also a human right to social protection or security, and together with the right to food it is now possible to explore the strengthening of social protection measures for food security through a rights based approach.

Because of these knowledge gaps and unresolved issues in social protection thinking and practice, we propose opening a dialogue over the coming weeks on the topic of social protection for food security, addressing the following specific questions.

Firstly, there are many social protection instruments that affect food security, including: public works, school feeding schemes, conditional and unconditional cash transfers, grain reserves, price subsidies, etc.

  • Which social protection instruments are most effective in addressing problems of food insecurity, and should be promoted? Which instruments should be avoided, and why? Should interventions in food markets designed to stabilise prices be used?
     

Secondly, no clear consensus has yet emerged concerning many basic design choices and implementation modalities of social protection programmes, and we welcome feedback and debate on these unresolved issues as well.

  • Should social protection interventions for food security be targeted or open to all? Under which conditions should household food security be protected with cash transfers rather than food aid? Do social transfers cause ‘dependency syndrome’? Should cash transfer programmes be conditional or unconditional?
     

Thirdly, there are increasing trends towards making social protection ‘rights-based’ rather than ‘discretionary’ – a justiciable claim rather than a charitable handout – but this has various implications that have not yet been fully thought through.

  • Should the trend towards linking social protection to the right to social security and the right to food be supported? Which mechanisms are most effective in upgrading social protection from discretionary projects to enforceable claims: social audits? grievance mechanisms? legislation? What are the challenges to strengthening the rights foundations of social protection, and how can they be overcome?

Finally, food security for all cannot be achieved with a single social protection scheme. Rather, it requires a more systemic approach to meet diverse food security needs, as well as building linkages to other sectors.

  • What principles should guide the design of a comprehensive social protection system for achieving household and individual food security? Should impact on nutritional status be seen primarily through dietary diversity and food consumption, or extend into broader nutrition security and encompass also security for water, sanitation, disease control and arrangements for special care of vulnerable groups like women and young children? Which agricultural, trade and other policies should complement social protection for more sustainable food security outcomes? What are the appropriate roles for the international community in supporting national social protection systems for food security?

We thank in advance all the contributors for being kind enough to read and comment on this early version of our report. We look forward for a rich and fruitful consultation.

The HLPE Project Team: Stephen Devereux, Wenche Barth Eide, John Hoddinott, Noral Lustig, Kalanidhi Subbarao.

This discussion is now closed. Please contact fsn-moderator@fao.org for any further information.