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FAO and UNICEF partner to show how social protection can end extreme poverty

The two UN Organizations join forces to prove common perceptions on cash transfers are wrong, showing how social protection can help achieve SDG1 and SDG2.

24/08/2017 - 

FAO and UNICEF are strengthening their partnership to promote the expansion of social protection as one pathway out of poverty. A new joint study refutes some of the misperceptions and criticisms around cash transfers in the context of sub-Saharan Africa, the region currently home for three quarters of world’s extreme-poor. These myths include: “cash is wasted on alcohol and tobacco”, “transfers are just hand-outs”, “cash creates dependency”, “transfers lead to negative economic impacts on local markets” and “cash increases fertility". These perceptions have undermined acceptance of cash transfers as poverty reduction measures in policy debates in Africa and globally. But evidence is proving these perceptions wrong. Here are three examples of the many findings generated by the FAO-UNICEF partnership:

  1. Beneficiaries do not misuse the cash they receive, rather they use it to improve wellbeing of household members. Grants are not wasted in alcohol or tobacco, rather they are used to increase food security, purchase material goods and invest in education of children. This benefits both households and the communities in which they live.
  2. Cash transfers do not lead to dependency, rather families make productive investments, including those in agricultural inputs and productive activities, starting small businesses, and investing in livestock ownership among others.
  3. Cash transfers have a positive impact on community engagement to manage risks and increase families’ resilience. Grants help poor families avoid negative coping strategies such as begging or dropping kids out of school in the face of risks and shocks, and foster solidarity within the community.

The study was carried out under the Transfer Project, a joint initiative of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and Save the Children UK, in partnership with national governments, local and international researchers.


These findings were also at centre of the workshop “The State of Evidence on Social Cash Transfers in Africa” organized last June 2017 in Dakar. The event brought together 125 social protection experts and stakeholders from over 30 countries, including researchers, policymakers, and development partners, to discuss and reflect challenges and emerging issues around implementing cash transfers. Among the main commitments arising from the workshop are:

  • Continue expanding research work on the potential of cash transfers to end poverty and hunger
  • Focus future programmes and research on how to best integrate cash transfers into broader development strategies
  • Invest in youth and future generations through cash transfers, cash plus programming and impact evaluation
  • Expand research in fragile and emergency contexts


What makes this partnership unique?


Complementarity is the value added of the partnership. SDG1 and 2 can only be achieved through collaboration with governments, civil society, private sector, academia, research centres and cooperatives, and making use of each other’s knowledge and comparative advantages. UNICEF is the traditional government development partner in promoting and implementing social protection programmes in Sub Saharan Africa. FAO recognizes the key role that social protection plays in ending hunger and poverty, and in increasing the productive capacity of even the poorest of the poor. FAO brings to the partnership the livelihoods dimension, as most beneficiaries depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods.


Joining forces with UNICEF has allowed the generation of evidence on the economic potential of social protection measures, in particular on the productive impact of cash transfers on agriculture and rural areas. Moreover, evidence shows that, when combined, social protection measures and agriculture interventions have stronger impact on reducing poverty and hunger in rural areas.


Throughout the FAO-UNICEF partnership, countries have been in the driver’s seat, with ownership over the process of evaluation. This helped link research and impact evaluation to programme designing and implementation, while changing the perceptions of countries. Social protection is more and more seen as an investment rather than just a cost.


This collaboration culminated in 2016 in the publication of a joint book “From Evidence to Action: The Story of Cash Transfers and Impact Evaluation in Sub-Saharan Africa” which presents a detailed overview of the impacts of cash transfers across eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe).


From theory to practice


The FAO-UNICEF partnership is not only about evidence generation. Their joint research activity has helped influence policy processes and the scale-up of social protection national programmes at both regional and country level. In Zambia, the evidence produced by FAO and UNICEF on the positive impact of cash transfers upon human capital and productivity led the government to scale up the national cash transfer programme. FAO is now expanding its research programme in the country, to improve synergies between agriculture and social protection by supporting the design of coordinated agricultural and social protection programmes.


In Lesotho, coherence between social protection and agriculture is already showing results. To boost the productive impact of cash transfers, FAO is complementing the national Child Grant Programme with home gardening and nutrition-oriented trainings for the rural poor through the Lesotho Linking Food Security to Social Protection Programme. Some 45 000 families have already benefitted from vegetable seeds distribution, trainings on home gardening and food preservation practices to improve their home production. They can now save money from expenditures on vegetables and use these resources to purchase maize and other commodities, improving their food security and income.


What’s next?


Since 2007, the partnership between FAO and UNICEF has contributed to shape the global agenda around SDG 1.3, on the expansion of social protection coverage, by generating evidence on cash transfers and other social protection interventions. To date, this work has been implemented in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe but is currently expanding to other countries and regions, including West Africa. As government policies and programmes evolve and scale-up, the demand for evidence is more crucial than ever. Research through the Transfer Project will continue to support governments and countries’ needs.


Download the infographic and see the video on Cash Transfers: Myths vs. Reality

For more information on FAO’s work on Social Protection visit: http://www.fao.org/social-protection/en/