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Social protection and agriculture: breaking the cycle of rural poverty

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on reducing poverty have been met by many countries, yet many others lag behind and the post-2015 challenge will be the full eradication of poverty and hunger. Many developing countries increasingly recognize that social protection measures are needed to relieve the immediate deprivation of people living in poverty and to prevent others from falling into poverty when a crisis strikes.

This edition of The State of Food and Agriculture 2015 makes the case that social protection measures will help break the cycle of rural poverty and vulnerability, when combined with broader agricultural and rural development measures. 

Key messages

  • Social protection programmes reduce poverty and food insecurity. Effective targeting and adequate transfers are important determinants of success. Social protection contributes to higher incomes and food security not only by ensuring increases in consumption, but by enhancing a household’s ability to produce food and augment income. Programmes targeted at women have stronger food security and nutrition impacts. Programmes that are gender-sensitive, reduce women’s time constraints and strengthen their control over income enhance maternal and child welfare. This is especially important because maternal and child malnutrition perpetuate poverty from generation to generation.

  • Programmes targeted at women have stronger food security and nutrition impacts. Programmes that are gender-sensitive, reduce women’s time constraints and strengthen their control over income enhance maternal and child welfare. This is especially important because maternal and child malnutrition perpetuate poverty from generation to generation.

  • Social protection stimulates investment in agricultural production and other economic activities. Social protection enhances nutrition, health and education, with implications for future productivity, employability, incomes and well-being. Social protection programmes that provide regular and predictable transfers promote savings and investment in both farm and non-farm activities, and encourage households to engage in more ambitious activities offering higher returns.

  • Social protection does not reduce work effort. But it does give beneficiaries greater choice, and many shift time previously dedicated to casual agricultural wage employment of last resort to ownfarm work or non-agricultural employment. Taken together with the increase in farm and non-farm production activities, social protection strengthens livelihoods instead of fostering dependency.

  • Social protection has virtuous impacts on local communities and economies. Public works programmes can provide important infrastructure and community assets and, when designed and implemented properly, contribute directly to the local economy. Cash transfers increase the purchasing power of beneficiary households, who demand goods and services, many of which are produced or provided in the local economy by non-beneficiary households. Complementary programmes may be necessary to reduce production constraints to prevent inflation and maximize the real-income and production impacts of the programme.

  • Social protection, by itself, is not enough to move people out of poverty. As poor households typically face multiple constraints and risks, joint, coordinated and/or aligned social protection and agricultural programmes are likely to be more effective in helping poor households move out of poverty in a sustainable manner.

  • There are clear opportunities to leverage social protection and agriculture  programmes to further rural development. Developing synergies is an opportunity and also a necessity because of constrained government budgets. It is imperative to help the poorest meet basic consumption needs, especially when they are unable to work. Such help can itself become a foundation for gradual improvement of the livelihoods of the poor. Given that the majority of the rural poor depend largely on  agriculture, agricultural interventions are needed to overcome structural supply-side bottlenecks holding back growth. Leveraging public expenditures on agriculture and social protection programmes in support of each other not only furthers this transformation, but also serves to strengthen agricultural and rural development.

  • A national vision is needed of how agriculture and social protection can gradually move people out of poverty and hunger. National vision and commitment, supported by permanent domestic resource mobilization, must support coordinated action at the national and subnational levels. Policy and planning frameworks for rural development, poverty reduction, food security and nutrition need to articulate the role of agriculture and social protection in moving people out of poverty and hunger, together with a broader set of interventions. The type of agricultural interventions combined with social assistance depends on the context and constraints, but must also consider issues such as local implementation capacities and available resources. In all cases, interventions must be designed to address a range of constraints to allow the poorest to transform their livelihood strategies to escape and remain out of poverty.

About the series

The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO’s major annual flagship publication, aims at bringing to a wider audience balanced science-based assessments of important issues in the field of food and agriculture. Each edition of the report contains a comprehensive, yet easily accessible, overview of a selected topic of major relevance for rural and agricultural development and for global food security.

For more information contact Terri Raney, Economic and Social Development Department