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Social protection

Social protection

Social protection

Worldwide, 80 percent of the extreme poor live in rural areas. Of these, 76 percent work in agriculture, and a great share of them relies on subsistence farming. Shocks and stresses can affect the stability of agri-food systems and push vulnerable groups reliant on agriculture into destitution and hunger, as too often they lack the means to manage risks.

This calls for inclusive risk management approaches that meet the immediate needs of shock-affected populations, while addressing the root causes of risk and vulnerability to create resilient and peaceful communities. Social protection has emerged as a key strategy in supporting poor and vulnerable households in managing risks and building resilience, thereby promoting the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus.

What is social protection?

Social protection comprises a set of policies and programmes addressing economic, environmental and social vulnerabilities to food insecurity and poverty through preventive, protective, promotive and transformative effects for its beneficiaries. Social protection interventions are channelled through a wide range of instruments commonly categorized under three pillars:

Social assistance

Social insurance 

Labour market interventions

Non-contributory programmes for the most vulnerable groups with no other means of adequate support. Examples of this type of assistance are in-kind or cash transfers, Cash+, agricultural inputs and food subsidies.

Contributory programmes aimed at protecting people from potential financial losses linked to life-cycle events, livelihood risks or climate-related shocks and stresses. Instruments under this pillar include maternity or unemployment benefits, pensions and agriculture risk insurance.

Policies and programmes for the working-age population designed to safeguard workers’ rights and entitlements, enhance employment, improve skills and boost productivity. This includes employment guarantee schemes, wage subsidies and skills transfer programmes.

Why Social Protection?

Social protection plays a key role in reducing extreme poverty and enhancing food security, while also building household’s resilience in times of shocks, and stimulating rural households to invest in agricultural production. 

Evidence across the world’s regions shows that social protection can generate a broad range of positive impacts: enhancing vulnerable households’ economic and productive capacity, smoothing consumption, fostering economic inclusion, safeguarding food security and nutrition, and building resilience to shocks and stresses. 

How does social protection support inclusive risk management? 

Social protection contributes to inclusive risk management efforts along three main pathways:

  • Reducing vulnerability and reliance on negative coping strategies in the event of shocks. Social protection shields people from potential losses incurred by shocks, by supporting them smoothing consumption, protecting their assets and savings, and increasing their capacity to cope and reduce the impacts of shocks. 
  • Providing a stepping-stone towards climate resilient livelihoods. Social protection contributes to reducing vulnerability by addressing the economic barriers smallholders face when adopting sustainable productive technologies and climate-resilient livelihood strategies, such as climate-smart agriculture practices
  • Supporting inclusive anticipatory action, disaster preparedness, response and recovery. National social protection systems that are risk-informed and embed flexibility functions to rapidly scale up can be a crucial component of a country’s risk management strategy, by reaching vulnerable populations affected by shocks in a fast and cost-efficient manner.

FAO’s work on social protection

FAO works with governments and partners to incorporate social protection into national rural development policies, food security and nutrition strategies, climate adaptation programmes and investment plans. FAO emphasises the critical importance of extending social protection to rural areas, and supports governments in designing, implementing and assessing systems focused on benefiting the rural poor.

For instance, FAO is engaged in:

  • Strengthening the capacity of agricultural ministries to lead policy and programmatic processes aimed at supporting the design and implementation of social protection interventions to manage risks and build resilience;
  • Supporting, through social protection programmes,  the implementation of innovative approaches at country level, such as Cash+ programmes, climate-smart agriculture interventions or anticipatory action;
  • Delivering capacity development activities, such as e-learning courses, in-person and virtual training and interactive tools to facilitate learning on the added value of linking social protection to inclusive risk management strategies;
  • Developing a solid analytical base to support policy and programmatic decisions on the expansion of social protection coverage to rural areas, enhancing coherence between social protection, agriculture, food security and nutrition to build households’ capacity to manage risks and strengthen their resilience;
  • Contributing to global processes, such as COP26, SPIAC-B, Grand Bargain, Food Systems Summit, to build a common vision around the role of social protection in managing risks and building resilience in stable environments as well as in protracted crises and fragile and humanitarian contexts.

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