Developing capacity for strengthening food security and nutrition

Social protection

Over the past two decades, countries in the Caucasus and Central Asia have carried out significant work to reform the social welfare systems inherited from Soviet times, adopting different approaches to match the demands of market economies. However, even in countries where greater progress has been achieved, social protection programmes have had limited impact; this is especially the case in rural areas, where many of the beneficiaries reside.

Common issues in the region include the lack of access to social security and social assistance schemes as well as their limited coverage. Social protection systems often fail to reach those most in need, and exclusion rates are particularly high among unemployed people, labour migrants and rural women. Furthermore, the level of social payments is generally very low and insufficient to lift households out of poverty; indeed, malnutrition continues to be widespread in the region.

To promote sustainable pathways out of poverty, social protection needs to be linked with wider interventions that address people’s economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities as well as the underlying drivers of food security and malnutrition. In this regard, the “Developing Capacity for Strengthening Food Security and Nutrition in Selected Countries of the Caucasus and Central Asia” project is implementing the “Strengthening Food Systems for Nutrition-Sensitive Social Protection” pilot, which adopts an integrated approach by linking existing social protection programmes with nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions.

The “CASH+” pilot, which targets the poorest and most vulnerable households in Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, promotes sizeable and regular cash transfers to improve nutrition outcomes and facilitate planning and investment. At the same time, it provides beneficiaries with a “productive package” tailored to their unique livelihood profile as well as to local needs, conditions and opportunities. For instance, the kitchen garden package aims to boost household nutrition by supplying nutritious seeds, while also taking local dietary preferences into consideration. Another type of package aims to increase income generation by focusing on the cultivation of high-value crops for the local market.

Participants are provided with in-kind support in the form of seeds, other inputs and agricultural tools, and receive technical training and regular coaching related to their specific type of productive package. Topics range from greenhouse construction and integrated crop protection to home-based fruit and vegetable processing, while particular attention is given to sustainable production methods and linkages with local markets. In order to maximize health outcomes, nutrition-related trainings are provided as well. In delivering the trainings concerned, the project seeks to collaborate with existing national and local structures and services, and to build capacities in the implementation of agricultural and nutrition-related interventions.

The pilot also feeds into a broader policy dialogue on reducing rural poverty through expanding social protection coverage in rural areas, and linking social protection programmes with nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions and nutrition education in order to maximize development outcomes.

In Armenia, the “CASH+” pilot is being implemented under the Family Living Standards Enhancement Benefits scheme in Shirak, Aragatsotn and Gegharkunik. In Kyrgyzstan, the Monthly Benefits for Low-Income Households with Children programme is being redesigned, and a “Productive Social Contract/CASH+” model will be developed and tested in the Jalal-Abad region.