Social protection and resilient food systems - The role of cash transfers

Research reports and studies
October 2013
Rebecca Holmes and Dharini Bhuvanendra
Global food price spikes and limited household purchasing power in the face of sustained poverty have reoriented international policy attention once again to the problems of food insecurity. Cash transfers – a form of social protection which includes conditional or unconditional income transfers to poor households – have been increasingly used as a tool for reducing poverty and vulnerability in middle and low-income countries over the past decade. More recently, cash transfers have also been used as an alternative to food aid in humanitarian contexts. In this paper we assess the extent to which cash transfer programmes can support a resilient food system. Such a system is understood to encompass four pillars: (i) increasing food availability, (ii) improving food access, (iii) improving nutritional adequacy of food intake and (iv) enhancing crisis prevention and management. In particular, availability refers to both production and what can be acquired through markets, whether national or international; access includes the ability to purchase food, but also to obtain it as part of informal (e.g. within-household) or formal (e.g. food aid or regular food transfers) entitlements; improved utilisation of food depends on improvements in diet, but also on improved nutritional knowledge, good sanitation and health; and crisis prevention aims to maintain food across the three pillars above in the context of crises and emergencies.