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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Food Security and Social Protection

Course Code:
P525
Unit value:

About this Module

Despite considerable progress in reducing income poverty in many parts of the world, hundreds of millions of people suffer from food insecurity and malnutrition. This has major consequences for human health and development. Globalisation, combined with increasing incomes in many countries, has resulted in major changes to the structure of food markets, and new challenges for food production and consumption policies. High and volatile international food prices over the past few years have increased food insecurity and heightened international awareness of these issues.

The past two decades have also witnessed massive growth in the scope and scale of social protection (welfare) in low- and middle-income countries. Some famous examples include the ‘Progresa’ and ‘Zero Hunger’ schemes in Mexico and Brazil, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in India, and the move away from international food aid to a national social protection programme in Ethiopia.

This module considers food security and social protection together, because there are complex linkages and trade-offs between them. Social protection programmes can be a key tool in fighting poverty and hunger. However, the design of social protection programmes is debated. Should governments provide free or cheap food, or simply offer poor people cash? Is offering a job on a public works scheme a better option? Who should be eligible to receive help, and for how long? Is social protection a costly ‘band-aid’, which doesn’t really change anything in the long term or can it promote growth and job creation? What are the potential trade-offs with other investments which could reduce food insecurity, such as direct investments in small-scale farming? The module explores practical policy issues such as these, while providing students with an academic foundation to explore concepts and evidence.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • describe and assess critically the main conceptual frameworks and measurements used to analyse poverty, food security, and nutrition
  • describe and compare major approaches and instruments used for social protection in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on social protection
  • discuss implementation processes and challenges in social protection programmes, including targeting methods and benefit setting, information systems and payment mechanisms, and exit and graduation strategies
  • explain the importance of the political economy of social protection: public and private financing methods; government versus donor investment; how policy history, political actors and socioeconomic factors affect the scope, characteristics and support for social protection
  • describe and appraise critically the main approaches that have been taken to promote the four main aspects of short and long-term food security (availability, access, utilisation and stability), including the role of social protection interventions
  • engage critically in current international debates on food security and social protection, discussing the merits and disadvantages of different policy proposals, for example, interventions to mitigate the impacts of international food price volatility
  • explain how to assess the impact of social protection: reasons for failure and success and lessons for future programmes
  • provide evidence and practical examples to support their arguments

Scope and syllabus

Unit 1 introduces concepts to be used throughout the module and emphasises the importance of shocks (such as to ill-health or crop failure) in the livelihoods of poor people. Unit 2 discusses issues in the definition and measurement of poverty and food insecurity, which underpin practical policy debates. Unit 3 provides an introduction to social protection, while Units 4 and 5 discuss some major implementation issues, including targeting and politics. Units 6 to 9 consider the key dimensions of food security and critically assess policies and interventions to tackle food insecurity, including the important role of social protection. Finally, Unit 10 addresses the challenge of assessing the impact of social protection programmes.