SOAS University of London

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Food Security and Social Protection (30 credits)

30 credits

Despite ongoing progress, hundreds of millions of people still suffer from poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition, with major consequences for human wellbeing, 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. In many countries, high and volatile food prices have heightened awareness of these issues, and a highly effective international advocacy campaign has seen nutrition rise rapidly up the policy agenda. The past two decades have also witnessed massive growth in the scope and scale of social protection programmes in low- and middle-income countries. These are now recognised as a key tool in fighting poverty and inequality (SDGs 1 and 10) and even in contributing to women's empowerment (SDG 5).

This module considers food security and social protection together, given that both are linked to concepts of poverty, vulnerability and resilience. The module introduces students to relevant concepts, theories and approaches to gathering evidence, then uses these to explore practical policy issues such as the following: What are the most effective interventions for tackling poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition? 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 and, if so, for whom? Who should be eligible to receive help, on what conditions and for how long? Is there a trade-off between growth and investment in social protection or can well designed programmes promote growth? What are the potential trade-offs with other investments which could reduce food insecurity, such as direct investments in small-scale farming?

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • critically assess the main conceptual frameworks and measurements used to analyse food security and nutrition
  • compare major approaches and instruments used for social protection in low and middle income countries, including their (cost-) effectiveness in tackling poverty, food insecurity and malnutrition
  • critically examine major design and implementation challenges in social protection programmes, including targeting methods and benefit setting, information systems and payment mechanisms
  • explain how policy history, political actors and social and economic factors affect the scope, characteristics and support for social protection
  • critically examine 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
  • discuss future directions for social protection in low and middle income countries, including strategies for achieving greater coherence with policies for food security and nutrition.


Students are advised to dedicate 15 - 20 hours study time per week for this module.

Scope and syllabus

The module will consist of 15 units:

  1. Introducing Food Security and Social Protection
  2. Poverty, Vulnerability and Resilience
  3. Who Should Play What Role in Food Security and Social Protection, and Why?
  4. Availability of Food
  5. Access to Food
  6. Utilisation of Food: Undernutrition
  7. Enhancing Nutrition During the Nutrition Transition
  8. Key Concepts in the Design of Social Transfers
  9. Case Studies of Large-Scale Social Protection Schemes
  10. Food Crises and Humanitarian Responses
  11. School feeding and Food Vouchers
  12. Understanding Evidence on Food Security and Social Protection
  13. Financing and Economics of Social Protection
  14. The Political Economy of Social Protection
  15. Future Directions and Continuing Debates in Food Security and Social Protection

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by:

  • a 500-word commentary and critical discussion on a key reading, and assessment of the commentaries of two other students (10%)
  • a 3000-word examined assignment (EA), with an element of online interaction and discussion, worth 40%
  • a two-hour written examination worth 50%.

Since the EA is an element of the formal examination process, please note the following:

  • The EA questions and submission date will be available on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
  • The EA is submitted by uploading it to the VLE.
  • The EA is marked by the module tutor and students will receive a percentage mark and feedback.
  • Answers submitted must be entirely the student’s own work and not a product of collaboration.
  • Plagiarism is a breach of regulations. To ensure compliance with the specific University of London regulations, all students are advised to read the guidelines on referencing the work of other people. For more detailed information, see the FAQ on the VLE.

Suggested reading

Grosh M, del Ninno C, Tesliuc E, Ouerghi A (2008) For Protection and Promotion: The Design and Implementation of Effective Safety Nets. Washington DC, The World Bank

Devereux, S. & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2004) Transformative Social Protection. Brighton, Institute for Development Studies (IDS). IDS Working Paper 232.

Barrientos, A & Hulme, D. (2009) Social protection for the poor and poorest in developing countries: reflections on a quiet revolution. Oxford Development Studies, 37 (4), 439–456

Coates, J. (2013) Build it back better: deconstructing food security for improved measurement and action. Global Food Security, 2 (3), 188–194

Sen, A.K. (1981) Ingredients of famine analysis: availability and entitlements. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 96 (3), 433–464

Quisumbing, A.R., & Smith, L.C. (2007) Case Study No 4–5, Intra-household allocation, gender relations, and food security in developing countries. In: Pinstrup-Andersen, P., & Cheng, F. (Eds.) Food Policy for Developing Countries: Case Studies. New York, Cornell University

Horton, S., Shekar, M., McDonald, C., Ajay, M. & Brooks, J.K. (2009) Scaling Up Nutrition: What Will It Cost? Human Development, Directions in Development. Washington DC, The World Bank.

Lavers, T. & and Hickey, S. (2016) Conceptualising the politics of social protection expansion in low income countries: The intersection of transnational ideas and domestic politics. International Journal of Social Welfare

McCartney, M. and Roy, I. (2015) A Consensus Unravels: NREGA and the Paradox of Rules-Based Welfare in India. European Journal of Development Research

HPLE. (2012) Social Protection for Food Security. Rome, High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. HLPE Report 5.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules