Food Security and Social Protection (30 credits)

Key information

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy

Module overview

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 10 - 15 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

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


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules