Social protection, food security and asset formation
This article (PDF) in the World Development journal provides a meta-analysis on the impact of social protection, specifically its social assistance element, on household food security and asset formation. The meta-analysis finds that social protection programs improve both the quantity and quality of food consumed by beneficiaries. The magnitudes of these effect sizes are meaningful. The average social protection program increases the value of food consumed/expenditure by 13% and caloric acquisition by 8%. Food expenditure rises faster than caloric acquisition because households use transfers to improve the quality of their diet, most notably by increasing their consumption of calories from animal source foods. Since the consumption of animal source foods in these populations is low, and because there are significant nutritional benefits to increasing the consumption of these, this is a positive outcome. Also revealed is that social protection programs lead to increased asset holdings as measured by livestock, non-farm productive assets, farm productive assets, and savings. There is no impact on land holdings though the number of studies that assess these is small. These results lead to a number of policy implications. First, social protection interventions can contribute to global goals of ending hunger, but this impact diminishes as household food security (caloric intake) rises. Second, they can contribute to improving quality of diets. Third, the interventions appear to address the causes of poverty, and not simply its symptoms through their impact on asset holding. Sometimes it is claimed that the poor cannot be trusted to used transfers wisely, however, both the food security and asset results belie such views.