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Food-Based Safety Nets and Related Programs

Listed author(s):
  • Beatrice Lorge Rogers
  • Jennifer Coates
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    Food-based safety net programs support adequate consumption and contribute to assuring livelihoods. They differ from other safety net programs in that they are tied to the provision of food, either directly, or through cash-like instruments (food stamps, coupons) that may be used to purchase food. Since food provided through a safety net program may be substituted for a household’s current consumption, freeing up income for other uses, food-based transfers represent a contribution to household real income or purchasing power. Because food is often seen as the domain of women, women in a household are likely to have control over the use of transfers of food, and of cash-like instruments tied to food. The fact that women control food-related transfers is one possible explanation of the fact, widely documented, that transfers in the form of food or tied to food are more likely to increase households’ net food consumption than are equivalent cash transfers. Food-based programs can be designed to be self-targeting to the poor. Because food-linked coupons or stamps are restricted in use, they are likely to be less desirable than cash. If the use of coupons is restricted to inferior, less-preferred foods, the self-targeting effect will be greater. Direct provision of food may be self-targeting because of the limited choice of commodities; because the foods may be inferior in terms of consumption patterns (though not nutritionally inferior); and because there may be inconvenience associated with receiving bulky commodities. Ordinarily, cash is considered preferable to food, but in crisis situations when food supply is disrupted, food may be preferred. Providing cash or cash-like stamps or coupons in situations where supply is limited and (in the short run) unresponsive to increased demand will only drive up prices. Public provision of food is generally more politically acceptable than cash transfers, because food is a merit good. The commonest types of food-based transfers are supplementary feeding programs, food for work programs, and food stamp programs. Supplementary feeding programs provide a direct transfer of food to target households or individuals. The commonest forms are maternal and child feeding and school feeding. The food may be prepared and eaten on-site (e.g., in child feeding centers or school feeding programs), or given as a “dry ration” to take home. Even if targeted to an individual (child, pregnant or lactating mother), supplementary food is shared among household members. In the case of on-site feeding, the meal eaten on site may be substituted for a home-prepared meal. Supplementary feeding is often provided as an incentive for participation in public services such as primary health care (pre- and post-natal and well-baby care) and education. To achieve nutritional improvement, supplementary food needs to be provided in the context of a more comprehensive program of health care and health and nutrition education. In school feeding programs, food provided on site may contribute to improved learning by alleviating short-term hunger, in addition to its effects as a food supplement and as an incentive to attend school. Food for work programs provide wages in the form of food for public works. Because the provide a source of guaranteed employment, they constitute a true safety net, but only households with able-bodies members can benefit. Effective food for work programs can build infrastructure that contributes to long term food security. Food stamp programs provide stamps or coupons that may be used for the purchase of food, or of particular foods. The stamps may be denominated in value terms or in terms of quantities of specific foods. Food stamps may be used in local stores, so they are more convenient to use than bulk commodities; they are less distorting than direct food distribution; and they can strengthen local retail establishments. Use of stamps requires a reliable system for printing and distributing the stamps, and a good banking system to assure that retailers can redeem the stamps for cash. As with supplementary feeding, food stamps are often provided in conjunction with primary health care or schooling, as an incentive for participation, though there are also stand-alone food stamp programs that function more like cash transfers. Food-based transfers in emergency situations include direct provision of family rations, supplementary feeding of vulnerable groups such as infants, children, and pregnant or lactating women, and therapeutic feeding of acutely malnourished individuals in a hospital-like setting. In many emergency situations, such as refugee or IDP camps, food transfers are the only source of food, and may constitute the only resources a household receives. The purposes of food-based transfer programs vary widely, and include income support, guarantee of a minimum level of consumption, improved participation in socially beneficial programs, and nutritional improvement. Costs also vary widely depending on the size of the transfer, the size of the target group, and the logistical difficulty of distribution. Cost-effectiveness depends on the specific objective(s); cost-effectiveness comparisons are difficult because of the multiple objectives often served by a single program. The multiple types of food-based transfer programs should be viewed as complements to each other, rather than alternatives, because they serve different populations and have distinct g

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    Paper provided by Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy in its series Working Papers in Food Policy and Nutrition with number 12.

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    Length: 59 pages
    Date of creation: 20 Jun 2002
    Handle: RePEc:fsn:wpaper:12
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    1. Grosh, Margaret E., 1992. "The Jamaican food stamps programme : A case study in targeting," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 23-40, February.
    2. P. Wilde & C. Ranney, "undated". "A Monthly Cycle in Food Expenditure and Intake by Participants in the U.S. Food Stamp Program," Institute for Research on Poverty Discussion Papers 1163-98, University of Wisconsin Institute for Research on Poverty.
    3. Ravallion, Martin, 1990. "Income Effects on Undernutrition," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 38(3), pages 489-515, April.
    4. Maxwell, Simon & Templer, Guy, 1994. "The monetization of project and emergency food aid:project-level efficiency first!," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 19(1), pages 9-15, February.
    5. Gundersen, Craig & LeBlanc, Michael & Kuhn, Betsey A., 1999. "The Changing Food Assistance Landscape: The Food Stamp Program in a Post-Welfare Reform Environment," Agricultural Economics Reports 33993, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
    6. Timmer, C Peter, 1981. "Is There "Curvature" in the Slutsky Matrix?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 63(3), pages 395-402, August.
    7. Behrman, Jere R., 1993. "The economic rationale for investing in nutrition in developing countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 21(11), pages 1749-1771, November.
    8. Ferreira, Francisco & Prennushi, Giovanna & Ravallion, Martin, 1999. "Protecting the poor from macroeconomic shocks," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2160, The World Bank.
    9. Kene Ezemenari, 1997. "The Link between Public and Private Interhousehold Transfers: Implications for the Design of Safety Net Programs in Developing Countries," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 79(2), pages 666-671.
    10. Haddad, Lawrence James & Zeller, Manfred, 1996. "How can safety nets do more with less?," FCND discussion papers 16, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
    11. Kennedy, Eileen & Peters, Pauline, 1992. "Household food security and child nutrition: the interaction of income and gender of household head," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(8), pages 1077-1085, August.
    12. Johnson, F. Catherine & Rogers, Beatrice Lorge, 1993. "Children's nutritional status in female-headed households in the Dominican Republic," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 37(11), pages 1293-1301, December.
    13. Butler, J S & Raymond, Jennie E, 1996. "The Effect of the Food Stamp Program on Nutrient Intake," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(4), pages 781-798, October.
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