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Reducing Hunger:   Need Protection for the Most Vulnerable Poor!

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Who are the most vulnerable people facing severe food insecurity around the world? How can we reach out to them and what type of protection programs could we launch and implement? According to the World Food Program (WFP), the Food and the Organization for Agriculture (FAO), and other sources, nearly two billion people face hunger and food insecurity. This number is significant in terms of the world population of 7.5 billion and the majority of this vulnerable population comes from developing countries in Africa and Asia (Figure 1).  The data show that most of them originate from the rural areas of these countries.

World Bank, FAO, the African Union, the European Commission, Helpage, OECD, Save the Children, UNDP-IPC, UNICEF and other organizations are working hard to support vulnerable groups with certain social protection programs.    Importantly, social protection programs are well aligned with the World Bank Group’s two goals of ending extreme poverty and fostering shared prosperity around the world by 2030.  Without adequate support through protective programs, many poor and vulnerable people will never be able to escape the trap of poverty. That would cause illness and perpetuate poverty for future generations and, ultimately, a heavy burden on the world.

Social safety net programs help poor and vulnerable people deal with crises and shocks, find jobs, improve productivity, invest in health and education, and protect an aging population. Social protection programs are key to stimulating human capital for the world’s most vulnerable. They enable people to stay healthy, to continue their education, and to look for opportunities to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

Figure 1: World Extreme Poverty

A variety of types of social protection programs may be applicable to poor communities (Table 1). Well-designed and implemented social protection systems can significantly shape countries, improve human capital and productivity, reduce inequality, build resilience and end the intergenerational cycle of poverty. These protection programs are transformative because they help not only the poor mitigate economic and financial shocks, but also ensure equal opportunities to become productive members of society. These protection programs are transformative because they help not only the poor mitigate economic and financial shocks, but also ensure equal opportunities to become productive members of society. When poor and vulnerable people have the chance to improve their lives and those of their families, and are less likely to travel in search of a better life. Well-designed social safety nets are cost-effective and cost countries approximately 1.5 per cent of GDP on average.

FAO focuses on certain social protection systems such as cash transfers, school feeding and public works, which provide an economic means of providing opportunities for vulnerable people.  These programs help to get out of extreme poverty and hunger to improve their children’s health, education and life chances. Such programs currently serve 2.1 billion people in developing countries in a number of ways, including keeping 150 million people out of extreme poverty (FAO). The programs have been extended to rural communities to put in place inclusive agricultural growth policies that will provide sustainable solutions to poverty.

Table 1. Types of Social Protection Programs.

More importantly, social safety net programs provide households with access to more food, primarily by increasing what they grow themselves. In addition, those that help make their diet more diverse and healthy. Protective programs have more positive effects on infants and mothers. Furthermore, protection programs contribute to maternal nutrition, reduced child labor and increased school attendance. All of these factors contribute to the health and productivity of the poor over time. Basic transfer schemes provide the poor with the opportunity to enhance their own productive potential. Transfer programs have a positive impact on local economies, increasing business opportunities, increasing rural wages, and enabling the poorest to purchase or invest in assets.

However, the current social protection programs are still not sufficient to cover all the poorest people who are hungry. Only around one third of the poorest people in the world benefit from social protection. According to FAO sources, coverage rates are even lower in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where extreme poverty is most prevalent (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Poverty Headcount % Ratio, 2015

Most countries can afford to afford a social protection program if they plan it correctly. According to the FAO, nearly $67 billion a year in income supplements, mainly provided by social protection programs around the world, allow to invest more in agriculture by targeting investments in favor of the poor. These investments help alleviate hunger and poverty with potential economic growth.

For example, such an investment in Zambia, a pilot cash subsidy scheme, has enabled beneficiary households to significantly increase ownership of livestock and cropland, the use of inputs and ownership of tools, resulting in a 50% increase in the total value of locally produced agricultural products. Another, a well-crafted Bangladeshi program has given poor rural women, livestock and other productive assets, as well as a monthly allowance to cover the period until recipients are able to earn additional incomes. There are many like those in other countries in Africa and Asia. The FAO estimates that about 145 countries currently provide one or more forms of social assistance, including unconditional cash transfers, i.e., direct subsidies to eligible recipients, conditional cash transfers, and typically associated with school attendance or medical examinations and public works programs that offer guaranteed employment. Other forms include in-kind transfers, including food distribution and school feeding programs.

What is more important is what we can do to overcome poverty and help social protection programs. There could be many ways, and some of the easiest and most common ways are donation, education, fundraising, being a consumer with a cause, and volunteerism. You can think of any good way to help that could lead to protecting the poor who are food insecure in particular.


FAO (n.d.). Expanding Social protection offers a faster track to ending hunger. Retrieved from  https://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/335748/icode/

World Bank (2016). World Bank, ILO Announce New Push for Universal Social Protection. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/09/21/world-bank-ilo-announce-new-push-for-universal-social-protection

Saman Janaranjana Herath
Saman Janaranjana Herath
PhD (NRE). MBA (Fin). Associate Professor, University of Mount Olive, North Carolina, USA. Writer,


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