1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Research-Related Activities

Food security and social protection: Two sides of the same coin?

Date: 19 Mar 2013

  • Time: 12:30-14:00
  • Location: D19, Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Project Title: UNRISD Seminar Series

Food security and social protection: Two sides of the same coin?
This event has already taken place. You can listen to the podcast of the seminar (80MB) or watch the video.

How to ensure that everybody has enough to eat in order to survive is one of the oldest development dilemmas. Food security was a dominant topic in the development discourse in the 1980s and 1990s, but it fell out of favour in the 2000s when social protection rose rapidly to prominence. Superficially, the two agendas seem to complement each other: food insecurity describes an inability to secure subsistence needs, and the mandate of social protection is to ensure that subsistence needs are met by public means whenever private means are inadequate. But how well is this mandate being fulfilled?

Stephen Devereux presents the evidence on whether social and productive safety net programmes and policies are successfully reducing food and nutrition insecurity across the globe. In his presentation he will draw on the June 2012 report Social protection for food security commissioned by the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security.

Entitlements and a rights-based approach


The report uses Amartya Sen’s entitlement approach as its analytical framework. Different social protection instruments are examined for their contribution to “production-based entitlements” (e.g. agricultural input subsidies), “labour-based entitlements” (public works programmes), “trade-based entitlements” (food price stabilisation, food subsidies) and “transfer-based entitlements” (school feeding, conditional and unconditional cash transfers).

Although the review is evidence-based, it is grounded in the right to adequate food and the right to social security. In his presentation Devereux argues that holistic systems of social protection are needed to ensure food security for all, and that social protection should be underpinned by
  • a framework law to establish a social contract between governments and citizens or residents, and
  • accountability mechanisms to make rights real and justiciable in social protection implementation.

He also endorses the rights-based social protection floor, but argues that it should be extended or complemented by a ‘food security floor’, to give greater and more explicit prominence to the right to food.

Stephen Devereux is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK, where he is affiliated with the Centre for Social Protection. He works mainly on social protection and food security in Africa. He was Team Leader for the High-Level Panel of Experts’ report on Social protection for food security commissioned by the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security.

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