Social protection can eradicate hunger: FAO

Poverty among those employed in fisheries remains widespread globally

At least 368 million children receive food at school each day

In Zambia, a cash-grants program led households to increase livestock ownership

In rural Brazil, gender inequalities reduced by making mandatory joint ownership of land

US$116 billion needed in next 15 years to activate social protection at a global scale

The State of Food and Agriculture 2015, flagship publication of FAO finds that in poor countries, social protection schemes – such as cash transfers, school feeding and public works provide the poorest with opportunities to move out of extreme poverty. It helps eliminating hunger and improve children’s health, education and survival. Globally, social programmes currently benefit 2.1 billion people in developing countries including keeping 150 million people out of extreme poverty.


Social protection programs allow households to access more food — often by increasing what they grow themselves — and make their diets more diverse and healthier

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva

Breaking out of the hunger trap

Only about a third of the world’s poorest people are covered by any form of social protection. Coverage rates dip even lower in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, regions with the highest incidence of extreme poverty, the report said.


Without such assistance, many poor and vulnerable people will never have the opportunity to break out of the poverty trap according to the report. Most countries — even the poorest — can afford some kind of social protection program. FAO estimates that globally, some $67 billion a year in income supplements, mostly provided by social protection programs, would — along with other targeted pro-poor investments in agriculture — allow for the eradication of hunger by 2030. That is less than 0.10 percent of world GDP.

Understanding social protection

Currently many extremely poor households are forced to sell off productive assets, put children to work, over-exploit their small landholdings, or settle for badly paid jobs. Basic social transfer schemes can offer the poor an opportunity to improve their own productive potential. There is a positive spillover effects on local economies, increasing  business opportunities, raising rural wages, and allowing the poorest to acquire or invest in assets.

Beneficiaries spent more on food, clothing and health-and-hygiene – an amount 25 percent greater than the value of the initial transfer. The wider community benefits through the increased demand for locally produced goods and services. Every dollar transferred generates an additional 79 cents in income, often for non-beneficiaries providing these goods and services.

At least 145 countries today provide one or more forms of social assistance, including unconditional cash transfers. Other forms include in-kind transfers, including food distribution and school feeding programs.

Cash means more than spending

The report stresses that the notion that social protection reduces people’s work effort is a myth. Rather, recipients often respond to social protection positively, including improving the nutrition and education of their children. Social protection schemes can also be transformative over time. One well-designed Bangladeshi programme gave poor rural women livestock and other productive assets, as well as a monthly stipend to cover the period until recipients were able to earn additional incomes.

The report however stresses that social protection alone cannot sustainably eradicate hunger and rural poverty. It therefore underscores the importance of combining and coordinating public investment in social protection with investments in the productive sectors of agriculture and rural development.

A majority – 72 out of 129 – of the countries monitored by FAO claim to have achieved the MDG target of halving the prevalence of undernourishment by 2015, with developing regions as a whole missing the target by a small margin. In addition, 29 countries have met the more ambitious goal laid out at the World Food Summit in 1996, when governments committed to halving the absolute number of undernourished people by 2015. Meanwhile the share of people in developing countries living in extreme poverty has fallen from 43 percent in 1990 to 17 percent this year.

Some 795 million people continue to suffer from hunger according to The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 , and almost one billion people live in extreme poverty .


Eradicating world hunger sustainably by 2030 will require an estimated additional US$267 billion per year on average for investments in rural and urban areas and in social protection. This is more or less equivalent to 0.3 percent of the global GDP and would average US$160 annually for each person living in extreme poverty over the fifteen-year period.

The State of Food and Agriculture, is FAO’s major annual flagship publication that at bringing to a wider audience balanced science-based assessments of important issues in the field of food and agriculture.

Cover photo: Northern Thailand/credit-SixDegrees

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