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'Graduation' and Social Protection

seed_strorageThis project in the Growth and Social Protection theme focuses on the issue of ‘graduation’ from agricultural support and social protection programmes.

Graduation describes a process whereby recipients of cash transfers, food aid or free or subsidised inputs and assets move from a position of dependence on external assistance to a condition where they no longer need these transfers, and can therefore exit the programme.

Graduation is extremely difficult to define and implement at an operational level. The word 'graduation' suggests a steady, linear progression up an income scale - but in fact, livelihoods in rural Africa are characterised by uncertainty. Farming communities and pastoralists face erratic weather and other threats to crop and livestock production.

Even if a household is assessed as having passed an income or asset threshold at a point in time (say, after three years of receiving cash transfers or fertiliser and seed packs), it is impossible to predict whether the household is about to suffer a major shock (e.g. a drought or disease outbreak) that will decimate its harvest or herd, leaving the household acutely vulnerable to hunger and destitution.

What does ‘graduation’ mean in such vulnerable and unpredictable circumstances? Sustainable graduation is not only about attaining a certain level of food consumption or cash income. It implies:

  1. the capacity to generate adequate streams of future food and income;
  2. resilience against future shocks.

Project Research Objectives

The research has been underway since 2010, and has four objectives:

  1. advancing empirical understanding of the linkages between asset thresholds, scale effects and poverty reduction by collecting and analysing new data across four different social protection interventions;
  2. investigating the linkage between rural household thresholds and local level growth by collecting information on the possible local level (institutions and markets) influences on why and how many households (or children) are able to ‘graduate’ out of social protection dependency;
  3. providing robust evidence upon which to formulate ‘graduation’ indexes and measurements of graduation (this means evaluating the conditions under which graduation is sustainable, specifically with regard to the threshold and scale effects);
  4. testing the ‘development coordination’ thesis in regard to social protection.

Project Outputs

Cash Transfers and High Food Prices: Explaining Outcomes on Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme (pdf)

This working paper by Rachel Sabates-Wheeler and Stephen Devereux explores an ongoing and highly politicised debate concerning the relative efficacy of cash transfers versus food aid. This paper aims to shed light on this debate, drawing on new empirical evidence from Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP).

The data was derived from a two-wave panel survey conducted in 2006 and 2008. Ethiopia has experienced unprecedented rates of inflation since 2007, which have reduced the real purchasing power of PSNP cash payments. Our regression findings confirm that food transfers or ‘cash plus food’ packages are superior to cash transfers alone – they enable higher levels of income growth, livestock accumulation and self-reported food security.

These results raise questions of fundamental importance to global humanitarian response and social protection policy. We draw out some implications for the design of social transfer programmes and describe some steps that could be taken to enable ‘predictable transfers to meet predictable needs’.

Assessing Enablers and Constrainers of Graduation: Evidence from Ethiopia's Food Security Programme (pdf)

Ethiopia’s Food Security Programme (FSP) has aimed to alleviate hunger and poverty through several programmes since 2005. A new Future Agricultures report (pdf) identifies the main enablers and constrainers of resilience and graduation from food and cash support provided through the FSP.

The constraining and enabling factors described in the report are related to the programme itself, to beneficiaries, locations, markets and environmental factors. The report analyses these in turn, and draws a set of conclusions and implications for policy and for organisations who aim to support food security in Ethiopia.