The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


Cash transfers in a food crisis: A lesson for Asia?

Posted in Food Security by NTSblog on October 5, 2010
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Just came across a recent news report about a cash transfer programme conducted by the United Nations in Niger, where the UN is giving US$6 million in cash to mothers for the purchase of food. The cash transfer for purchasing food is much needed to ameliorate the widespread hunger in the country which arose due to the severe drought in the previous year which adversely affected crop harvests.

The programme in Niger is notable as “it is the first time that UNICEF is using cash as a way to help families caught in a nutrition crisis.” Distribution of food aid and rations is the main means of providing food for affected communities during food crises. However, the provision of food rations is not an adequate measure to address widespread hunger. For instance in May this year, the monthly food rations for children in Niger only lasted a few days because they were then redistributed within the family who were also affected by the depleted food stocks.

Unconditional cash transfer (UCT) programmes such as these are more predominant in sub-Saharan Africa, while large-scale conditional cash transfers (CCT) programmes are currently operational in most Central and South American countries. CCT programmes are gradually spreading to some Asian countries like Indonesia and India but it appears that there are fewer proponents for UCT programmes as a whole and in the region.

Although CCT programmes have become more widespread in Asia, more research has to be conducted to establish the feasibility of implementing either UCT or CCT programmes in various contexts and for different needs. With more information available, governments can then identify which programme, or a combination of the two should be implemented to bring about more lasting benefits to vulnerable communities. In the event of a food crisis in Asia like in 2008, similar UCT programmes such as the one in Niger may be advantageous in mitigating the effects in the short term, alongside the provision of food rations. However, over a longer period of time, both UCT and CCT programmes and food aid distribution may be inadequate in addressing underlying structural problems that perpetuate food insecurity and other developmental strategies should be pursued to ensure food security.For instance, programmes that place a greater emphasis on capacity building and promoting institutional development could be more conducive to creating better coping strategies in the long run.

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