Food security and social protection


This module considers in a unified manner two highly topical policy areas that too often are treated in isolation: food security and social protection.

Globalisation, combined with increasing incomes in many countries, has resulted in major changes to the structure of food markets, and new challenges for food production and consumption policies. High and volatile international food prices over the past few years have increased food insecurity and heightened international awareness of these issues.

The past two decades have also witnessed massive growth in the scope and scale of social protection (welfare) in low- and middle-income countries.

This module considers food security and social protection together, because there are complex linkages and trade-offs between them. Social protection programmes can be a key tool in fighting poverty and hunger. However, the design of social protection programmes is debated. Should governments provide free or cheap food, or simply offer poor people cash? Is offering a job on a public works scheme a better option? Who should be eligible to receive help, and for how long? Is social protection a costly ‘band-aid’, which doesn’t really change anything in the long term or can it promote growth and job creation? What are the potential trade-offs with other investments which could reduce food insecurity, such as direct investments in small-scale farming? The module explores practical policy issues such as these, while providing students with an academic foundation to explore concepts and evidence.

Topics covered

  • Introducing food security and social protection
  • Poverty, vulnerability and resilience
  • Access to food
  • Nutrition: Economics, culture and health
  • Measuring food and nutrition security
  • Impact evaluation
  • Design and implementation of social protection
  • Financing and economics of social protection
  • Policies and programmes for improved food access and utilisation
  • Managing food prices
  • Availability of food
  • Humanitarian responses
  • The political economy of social protection
  • Future directions for social protection
  • Achieving coherence across food security and social protection.

Learning outcomes

By completing this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe and assess critically the main conceptual frameworks and measurements used to analyse poverty (with emphasis on measurements used for social protection), food security and nutrition.
  • Describe and critically compare the major approaches and instruments used for social protection in developing countries, with a particular emphasis on social protection.
  • Critically examine implementation processes and challenges in social protection programmes, including targeting methods and benefit setting, information systems and payment mechanisms, and exit and graduation strategies.
  • Critically examine the importance of the political economy of social protection: how policy history, political actors and social and economic factors affect the scope, characteristics and support for social protection.
  • Describe and appraise critically the main approaches that have been taken to promote the four main aspects of short- and long-term food security (availability, access, utilisation and stability), including the role of social protection interventions.
  • Engage critically in current international debates on food security and social protection, discussing the merits and disadvantages of different policy proposals, for example, interventions to mitigate the impacts of international food price volatility.


  • a 500-word commentary and critical discussion on a key reading, and assessment of the commentaries of other students worth 10%
  • a 3000-word assignment worth 40%
  • a two-hour written examination worth 50%.

Essential reading

A sample of essential reading:

  • Grosh, M., del Ninno, C., Tesliuc, E. & Ouerghi, A. (2008) For Protection and Promotion: The Design and Implementation of Effective Safety Nets. Washington DC, The World Bank.
  • Devereux, S. & Sabates-Wheeler, R. (2004) Transformative Social Protection. Brighton, Institute for Development Studies (IDS). IDS Working Paper 232.