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A social safety net for agriculture

Nov 19, 2008

A briefing paper titled: Extreme poverty in Bangladesh: Protecting and promoting rural livelihoods by Overseas Development Institute notes that agriculture growth is critical for rural poverty reduction. It argues that social protection programmes can be effective in increasing productivity and addressing people’s vulnerabilities.

Extreme poverty in Bangladesh: Protecting and promoting rural livelihoods

Publisher: Overseas Development Institute, London, 2008

In spite of recent economic growth, Bangladesh remains a country marked by high poverty. Poverty is particularly high in rural areas where the vast majority of people depend on agriculture and are rarely able to take advantage of the productive opportunities emerging from economic growth.

In this context, the government and NGOs are implementing various social protection interventions to provide the poorest households with safety nets. But how effective have these initiatives been?

This project briefing brought out by the Overseas Development Institute examines how certain agriculture-focused social protection programmes have affected target populations.

Vulnerability is often high among household headed by women, old or having a high dependency ratio. It is also influenced by location, the ownership of assets, and access to resources that are not individually owned. Shocks and stresses in Bangladesh are commonly classified as:

  • Physical: often in areas prone to natural disasters such as floods or cyclones;
  • Economic: caused by such factors as indebtedness and low or unreliable income. Seasonality of income adds to vulnerability, because it can lead to indebtedness and household instability (e.g. migration);
  • Social: linked to, for example, gender inequality and lack of social capital and/or networks

Social protection aims to prevent adverse events, mitigate their impact or enhance the capacity of poor people to cope with shocks and stress. In Bangladesh, the social protection needs of agriculture-dependant households include:

  • actual and perceived risk to investing in new, possibly more remunerative, agricultural technologies and activities
  • vulnerability to shocks and stresses and limited ability to mitigate or cope with these
  • the lack of access to capital and labour supply
  • limited access to information and voice to address exclusion

The programmes considered in this briefing combine social protection interventions (such as asset transfers, income transfers and public works) with complementary interventions (such as micro-credit services, social development and skills training and market enterprise programmes).

In this process, the programmes are found to have contributed to varying degrees to:

  • reducing household risk through the transfer of assets, more so when assets are coupled with supporting risk-reducing interventions
  • increasing resilience to shocks and stresses by combining protection activities, such as cash stipends, with promotion activities such as asset transfers
  • improving people’s voice, access to information and social capital though this achievement has only been partial among women

The note concludes that while social protection programmes appear to have been relatively effective so far with some households increasing their assets base and diversifying their income sources but other interventions are also necessary to that cater to the particular needs of the various households.

Source : Eldis
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