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Nutrition Education Is Key - WFP and IFPRI Reveal First Evidence On Most Effective Safety Net Transfers

DHAKA – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) today presented the first findings of a joint research initiative that explores which types of social safety net transfers work best for the rural ultra-poor. The research initiative is supported and guided by the Government of Bangladesh, and funded by Germany, the United Nations Development Programme, the United States and Switzerland.

The two year study, which will conclude mid 2014, seeks to determine the benefits of five different types and combinations of transfers – including cash, food, and nutrition education – with regard to three critical outcomes: household income, food security, and child nutrition.

“In Bangladesh, the majority of safety net interventions are food-based, but cash transfers are becoming increasingly important,” said Christa Räder, WFP Representative in Bangladesh. “This research initiative helps us understand which kinds of social safety net interventions are most effective in improving the food security and child nutrition in ultra-poor families. The findings will create valuable evidence for the Government and inform its social protection strategy.”

Mid-term findings suggest that nutrition education is critical in leveraging the benefits delivered from food and cash transfers. All participants emphasized that the monthly transfers helped them to feed their families and improve family welfare, but households who participate in nutrition education sessions consumed more -- and more diverse -- foods than those who only received food, cash or both. Participating households in the north-west of the country even showed a significant reduction of chronic child undernutrition (stunting), with those households performing best which have received the intensive nutrition education.

“This research initiative is the first of its kind, not only in Bangladesh, but globally,” said Dr. Akther Ahmed, lead researcher of the IFPRI team and Chief of Party of the IFPRI Policy Research and Strategy Support Program in Bangladesh. “Our preliminary results suggest that participation in the nutrition education sessions generates benefits beyond nutrition, presumably because these ultra-poor women got empowered in the training process,” he added.

The transfer modality research is being conducted in ten upazilas across Kurigram, Rangpur, Bagerhat, Bhola, Khulna, Patuakhali, and Pirojpur, reaching 4,000 ultra-poor rural households. Like in many social safety net programmes in Bangladesh women are the participants in this research as they ensure that their families benefit well.
The research compares five different types of transfer, each equivalent to BDT1,500 per month:

•    Food only (30 kg rice, 2kg mosur dal, 2 kg vegetable oil per month)
•    Cash only (BDT1,500 per month)
•    Food and Cash combined  (15 kg rice, 1kg mosur dal, 1 kg vegetable oil and BDT750  per month)
•    Food and Nutrition Education (weekly sessions)
•    Cash and Nutrition Education (weekly sessions)

Cash transfers are made through mobile phone technology. Each woman was given a basic mobile handset, a SIM card, and those who receive cash transfers established a mobile bank account.

The nutrition education involves one-on-one counselling by a trained community nutrition volunteer as well as weekly group sessions which include other family members and influential community members. Using a range of tools and techniques including real-life examples, role plays and cooking demonstrations, they aim to improve knowledge, skills and behaviours in the areas of health, hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.

Social Safety nets are intended specifically for the poor, or those living near the poverty line, who are vulnerable to economic, social and physical shocks that can undermine their livelihood. In Bangladesh, a wide range of institutions provide assistance to the poor through social safety net programmes.

The Government of Bangladesh is in the process of finalising a comprehensive social protection strategy. In the fiscal year 2013-14, the government allocated over 25,371 crore taka (US$3.2 billion), more than a tenth of overall budget and representing 2.13 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), to cover over 90 safety net programmes. Within this allocation, around 38 million people – or 8.5 million households – are covered by food security based social protection programmes and major employment generation and development programmes.

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For more information please contact:

Akhter Ahmed, Chief of Party, IFPRI-PRSSP/Bangladesh, Tel: +880-2- 989-8686; 989-3434,
Md. Shafiqul Karim, Communications Specialist, IFPRI-PRSSP/Bangladesh, Tel: 8801732-822411,

Christa Räder, Representative, WFP/Bangladesh, Tel. +880-2-9183022-33,
Cornelia Pätz, Public Information Officer, WFP/Bangladesh, Tel. +8801755642167,
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