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Safety Nets: Cash With Nutrition Education Has Greatest Impact On Child Nutrition

DHAKA – Which combination of cash, food and nutrition education in social safety nets brings the greatest benefits for ultra-poor rural families? The findings of a joint research initiative seeking an answer to this question were presented today by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The research was supported and guided by the Government of Bangladesh, and funded by Switzerland, Germany, the United Nations Development Programme, UK’s Department for International Development through its Transform Nutrition research programme, and the United States of America.

The two-year study sought to determine the benefits of five different combinations of transfers provided to ultra-poor women with small children: 1) cash only, 2) food only, 3) cash and food combined, 4) cash and nutrition behaviour change communication training* , and 5) food and nutrition behaviour change communication training.

Using a rigorous state-of-the-art impact evaluation, researchers found that these interventions caused significant improvements on income, food expenditure, calorie consumption, food poverty, diet quality and chronic undernutrition (also known as stunting).

The greatest impact came from cash transfers when they were combined with nutrition education. In the northwest of Bangladesh, over the two years of the project this formula caused significant improvement in children’s nutrition, with a 7.3 percentage point decrease in the proportion of children suffering stunting.

“These intriguing outcomes confirm that if we provide regular cash transfers to ultra-poor women with small children, and combine this with good nutrition training, we can achieve a significant reduction in child stunting within a short period of time,” said WFP Representative Christa Räder.

Undernutrition remains a major challenge in Bangladesh, with serious consequences for the economy and health systems, costing more than USD 1 billion in lost productivity every year.
 “Given that 36 percent of all children under five in Bangladesh are stunted, it is essential to design safety nets wisely,” said Dr. Akhter Ahmed, lead researcher of the IFPRI team and Chief of Party of the IFPRI Policy Research and Strategy Support Program in Bangladesh. “Households who participated in nutrition education sessions in our research project consumed more diverse foods and took better care of their children than those who received only food, cash or both.”

* In Bangladesh, USD 3.9 billion, or about 12 percent of the government budget, is allocated to social safety net programmes for the fiscal year 2015.

Note to editors:

Under the research initiative, 4,000 ultra-poor women and their 21,600 family members in the north-western and southern regions of Bangladesh received a monthly transfer for 24 months from May 2012 to April 2014. Each of the five research arms consisted of 800 people: 400 in the intervention group and 400 in the control group. The transfers were each worth 1,500 Taka per month.

Women received their cash transfers through mobile phone transfers. For this purpose they were given a mobile handset, a SIM card, and a mobile bank account.

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

Behaviour change communication (BCC) are communication or education activities that help foster a change in behaviour in individuals, families or communities, for example by encouraging dietary diversity or best practices in breast-feeding.

For more information please contact:
Christa Räder, Representative, WFP/Bangladesh, Tel. +880-2-9183022-33
Akhter Ahmed, Chief of Party, IFPRI/Bangladesh, Tel. +880-2-989-8686
Leonora Beck, Communications Officer, WFP/Bangladesh, Tel. +8801755642173,