Written by Suman Chakrabarti, Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), organized a policy seminar on “Social Protection & Safety Net
Interventions” in the month of February in New Delhi. The seminar touched on the role of food and cash transfers in improving poverty, food security and nutrition, in global and regional contexts. All speakers were well received by the audience and the seminar was lively with an array of wide ranging questions and discussions.
The first speaker, John Hoddinott, Deputy Director at the Poverty, Health and Nutrition Division – IFPRI , Washington, DC, pooled insights from recent studies in Ecuador, Niger, Uganda and Yemen, on social protection programs and their nutrition outcomes. He highlighted the relative advantages and drawbacks of cash, voucher and food transfers in terms of cost effectiveness, achievement of caloric intake increase and impact sufficiency to reduce chronic under-nutrition in young children. In addition, he shared very recent findings on the impact of combining behavioural change interventions with cash transfers in Bangladesh.
The second speaker, Avinash Kishore, Associate Research Fellow, IFPRI, New Delhi, shared insights from a working paper that investigates the impact of reforms in the Public Distribution System (PDS) of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, on the offtake of rice from fair price shops as well as on the reallocation of savings towards other food groups. These findings are central in the context of India’s National Food Security Act (NFSA) which was enacted in 2013. The NFSA lays out very similar PDS reforms in terms of price reductions for key cereals and increase in the population covered, accompanied with supply side corrections, as were enforced in the aforementioned states.
The third and final speaker, Reetika Khera, Assistant Professor, Economics, Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, discussed her research on shifts in India’s PDS. She discussed various facets of interest within the PDS including coverage, leakage, implicit subsidies, exclusion errors, and nutritional impacts, among others. The findings indicate an overall revival of the PDS in India albeit with high interstate variations. She concluded that there was a long way to go for improvements in the PDS, and emphasized that key reforms should focus on an expansion in the implicit subsidy given to households, incentives, computerization, and decentralization.
Issues and questions raised in the discussion period included:
- What is better in India’s context, cash or food? A balanced approach would be a contextualized response, where cash could be better for some regions and food for others.
- What might be the possible measures to control leakages in the PDS? Mechanisms to check leakages might be easier to enforce under a cash transfer paradigm with the use of IT.
-Targeting versus universalization of the PDS: Given the large targeting errors for AAYs, BPLs, and APLs, would a universalized PDS prove to be more effective?
- What is the role of the private sector in grain management? Can the private sector distribute grains more efficiently and cost effectively?
- What are the effects of transfers on households? How do they re-allocate savings from subsidies? What are the effects on women’s empowerment?