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New approach to assess the nutrition and food security impacts of Ethiopia’s safety net programme

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Research snapshot1

The past two decades have seen a rapid increase in social protection programmes in African countries to alleviate poverty, food insecurity and the vulnerability of poor households. Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) is one of the largest social protection schemes and has been implemented since 2005. The ongoing fourth phase, which began in 2015, covers around eight million beneficiaries in all but two regions of Ethiopia.

Prior studies provide inconclusive evidence as to whether the PSNP has improved household food security and child nutrition, partly because household food security status is used as both the criteria for participation and a desirable programme outcome. This paper aimed to fill the gap in evidence by examining the impacts of the PSNP on household food security, child meal frequency, child diet diversity and child anthropometry using a marginal structural modelling approach, a method that allows an estimation of the causal association of time-dependent treatment (PSNP) in the presence of a time-dependent covariate (food security status) that is simultaneously a confounder and an intermediate variable.

Contrary to the author’s expectations, the study found that household participation in the PSNP did not have an impact on household food security, on child dietary diversity nor on child anthropometry (estimates of child linear growth, body mass index z-score, stunting and underweight show no significant difference when a household participates in the PSNP). A positive impact was only seen on increased child meal frequency: the number of meals a child would consume in the 24 hours prior to the survey increased by 0.308 units with household participation in the PSNP.

Results suggest that, unless the PSNP is combined with nutrition-sensitive programmes, it will be unable to address the problem of undernutrition among social protection recipients. Integrating the PSNP into broader multi-sectoral programmes that aim, for example, to improve access to clean water and sanitation, health services, agriculture, women’s empowerment, employment and training and information on food utilisation, as well as investment in infrastructure, will provide opportunities to address undernutrition as well as the risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases.

 

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Endnotes

1 Bahru, B. A., Jebena, M. G., Birner, R., and Zeller, M. (2020). Impact of Ethiopia's productive safety net program on household food security and child nutrition: A marginal structural modeling approach. SSM - population health12, 100660. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssmph.2020.100660

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New approach to assess the nutrition and food security impacts of Ethiopia’s safety net programme. Field Exchange 64, January 2021. p82. www.ennonline.net/fex/64/ethiopiasafetynetprogramme

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