4.3.10. Improving the Food Security of Vulnerable Populations with a Value Chain Approach


In many contexts there is significant overlap between vulnerability, poverty and food insecurity.[1] This is unsurprising, as food insecurity is typically a key contributor to vulnerability. Food insecurity exacerbates vulnerability both in the short run (e.g. inadequate food forces people to sell their productive assets) and long-run (e.g. poor nutrition creates cognitive challenges that lower career earning potential). Conversely, vulnerable populations are more prone to becoming food insecure or worsening their food security in the face of a shock, such as a crop failure, the loss of an income-earner or a sudden health crisis, and have fewer coping strategies to deal with shocks. Multiple shocks will often turn vulnerable households facing transitory food insecurity (a short-term or temporary food deficit) into chronic food insecurity (a long-term or persistent inability to meet minimum food consumption requirements), as illustrated in the graph below.[2]

Vulnerable versus Resilient Households

Intervention Strategies

Just as vulnerability varies significantly between individuals and households, so does food insecurity. Chronically food insecure households typically face a more difficult journey to food security and require greater support,[3] while the transitory food insecure need less assistance to reach food security. These variations make it impossible to prescribe interventions that are suitable for all food insecure, regardless of context. Rather, the most appropriate strategies will be contextualized and offer opportunities for beneficiaries at different stages of vulnerability.

In working with the most vulnerable and food insecure, most implementing agencies have provided or linked to temporary and long-term safety nets that support basic survival. Cash transfers, for example, have been found to promote food security in contexts where markets function well.[4] Public works programs are also effective under certain conditions.[5] In some cases, these programs have been designed to support longer-term economic recovery. Several mechanisms are being tried:

  • Cash for work. For particularly food insecure household during periods of food crisis, cash for work programs can both address immediate food needs while also building longer-term infrastructure such as market access roads and irrigation structures that addresses value chain constraints. For example, the Global Food Crisis Response Program introduced cash for work as an initial intervention to increase food purchasing power, reduce household vulnerability to shocks and support the rebuilding of depleted assets among the very food insecure while also introducing longer-term interventions to promote selected value chains.[6] It is important to analyze market dynamics whenever cash is being distributed to ensure that it does not significantly drive up market prices through inflation.
  • Asset transfers. In targeting extremely food insecure populations, asset transfers can be used to jumpstart household production and ability to engage with markets. Land O’ Lakes in Zambia provided households meeting certain criteria with dairy cows, then linked them to markets for their milk. Access to dairy cows led to significant increases in milk consumption among beneficiaries, increases in income from sales, and general improvements in food security. In contrast to many asset transfer programs, Land O' Lakes had a clear strategy to incorporate asset recipients into markets so they could afford to maintain their new asset. Requiring a minimum level of contribution to the cost of the asset, such as money or in-kind labor, can help to reduce the cost of programming and build ownership.

As households rebuild their productive assets and risk tolerance, they will become increasingly able to engage in other activities that advance their food security. Creating incentives for households to graduate from direct assistance is one promising practice, although with mixed adoption among practitioners. The Global Food Crisis Response Program introduced a series opportunities that households could engage in, as illustrated in the figure below.[7]

Global Food Crisis Response Program Phased Approach to Programming


  1. See, for example, USAID Rwanda, Strategic Review: Feed the Future, August 6, 2010.
  2. Stephen Devereux, Chronic of Transitory Hunger: How do you Tell the Difference? Distinguishing between chronic and transitory food insecurity in emergency needs assessments, 2006, xi.
  3. ACDI/VOCA, Uganda MYAP, 14.
  4. Magen et al, Can Cash Transfers Promote Food Security in the Context of Volatile Commodity Prices? A Review of Empirical Evidence, 2009.
  5. von Braun et al, Labor-Intensive Public Works for Food Security: Experience in Africa, IFPRI, 1991.
  6. Global Food Crisis Response Program: Review of Lessons Learned, 7.
  7. Global Food Crisis Response Program: Review of Lessons Learned, 12.