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Food For Work & Cash For Work


Food for work programs and cash for work programs are similar in that both employ people to contribute to public works programs (similar to those implemented in the United States during the Great Depression). On one hand, food for work programs pay workers in food, directly addressing the problem of undernutrition by raising calorie intake. On the other hand, cash for work programs address this problem more indirectly by providing workers with income with which they can then buy higher quantities of food and/or higher quality food. Both programs possess advantages over direct food aid by targeting the poor and by encouraging local economic growth since they support local food producers and economies. Incidentally, these programs strengthen long-term food security by improving local infrastructure and/or agricultural potential.

Both food for work and cash for work programs are especially effective at reducing vulnerability to natural disasters and food insecurity by providing a social safety net. As a rule of thumb, the Food and Cash Transfer (FACT) program in Malawi found that each dollar transferred through the program had economic effects more than double the original input (Magen, 2009). A survey done of food-for-work programs in Ethipoia revealed that they increased consumption by an average of about 455 calories, or 30% of the daily intake (Gedamu, 2006). Another food for work program implemented in India by the Catholic Relief Services in the 1980s, “reached poor peasants with less than 5 acres who were below the official poverty line. The activities supported a three-fold increase in cropped area. Agricultural output and household income increased between 39% and 70%.” (Bryson, 1991; Cash for work programs have been proven to raise family incomes and food security, as shown in the table below (Gore, 2006).

Both of these programs provide “stabilization benefits,” by evening out family incomes, especially when they are implemented in local agricultural slack periods. In fact, “Even if the transfer benefits are small, income stabilization can pre-empt acute distress and prevent poor households from onerous adjustments such as distress-selling of productive assets in bad agricultural years. In other words, the risk benefits conferred by a works program via its insurance function can be as important as the transfer benefits to the poor via its distribution function” (Subbararo, 1997, n. pag.). In addition, the projects which will employ the workers, such as improving rural roads, building and repairing bridges, improving irrigation systems, and improving farmland, are designed to produce long-term improvements in income and food security.

As part of the solution to food insecurity, these two programs will be implemented in low-income, food-insecure areas, especially where food security is seasonal. They will be utilized primarily during agricultural off seasons or famine years, and after natural disasters to provide stabilization to those struggling to either find or afford food. In cases where it is implemented during the regular agricultural season, the work hours will be such that farmers can still tend their crops, using the program as a supplemental source of food or income for their families.

Cash transfers often prove more cost-effective because they lower the cost of transporting and delivering food (Magen, 2009). In addition, they are often able to more directly stimulate local economies. Because of this, we will primarily use these in areas which have a sufficient aggregate food supply. However, in areas where a lack of food is a greater problem than poverty, and in areas where theft and corruption are major issues, food for work will be a better option. This idea is illustrated in the diagram below (Gore, 2006).


In order to implement these programs, projects will be identified in low-income, food-insecure areas that could improve food security and/or the standard of living. In the case of food for work, we will obtain food locally to give out in exchange for labor, unless food is not available locally, in which case food will be imported. In the case of cash for work, we will pay workers at slightly less than local wage in order to avoid disrupting the local economy. In both cases, care will be taken to ensure that compensation is high enough to produce a substantial change in nutrition levels, but low enough that it targets the poor and doesn’t discourage people from producing their own food.

Several countries already have food-for-work or cash-for-work programs, including India’s Jawahar Rojgar Yojana program (Gaiha, 1998) and Bangladesh’s Food for Work (FFW) program (Von Braun, 1995), however, while these programs would provide a good basis for this plan, they could use some improvement. Other countries can be encouraged to finance their own food for work programs, and if they are unwilling, NGOs can and have sponsored such programs.For example, the WFP Food For Assets Program already acts worldwide, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation acts in eight countries.

Works cited: 

Our work. (2010). Food assets. World Food Programme. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

(October 2009). Food-for-work brings hope to the hungry.Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

Bryson, J. C., Chudy, J. P., & J. M. Pines. (Feburary 1991). Food for work. A review of the 1980s with recommendations for the 1990s. Retrieved November 2010 from USAID under Contract No. OTR-0700-C-00-9133-00,PIO/T No. 0381800.

Gaiha, R., Kaushik, P. D. & V. Kulkarni. (1998). Jawahar Rozgar Yojana, Panchayats, and the Rural Poor in India. University of California Press. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

Gedamu, A. (2006). Food for Work Program and its Implications on Food Security: A Critical Review with a Practical Example from the Amhara Region, Ethiopia. Journal of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Tropics and Subtropics, 107(2).

Gore, R. & M. Patel. (October 2006). Cash transfers in emergencies: A review drawing upon the tsunami and other experience. Thailand: UNICEF. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

Magen, B., Donovan, C. and Kelly, V. (February 2009). Can cash transfers promote food security in the context of volatile commodity prices?. Food, agriculture and natural resource policy analysis network. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

Subbaro, K. (1997).Public works as an anti-poverty program: An overview of cross-country experience. World Bank. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

USAID. (2006). Module II: Food for work. Food for peace. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from

Naylor, R.L. (1995). Von Braun, J. (Ed.). Employment for Poverty Reduction and Food Security. Retrieved November 29, 2010 from