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The Ladder

A Blog from New America's Asset Building Program

USAID Explores Savings and Food Security

Published:  October 27, 2011
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USAID and the Assets and Market Access Collaborative Research Support Program (AMA CRSP) recently invited the New America Foundation’s Global Assets Project to present its research on how to improve the impact and reach of social protection programs around the world. The event, entitled “Building Resilience and Assets for Food Security: Evidence and Implications for Feed the Future,” was attended by experts from the World Bank, United Nations and Oxfam, in addition to leading universities across the country.

Jamie Zimmerman, director of GAP, discussed the launch of the New America Foundation’s Global Savings and Social Protection (GSSP) initiative. Specifically, she outlined how savings-linked social protection could have a variety of positive effects as both a social-protection enhancer and financial inclusion gateway. The details of the mechanism would be varied and tailored to context, she argued, as illustrated in the current state of the field: currently, 45 savings-linked social protection programs exist with over 42 million total recipients.

Of the many other relevant and interesting presentations, three in particular are worth highlighting:

  • Dean Yang of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy discussed his research on incentivizing savings behavior among farmers in Mozambique. Specifically, he is exploring which interventions are most likely to lead to long term behavior change both in terms of fertilizer usage and savings behavior. The results of his research will help us better understand the relative impacts of subsidies, financial education and monetary incentives on these farmers’ long-term actions.
  • Carolina Trivellia, who was recently named Peru's Minister of Social Inclusion, discussed the promising results of initiatives that connect low-income rural indigenous women to the financial system by means of a savings account. In addition, she pointed out that preliminary pilots that link cash transfers with financial inclusion programs (in Colombia and Chile) have led to positive findings. Women do save, they value the accounts and they have various uses for them. However, she also made clear that better collaboration between the public and private sector is necessary to fully realize the projects’ potential.
  • Paul Winters, Associate Professor of Economics at America University, spoke about how cash transfer programs can not only promote social protection, but also enable and incentivize economic production. In Mexico, participants in conditional cash transfers increased land use, livestock ownership and crop spending. In Malawi, cash transfers led to an increase in ownership in productive assets, including crop investments and livestock, and increased time devoted to household farms.

In all of these ways and more, the linking of social protection programs to savings and asset building is demonstrating its potential to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and lead to long-term economic and social development. Over the coming year, GAP’s Global Asset Project anticipates more exciting results from its own research and that of its partners.

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