This summary draws from the discussions held at the webinar ‘’Enhancing the impact of social protection programs on food security and nutrition’’ which took place on 16 September 2021. The session was organised by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the recording and presentation slides are available online.


Background and motivation

Increasingly governments around the world are turning to social protection programmes to promote better food security and nutrition for vulnerable populations. These programmes are often not adequately designed or implemented which may limit their effectiveness in reaching intended outcomes. To support governments and development agencies in assessing their programmes outcomes, FAO, in close collaboration with partners, has developed the Inter-Agency Social Protection Assessment Tool for food security and nutrition (ISPA-FSN Tool) – the tool is available in English, French, and Spanish.

The webinar aimed to cover the following points: 

i. present an overview of the ISPA-FSN Tool; 

ii. provide an understanding of the process followed for its development; and 

iii. presents an overview of lessons learned of its application in various contexts. 

Alejandro Grinspun, Senior Economist, Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division of the Food and Agricultural Organisation welcomed the webinar participants and emphasized the relevance of social protection and its key role in the fight against malnutrition and food insecurity. Even before the outbreak of the pandemic, the world was not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2 to end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030. Today, the world is seeing a reversal of the progress made in poverty reduction over the past decades and an increase in hunger and food insecurity. The pandemic has also impacted the prevalence of multiple forms of malnutrition. Mr. Grinspun also highlighted the presence of another, less visible and slow-onset pandemic, which manifests itself in the alarming rise in the prevalence of overweight, obesity, and diet-related non-communicable diseases. It is in this context that the ISPA-FSN Tool can serve an important function to help inform the design of policies and programmes that are more effective in tackling food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition.


Brief overview of the ISPA tools

Veronica Wodsak, Social Protection Policy Specialist at the International Labour Organization, introduced participants to the ISPA tools and gave a brief overview. In many countries, people face difficulties in accessing social protection due to several factors such as poor design, lack of resources, lack of funding, poorly coordinated programs, etc. The objective of these tools is to support governments and improve social protection systems by providing a coherent framework for sound analysis at different levels of social protection. 


All tools addressed to the different elements of social protection systems go through the same steps and have the same structure.  ISPA tools come in three forms: one to assess the functioning of systems, a second to evaluate programs, and a third to focus on specific components of the delivery chain. All ISPA tools that have been developed are accessible here



Presentation of the FSN ISPA tool

Ahmed Raza, Nutrition and Food Systems Officer of the Food and Agricultural Organisation, presented the Food Security and Nutrition (FSN) ISPA tool The overall purpose of the tool is to help government and development partners to better understand how social assistance instruments and programs can achieve a greater impact on food security and nutrition at country level.  


The tool has five main components: 

  1. Guidance note that contains the main concepts and principles, a brief overview of the methodology of the assessment and it also includes the key areas objectives around which the whole assessment is laid out. 
  2. Date collection framework, it provides information about how to access elements of the social protection programs
  3. Overview and findings, the results from the data collections feed this third part of the tool, it examines how those results can be classified in one of the four levels: latent, emergent, moderate, and advanced. If the results are in the latent phase that means that they are quite far away from the existing good practices in that field.
  4. Country report, the tool presents how a country report should be structured with a highlight of the main results, methodology, findings, … 
  5. Implementation guidelines, it provides a process of how the assessment need to be conducted, it outlines steps and activities which need to be undertaken. 

The Tool aims to identify gaps and areas for further improvement based on the right-to-food and the right-to-social-protection approaches. It assesses social protection programmes against seven pre-established criteria: (1) explicit FSN objectives and indicators; (2) inclusiveness and accessibility; (3) adequacy of benefits, duration, timing, and predictability; (4) responsiveness; (5) inter-sectoral coherence in operational and governance structures; (6) sustainability; and (7) rights and dignity.

After its development, the ISPA-FSN Tool was piloted in Paraguay, Cambodia, and Palestine. The pilots gathered stakeholders from across various sectors, in particular food security, nutrition, and social protection, and identified design and implementation features that have the potential to enhance the impact of social protection programmes on FSN. 


Learning from country and partner experiences: Paraguay, Cambodia, and Palestine pilot projects

Maya Takagi, Regional program leader for FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, moderated the roundtable and provided an opportunity for representatives from the pilot countries-Paraguay, Cambodia, and Palestine- and the tool's partners -Save the Children, GIZ, and the World Bank-to give feedback on the tool's implementation and main contributions. She structured the conversations with questions for the participants.

The first question: What do you see as the main contribution of the FSN ISPA for your country? was addressed to Reveca Chávez, leader of the department of studies and diffusion in the ministry of social development of Paraguay, and to Hassan Ashqar, Director General of Policy and Planning in Palestine. 

In Paraguay, the tool was used to analysis a program implemented for 16 years, Tekopora, which involves about 160,000 families, 19 000 of which are from the indigenous community and living in high levels of poverty. The purpose of the evaluation was to determine where the limitations of existing programs lie and how food security can be improved. As concrete results, a food security and nutrition subsystem was seen as a necessity to establish, and a national social protection system is being developed, some elements of which were taken from the ISPA analysis. 

In Palestine, one-third of the population lives in food insecurity. The ISPA tool was used to assess government policy and donor programs. Three main programs exist in Palestine to improve food security: food assistance, cash transfers, and economic improvement programs for vulnerable populations. The analysis shows that social protection has prevented a deterioration in food insecurity but has not succeeded in reducing it because it does not affect the income of vulnerable families. The tool helped the Palestinian authorities to rethink interagency cooperation within the government, particularly with the Ministry of Social Development, Agriculture, and Health. 

The second question: We are in a new context now, with countries needing to respond to and recover from COVID-19. In a few days, we will also have the UN Food Systems Summit, which puts social protection as one of the main instruments to enhance food security of vulnerable populations. In this context, what suggestions would you give to other countries about the implementation of the tool? was addressed to Farid Selmi, Nutrition and Resilience Specialist in Cambodia at GIZ. 

When it comes to the food system social protection has great potential to improve food security and nutrition in all four pillars (availability, access, utilization, and stability). In times of crisis, it is difficult to have a comprehensive process bringing all the stakeholders together, you can only rely on what is currently in place to act quickly. Now that countries are recovering from emergencies, it is the right time to step back and look at what the government and its partners should put in place in terms of social protection according to the four pillars of food security. Cambodia already had systems in place that were able to adapt during the pandemic to respond to the crisis and that prevented people from falling into poverty and enhanced stability and resilience.

The third question: What do you see as the main contributions of the FSN ISPA tool for the work of your agency? was addressed to Luke Harman, Senior Social Protection Advisor in Save the Children. 

The tool can support the agency first as a reference point for internal capacity building, as it is comprehensive, well structured, and covers many considerations. Second, as a resource when advising governments or donors on social protection programs. 

The fourth question: How do you see the importance of the tool in the context of COVID´s response and recovery and of the UN Food Systems Summit? was addressed to Andrea Spray Nutrition Consultant from the World Bank.

Covid-19 exacerbated long-standing weaknesses in health, food, and social systems. The social protection response to the Covid-19 pandemic underscores the importance of having strong food, health, and social services systems in place before an emergency occurs.  The FSN ISPA tool is a practical, evidence-based resource that is readily available to governments and stakeholders in "normal" times and in emergencies.

The last question: after the implementation, what were the main recommendations that you were able to consider in your social protection programme/policy process as a result of the application of the tool? The question was addressed to Reveca Chávez, leader of the Department of Studies and Diffusion in the Ministry of Social Development of Paraguay, and to Hassan Ashqar, Director General of Policy and Planning in Palestine. 

In Paraguay, the tool has produced two main results. In the design of programs, the recommendations of the tool (such as the use of indicators) have been used to strengthen and improve programs. In supporting capacity development, based on the results of the tool training material has been developed for beneficiaries.

In Palestine, the tool has fostered a culture of working together. A cross-sectoral food security strategy as well as a cross-sectoral food security policy and social program have been developed. On the planning side, there is now a common government and stakeholder plan and on the implementation side, the Government of Palestine is focusing on more sustainable programs that will build the capacity and resilience of vulnerable groups based on economic empowerment programs.

The roundtable was followed by a Q&A session.


Patrizia Fracassi, Senior Nutrition and Food Systems Officer at FAO, concluded the seminar by highlighting three points to improve the impact of the tool. First, to promote advocacy for the use of the tool as a way of establishing synergies within and among sectors for strengthening governance mechanisms, regulatory framework, and policy documents. Second, to address the needs and concerns of vulnerable communities. The focus of the FSN ISPA tool on the nutritionally vulnerable is one of its strengths and can support better design and effective implementation of social protection. Third, to forge meaningful partnerships and encourage exchange of knowledge especially through south-south cooperation among members and development partners. 


Key references

Inter-Agency Social Protection Assessment (ISPA) tool on Food Security and Nutrition

The State of Food Insecurity in the World

Protecting livelihoods – Linking agricultural insurance and social protection

Extending social protection to rural populations

Social protection coverage toolkit

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social assistance - General
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Programme design and implementation
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disasters and crisis
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's