Bridging the gap: Why Africa must expand social protection

Bridging the gap: Why Africa must expand social protection

In Africa, rural poverty and hunger are grim companions and often overlap with agricultural employment. Africa is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and a significant proportion of the rural population engaged in agriculture is especially exposed to these climate impacts.

The numbers tell a stark story: 389 million people live in poverty in Africa, while 282 million people face a food security crisis. More than a billion Africans can’t afford a healthy diet. Despite women making up 60 per cent of the rural sector, they face worse food insecurity than men, and women farmers often struggle to access means of production and economic inclusion services such as credit.

In this context, social protection – comprising social assistance, social security, and social welfare – plays an essential role in reducing poverty, alleviating hunger, improving food security, building resilience, and contributing to productive livelihoods.

Currently, only around 17 percent of the population in Africa is covered by at least one social protection benefit, rising to 27.1 per cent for Africa’s older population who receive an old-age pension. That leaves many millions of informal rural workers, children, mothers with newborns, unemployed workers, those unable to work due to sickness or injury, persons with disabilities, and many others in deprivation.

There is an urgent need to expand the coverage and adequacy of social protection in Africa, particularly to rural areas. As part of the Global Partnership for Universal Social Protection, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is committed to supporting member countries to expand the reach of nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures by 2030. We have just a few years to turn commitments into results to meet the SDG targets.

Regional dialogue for solutions

On 28-29 May, FAO will bring together social protection experts, academics, civil society actors and other partners in the rural development space in Kampala, Uganda, for a regional dialogue on social protection. This event will explore how coherence can be achieved to drive transformation towards a more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems. The dialogue will explore options to extend social protection to rural populations across Africa.

Social protection includes a diverse set of policies and programmes that address economic, environmental and social vulnerabilities to food insecurity and poverty by protecting and promoting livelihoods. Benefits include social insurance, tax-funded social benefits, social assistance services, cash-for-work programmes, cash transfers and in-kind assistance including food and agricultural inputs, school feeding schemes, old-age pensions, job training, and other schemes guaranteeing basic income security and access to essential services.

Beyond supporting individuals, there is a strong broader economic case for social protection. It is a strategic investment to enhance the economic and productive capacity of the poor. Access to social protection significantly increases the capacity of the rural poor to ensure their own food security while strengthening sustainable livelihoods, with multiplier effects on local and national economies. Moreover, it has the potential to positively shift power relations within households, enhancing gender equality which pays dividends across many sectors.

Social protection in agriculture

By integrating social protection with agricultural and rural development, FAO aims to address poverty and hunger and equip rural communities with the tools and opportunities they need to build sustainable and resilient livelihoods. Through its Strategic Framework 2022-2031, FAO is committed to supporting countries across Africa to expand the coverage, adequacy, and comprehensiveness of social protection systems for rural populations to contribute to achieving the SDGs by delivering the four betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no-one behind.

The regional dialogue in Kampala will provide an opportunity to share views and experiences on how Africa can strengthen social protection systems to be comprehensive in coverage, integrated in approach, context-specific and participatory governance in the design and implementation to ensure relevance and effectiveness. Examples of great collaboration between FAO and countries include in: Malawi, where FAO supported the government to develop a National Social Support Policy and a Social Cash Transfer Programme; Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia, where FAO supported the building of farmer registries and enhancing interoperability with the social protection system; Somalia, where FAO helped vulnerable households transition from humanitarian assistance to agricultural productivity; and Kenya, where FAO has supported the government to expand social protection coverage by leveraging community-based approaches for more inclusive and participatory processes.

The dialogue will come up with specific policy recommendations to inform FAO’s future collaboration with African governments on social protection issues.

Expanding social protection in rural areas is not merely a safety net; it is a strategic investment in the transformation of the agrifood systems. Clearly, the responsibility doesn’t solely rest on national authorities. Partnerships and collaboration are vital for the realization of social protection objectives.  Through partnerships, knowledge-sharing and sustainable investments in social protection, African countries can pave the way for a more prosperous, stable, and equitable future for all.

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