Labour-Intensive Public Works Programmes Supported by Food Aid as a Nutrition Intervention
Joachim von Braun
Currently Chair on Food Economics and Food Policy, University of Kiel, Germany Previously Director, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, International Food Policy Research Institute
Despite substantial improvements in the world's nutrition situation in the past 20 years, considerable food and nutrition insecurity continues to prevail, with unacceptable effects for people's welfare through shortened lives and reduced human productivity. The need to address food and nutrition insecurity in poor households remains urgent in the developing world, especially in Africa, where it appears as if the number of households experiencing food consumption shortfalls will increase even further in the coming years, unless conditions change.
By supporting appropriate interventions and instruments, food aid can play a role in promoting food and nutrition security and in reducing poverty. Food aid can be used both to increase demand for food (by backing higher employment policies) and to decrease the cost of production (by supporting labour-intensive investment) (Mellor and Pandya-Lorch 1991,522). Large volumes of food aid have flowed to the developing world in recent decades, but it must be noted that there has been a tendency to give food aid for purposes of political expediency to "favoured" countries or populations groups--which are not necessarily the neediest--and for emergency purposes (usually famine relief) with weak linkages to developmental action. Food aid has not been used to its fullest potential.
Today, the political and economic climate seems more conducive to considering future food aid policy directions for improved utilization of food aid. The emerging new international relationships can facilitate a less politicized allocation of food aid and a more needs-oriented allocation across countries. Moreover, the nascent political transformations in many low-income countries should facilitate a stronger focus on utilization of food aid on needs within countries in the coming years. In this changing political economy environment, the nutrition policy community should find it easier to communicate its messages and rally support for food and nutrition security interventions, including those instruments supported by food aid.
Food aid's actual role, potentials, and limitations need to remain in perspective. The instrument needs to be "demystified" and viewed as a resource. Food aid operations, that is, the technical distribution and monetization mechanisms, need to be viewed as an important institutional response capacity. A range of alternative policies is available to improve food security1 including macroeconomic policy and development strategy, production-oriented policies and programmes, storage and trade-oriented policies for stabilization, credit for consumption stabilization and self-employment, targeted feeding programmes, food stamps, food subsidies, and emergency relief programmes. When making food security policy choices, the specific characteristics of a country's or region's food security problem and its population, market integration, and institutional capabilities all need to be considered.
1 Food security is defined, in its most basic form, as access by all people at all times to the food required for a healthy life (von Braun et al, 1992)Scope for Labour-intensive Public Works Programmes
This paper focuses on a particular instrument: labour-intensive public works programmes. These are public programmes that provide employment and, typically, generate public goods, such as physical infrastructure, through labour-intensive means2. Through employment subsidies and through appropriate targeting, labour-intensive public works programmes can be an important element of a policy for nutrition improvement. Appropriate labour-intensive public works programmes can provide for short-term food security by creating employment and providing wages. By creating assets such as roads and waterworks, they can expand employment and productivity in the long run and thereby provide for long-term improvement and maintenance of food security.
2 The public goods focus is not imperative. While public works programmes are publicly supported, they need not be implemented by the public sector, implementation may rest on private sector and community initiatives. Thus, "public works" may often be "private works" in actual execution.Labour-intensive public works programmes have been widely applied in Asia as a key instrument for addressing food insecurity. Bangladesh and India have a particularly long and rich history of experience with such programmes. China expanded such programmes on a gigantic scale in the 1980s. However, until recently, such programmes were rarely used in Sub-Saharan Africa, although there are exceptions such as Kenya, which has a long-standing general public works programme, and other countries such as Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Ethiopia, which have experience with public works programmes designed specifically for achieving food security.
As the nature and scale of food insecurity changes and as the macroeconomic environment (due to high costs of capital or constrained access to credit) increasingly favours labour intensity, labour-intensive public works programmes have become more attractive in recent years, especially in Africa. Food insecurity is increasingly becoming a problem for people dependent on the labour market in both rural and urban areas (Drèze and Sen 1989). For instance, the malnourished poor in rural Africa derive 40 to 60 percent of their income from off-farm sources (von Braun and Pandya-Lorch 1991). The changing employment and income source structures of the poor and related household food security risks demand a new focus on productive employment for the poor to achieve and maintain household food security. Labour-intensive public works programmes can play a key role in this context.
Macroeconomic incentives, in the form of increases in the capital/labour price ratio in Africa, are inducing more labour-intensive investment. The price of labour relative to capital has drastically fallen in recent years. Many African governments have or are about to respond to this new development. The nutrition policy community should be aware of new potentials for direct and indirect nutritional improvement through investment in labour-intensive public works programmes. These programmes may sometimes provide a delivery mechanism for nutritional improvement, including community-based action.
Other arguments that favour establishment and expansion of labour-intensive public works programmes for food security in low-income countries include limited and rapidly deteriorating infrastructure and natural resource bases. Fiscal and foreign exchange constraints inhibit maintenance and new construction of basic infrastructure by capital-intensive technology. Yet, provision of these public goods is indispensable for stimulating agricultural and economy-wide growth in low-income countries.
The Labour-Intensive Public Works-Food Security Linkages
Labour-intensive public works have both transfer benefits and stabilization benefits, decreasing the risk of consumption shortfalls among the poor. Generating these food security benefits requires both resources and effective management. Amongst other things, the net benefits of rural public works are influenced by how well they fit into the rural labour market in peak and off-peak agricultural seasons. Figure 1 provides an overview on linkages and on policy and programme concerns related to five key areas of the public works programme-food security interface:
· resources for labour-intensive works programme;There are three major direct welfare effects that result from public works programmes: (i) income enhancement through wage employment in the short run; (ii) risk insurance--where public works are designed with the desirable feature of employment guarantees at survival wage rates; and (iii) direct and indirect employment and income effects from assets created and improvements in human resources, including skills and nutritional status, in the long run. Combined, these three effects simultaneously address both transitory and structural food security problems of the poor. The relative importance of each of the three welfare effects differs by type of household and its food security risk profile.
· public works programmes and implementation choices;
· creation of short-term employment and long-term assets;
· household income increase and risk reduction;
· and household food security outcome.
Two behavioural parameters at the household level determine the actual effects of labour-intensive public works programmes on food security: (i) substitution in employment and income sources, which determines the effect of net income from public works (gross income from public works minus foregone income); and (ii) household consumption and expenditure behaviour with regard to income from public works versus income from other sources. The time allocation effects induced by participation of selected household members in public works may have broader ramifications, beyond income and consumption, for nutrition and health.
The distribution of benefits and burden of incremental employment and income from public works is influenced not only by effects at the aggregate household level, but also by who actually participates in the public works programme from the household-men, women, or children. The latter issue may impinge on intrahousehold resource control and allocation and may have a further impact on household spending for food and nutritional improvement (for example, spending preferences of males differ from those of females in some settings). An important issue that requires attention in this context is the effect of participation in public works on child care. When household labour, especially female labour, is increasingly allocated to public works programmes, it may affect child care quality and, perhaps, child labour and school attendance. For instance, other home production chores, for example, wood collection, water fetching, and caring for small children, may be shifted to older children.
A more general link of labour-intensive public works to food security is via the assets created, especially when these include expanded opportunities for the poor in combination with improved access to health services and sanitation.
Reaching the Target Group
The target group for labour-intensive public works programmes is usually the underemployed poor or the food-insecure population, which, depending on the setting, can include women, persons dependent on wage labour or self-employment, and persons who are seasonally food-insecure. Public works programmes reach the target group through a variety of mechanisms and design features that include wage rate policy, regional targeting, seasonal targeting, and specific selection of households (for example, displaced households) and household members (for example, women).
Figure 1 - Links between labour-intensive public works and food security
Research shows that public works programmes can and do successfully reach the poor. IFPRI household-level surveys from Niger and Botswana show that participants in labour-intensive public works programmes in both countries have much lower per capita income than nonparticipants in the same or similar rural communities (Webb 1992; Teklu 1992). Similarly, in India, the Employment Guarantee Scheme (EGS), one of the largest such schemes in the world, significantly reaches the rural poor, including landless households and small and marginal farmers (Dev 1992). Women frequently participate to a greater extent in public works programmes than they do in their respective local labour markets. Female participation in the EGS is sizable, with the proportion of females often more than 50 percent of participants (Dev 1992).
Properly designed public works have a unique feature in favour of poverty alleviation with low administrative impacts: self-targeting. At properly defined wage rates, the working poor identify themselves by turning up at public works schemes. The self-targeting feature of public works programmes only operates effectively with an appropriate (low) wage rate policy and a flexible absorption of applications without rationing workplaces. An improved understanding of labour market features and wage formation is essential for an optimum deployment of public works programmes for food security.
Wage rate determination in labour-intensive public works programmes is a critical policy issue. Wage rates ought not to be set too low to reach into the desired skill and productivity levels or to overextend labour intensity; yet, wage rates ought not to be set too high, which can defeat the self-targeting feature of public works and can result in employment rationing and exclusion of relatively more of the poorest segments of society under usual fiscal constraints.
Whether wages should be in the form of cash or kind (food) depends on local circumstances relating to the risk of market failure. The scale of programmes and thinness of food markets are core considerations. Labour-intensive public works programmes, through incremental employment and income of the absolute poor, can increase demand for food. Food supply must be forthcoming locally or inflation may result, hitting nonparticipating households as well. Food aid can play a role in mitigating such effects if supply is expanded according to demand induced by public works programmes.
The wages component in labour-intensive public works programmes is the point of entry for the use of food aid. Its useful share in such programmes is determined by the degree of labour intensity of the programme (which is a function of technological choice and type of works among others), the income level and related consumption response of participants, and the risk of market disruption in the areas concerned.
The labour content of labour-intensive public works programmes ranges from 35 to 60 percent in the case of dirt roads, to about 70 percent in afforestation projects, and 70 to 95 percent in anti-erosion works. The difference-the capital component-is often constrained. Often, optimal scale effects of programmes are not reached because food aided programmes are starved of cash. Two options to overcome the cash constraint can be considered: (i) sell excess food aid and use partly for capital component of programmes; and (ii) find exogenous additional resources for the capital component. This second option is the one theoretically preferred and requiring strengthened interagency cooperation (donor capital) and/or improved interlinkages of infrastructure investments with financial markets (domestic or borrowed capital).
Incremental income earned by the absolute poor is, to a substantial extent, used for incremental food consumption, but substitution of purchased food for food aid wages does, of course, occur in works programmes as does resale. Households thereby implicitly "monetize" food aid. The "monetization" by saved food purchases may be larger than by direct resale. These relationships at the household level tend to be overlooked in dogmatic debates over food aid monetization at domestic market or international trade levels. This fact should not be a matter of concern to programme planners. Related local market effects, however, require attention.
Tapping the Nutritional Benefits
There are few comprehensive "before and after" studies of the effects of employment programmes on food security and nutrition, just as there are few comparative studies of food security and nutrition outcomes "with and without" employment programmes. Research on these issues is still at an early stage.
Research on the developmental impact of the Food For Work (FFW) programme in the Bangladesh (an important component of the rural public works programme, with the capacity to provide more than 100 million days of employment in the mid-1980s) study found that dietary intakes improved for all age groups in the project sites relative to control sites (IFPRI/BIDS 1989; Ahmed and Hossain 1990). Cereal consumption was slightly higher among landless and near-landless project participants in comparison to similar nonparticipants in project villages. In general, there may have been an equalizing trend in the project sites for nutritional differences between boys and girls at various ages; otherwise, girls were significantly worse off in the younger age groups. Agricultural production increased by an average of 27 percent and per capita household income by about 10 percent, as a result of direct and indirect effects of the project. More productive employment generated substituted for very low productivity employment among rural households. Wage employment increased by about 13 percent while self-employment declined by about 10 percent.
Household-level research on labour-intensive public works programmes in Botswana and Niger confirm the income-increasing effects of participation in such programmes; in Botswana, project wage income contributed about 40 percent of the income of participating households, and, in Niger, it contributed about 20 percent of total household income of the poor (Teklu 1992; Webb 1992).
Several important insights and lessons can be gleaned from the in-depth household-level research conducted by IFPRI in Bangladesh, Botswana, and Niger, and from a review of experience with public works programmes in India, China, Guatemala, and some African countries:
· The household food security effects of labour-intensive public works programmes are a function of the programme design. For instance, a short-term project may result in expenditure patterns by the poor that treat project income as "windfall profits." A longer-term project may have more stable effects on consumption.The nature of the food security and nutrition problem in affected areas and communities must be properly assessed and understood in order to maximize the food security and nutritional benefits of labour-intensive public works programmes. It is also important that the target population--the food insecure and malnourished--be properly targeted with employment; in this respect, the setting of wage levels on the projects and the mode of payment play crucial roles.
· Policy needs to emphasize public investment through public works programmes and, thus, creation of productive and sustainable assets. Income effects for the poor derived from public works programmes can also have favourable private savings and investment effects, as observed in the Bangladesh and Guatemala settings.
· Public works programmes can be a viable instrument for famine prevention, as demonstrated by the EGS in India. The "employment guarantee" feature also triggers "relief works" automatically at local levels, enabling governments to deal with crises that otherwise might be too small to trigger public action--an important lesson for dealing with the problem of the small, localized famines in Africa. Programmes that include an employment guarantee, such as the EGS with its self-targeting feature, have important employment stabilization and insurance effects.
Public works programmes can, themselves, act as a vehicle for nutritional improvement by influencing the choice of food in food wages, including paying attention to specific deficiencies, and by providing complementary measures for health and sanitation to project participants directly and to the communities indirectly.
Conclusions for Institutional Requirements
Delivery of nutritional benefits can be hindered by institutional weaknesses and deficiencies in management capacities. Typically, rural health systems in low-income countries are already overburdened with basic functions. Improved rural infrastructure and greater community participation in programme choice and design can also benefit nutrition-related public goods delivery (for example, in the area of potable clean water).
Links between nutrition-related institutions and public-works-related institutions need to be strengthened. Food and nutrition issues (for example, their regional and seasonal dimensions) need to enter policy formulation of public works.
Figure 2-What types of programmes?
As public works programmes, especially in Africa, are increasingly being promoted because of food security concerns, health ministries need to get more involved with labour-intensive public works programmes, and agriculture, labour, and specific "public works" ministries need to coordinate their activities better. Relief and rehabilitation agencies, which typically have a strong focus on nutrition, would benefit from expertise in all of the above-mentioned line ministries. Strengthening these institutional links would be an important contribution of donor-supported institution building. Food aid support for labour-intensive public works can also set incentives in this direction.
Nutritional effectiveness in public works programmes requires proper monitoring for adjustment in scale and scope, just as does any other nutrition interventions. Very few programmes--although aimed at nutritional improvement--have a related monitoring and impact analysis component. Monitoring must include labour market effects, not just food and nutrition-related issues. However, interestingly, labour-intensive public works programmes provide food security monitoring information by themselves: when food security risks increase, more people turn up to offer their labour time in open-ended schemes. This feature is being used to monitor actual needs for emergency employment programmes in "test-work" programmes.
While labour-intensive public works can measurably improve food consumption and nutrition, they are not a cure-all, and potential problems that may influence the nutrition outcome need to be addressed in implementation. These potential problems include health and sanitation conditions at work sites, that is, if these are camp situations, and child care issues (time and quality), which relate to mothers' work and related absenteeism. The intrahousehold effects (both positive and negative ones) of labour-intensive public works require attention. Complementary health and sanitation actions along with public works are called for to maximize their nutritional benefits for the most vulnerable household members.
A frequently encountered initial reaction to labour-intensive public works is "institutional capacities are not sufficient for public works programmes." A review (von Braun, Teklu, and Webb 1991) suggests that while the lack of adequate institutional capacities is a real constraint, it can be overcome. Furthermore, although public works programmes are labour intensive, they are not skill extensive. The general lack of medium-level technical administrative preparedness is a major constraint. Training to overcome these deficiencies is of paramount importance.
Labour-intensive public works programmes offer certain features that make them complementary to a package of development instruments for poverty alleviation. An appropriate assessment of the scope for labour-intensive public works to improve food security must place them within the context of a defined development strategy and of alternative (and possibly complementary) policy instruments. Figure 2 attempts to place these programmes in the context of different problem scenarios and alternative policy instruments for food security.
While there are important macroeconomic and institutional issues that determine the scope of and constraints for labour-intensive public works, many policy questions for screening the scope of such programmes for food security improvement remain country-, location-, and situation-specific. These policy questions relate to wage rate policies; mode of payment--cash, in kind, or both, seasonal and regional targeting, and institutional arrangements.
The complementary measures for labour-intensive public works programmes to enhance food security and nutritional effects, including health care and child care, are under-researched and deserve more attention. The creative search for appropriate complementary measures to optimize short- and long-term food security and nutritional improvement needs to be scaled up.
The effectiveness of labour-intensive public works programmes is closely related to institutional arrangements at the community level and in labour markets. Capitalizing on institutional arrangements for the appropriate design of labour-intensive public works programmes seems promising. Investments in basic understanding of the institutional arrangements may have high payoffs and can lead to more systematic approaches toward implementation that go beyond learning-by-doing approaches for labour-intensive public works programmes.
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von Braun, J., Teklu, T. & Webb, P. (1991). Labor-Intensive Public Works for Food Security. Experience in Africa. Working Paper on Food Subsidies 6. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C.
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Dev, S. M. (1992). Poverty Alleviation Programmes: A Case Study of Maharashtra with Emphasis on Employment Guarantee Scheme. Discussion Paper 77. Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Bombay.
Drèze, J., & Sen, A. (1989). Hunger and Public Action. Clarendon Press, Oxford.
IFPRI/BIDS (International Food Policy Research Institute/Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies). (1989). Development Impact of the Food-for-Work Program in Bangladesh. Final report submitted to the World Food Programme.
Mellor, J. W. & Pandya-Lorch, R. (1991). Food Aid and Development in the MADIA Countries. In: Aid to African Agriculture. Lessons from Two Decades of Donors' Experience. U. Lele. (ed). The Johns Hopkins University Press for the World Bank, Baltimore.
Teklu. T. (1992). The Experience of Labor-Intensive Public Works Programs in the 1980s. The Potential for Improving Food Security in Botswana. Report to Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ). International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C. Mimeo.
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T C Moremi
World Food Programme
If public work schemes can be targeted on people who are poor and food insecure, and if they can provide them with the necessary income to become less food insecure, then that is a very important contribution in the field of nutrition. The stakes in this discussion are really very big. The potential of food or cash-for-work, or public works programmes, for developing countries is very large. Food aid seems to be almost the only major resource for massive financing of running costs - that is mostly labour. I do not know of any large and continuous programme that is financed with international foreign exchange. But food aid is available for that purpose.
Just to give an idea of the order of magnitude, consider that one might pay a worker two kilos of wheat as a daily wage, say 500 kilos a year. A thousand tons of food thus finance a work force of two thousand people for a whole year. That is a large work force, and a thousand tons is not such a huge amount of food in aid terms. There is an enormous potential of labour available, and food of course is available too. Since the bulk of food aid today goes to non-targeted programme food aid, it should not be difficult to somehow target on these public work schemes. Only about 20% of the food aid is today targeted, and out of that about half goes to direct feeding schemes. You can see that food-for-work schemes at the moment take up less than 10%. Retargeting to public works schemes should be feasible, and would have a big effect.
The issue of whether people should be paid in food, or whether it has to be cash, I think is not really the key issue, although there is much debate on this. But if one could effectively target food aid to the most food insecure people, it would become only the technical question of whether it might be better in a particular situation to pay to them with food or pay them cash.
The labour content of public work schemes is very important. The cost of labour is relatively low; as I said, even if you maintain a work force of two thousand people for a year, it is only a thousand tons of food. An important issue is to maintain and to guide the work force so that it contributes effectively to development. The non-labour costs are very significant. I think the figure quoted for roads (of 40% as labour costs) is not so different from some other schemes I have seen. In one well-known public works project, for instance, with impressive labour intensity, the result was big water holes with a few canals to catch water, but it was nonfunctional. If you take the other inputs necessary for a useful result - engineering, for surveying, for soil testing, for materials, for cement, plus the effort needed to get it to that particular place, offices, cars, transportation, external expertise which is also often needed - if you add it all up, it becomes a very formidable input. However labour intensive the project, to be effective you need other inputs and these must be financed.
Other projects like forestation, for instance, raise questions such as title for land, which is very important in many of these projects. If this is not solved, they are unsustainable. So, on many occasions some policy changes have to be made, for example for land redistribution - something which becomes very expensive.
There is a highly successful project in Lusaka in the urban areas. Here, slum dwellers, mainly women, are employed in water supply works. There are something like a thousand workers, with about 15 or 20 engineers, financed by other donors, because such projects can be attractive to financial donors. But still the projects are cash intensive, not only food-supported.
We have another example at the moment, in Vietnam where dykes are being built. This seems to be almost an ideal - everybody knows how to do the work, there is no question of to whom the land belongs, there is no debate on who would benefit from it, so it seems in many ways to be almost an ideal approach. We need to be more selective in choosing such activities. We have many so-called food-for-work projects where the labour component really is quite small; the challenge is to organize the other, multi-disciplinary inputs.
There is lack of practical knowledge of the particular conditions for public works. The ILO has tried with their special public works schemes - which started from their massive employment schemes under emergency conditions, and went further down to the local grassroots level of institution building. It is from such initiatives that one needs to try to develop national authorities which can handle large-scale work schemes in a central and at the same time decentralized way. Particularly in Africa, one has to work at village level, through the village authorities. But this cannot be done without a strong central administration.
So, to close, what is lacking is the concept of the public works administration - which has worked in India, for example - to guarantee employment. In Africa, where this is now most needed, there is little of the required administrative infrastructure yet. I think this is where we have to concentrate.
There has been a major debate in Botswana on how to alleviate the effects of drought on the able-bodied members of our society, in rural communities. A lot of effort was put into designing a programme - labour-based relief - as part of the drought relief programme in Botswana. The experience from the labour-based relief programme was that it became very important by providing cash for the rural economy, and by making sure that our people can use the cash to buy much needed food. Of course, it was also coupled with emergency supplementary feeding programmes supported largely by WFP and bilateral agencies. But we also had problems of low productivity in the projects. There was no training, because all these projects were hastily developed at the local level to deal with emergencies. We beat the drought; but we have also had problems of maintenance of the projects.
The wage rate was made deliberately low so that we could attract as many people as possible into the projects - as many of the poor people as possible. We did not want to compete with other employment opportunities. In this respect, the programme became self-targeting. In practice, women were the ones who mostly participated in these projects.
The issue of public works programmes has now entered a much broader policy debate in Botswana now the drought has ended. The labour-based relief and the cash- for-work projects, as we came to implement them, are now important tools for addressing the continuing problems of employment - we have a very major problem of unemployment and under-employment. We realize that a way of ensuring food security at the household level in our country is through greater employment because the natural resource base in our country is very poor. So, we have now over the last couple of years had this wider policy debate on the role of public works (in non-drought times) and I think it is agreed that they have a very important role to play.
One major problem in the policy debate at the moment, is the question of the wage rate: how do you set an appropriate wage rate? So far, we have set it necessarily low; but we also realize that actually we cannot be fixed about it: we have to take into account regional differences and to come up with locally appropriate wage rates. We have also had to deal with the need to improve supervision, and the need to improve training to implement proper public works projects which can generate long-term infrastructure in our country.
One of the problems that Joachim von Braun mentioned was providing cash (as well as food) for these projects. We are trying to overcome this. We are going to try to get all of the ministries to look at their own ongoing development projects to see to what extent they can be implemented labour-intensively. So we hope that through this we can integrate the whole question of the public works programme into the normal development projects being implemented by ministries, and thereby overcome the problem of capital. These projects are in the development plan and have funding sources, so the most important thing is to see to what extent they can be implemented labour-intensively, as opposed to the capital-intensive methods of the past. This debate is changing from just dealing with emergencies, to now become part of the normal policy discussions. In the long-term, this involves not only ministries dealing with drought relief, but other ministries as well.
The question of the food-for-work versus cash-for-work projects is most important, and I think the issues have been ably described by Joachim von Braun. In Botswana, we opted for cash-for-work projects. Other countries have had problems because of market failure. We have had good markets, and we thought that in the end it was better not to have a parallel food distribution programme running. We have good outlets by and large, even though we have a very large country, we do find stores in most of our localities. So, we thought the most important thing was to provide cash that would enable us to avoid dealing with the logistics that are embodied in trying to deal with food-for-work programmes. So we ran cash-for-work projects. But I also want to say that this does not necessarily mean that there could be no role for food-for-work projects, I do believe that in certain countries they may be the most appropriate way of dealing with the problem, and indeed in our own country, we would use food-for-work if we had areas where we had no food stores. But, by and large, the policy that we have adopted is that we run cash-for-work programmes, and this has worked for us.
In the current macro-economic setting in our country, with underemployment and unemployment as major constraints, we have to address the problem of enhancing income to improve food security. We have to improve the productivity of agriculture, but we also recognize the natural resource constraints that we have. Moreover, a lot of the poor people do not depend only on agriculture, but to a very large extent on other sources of wage income. So labour-intensive public works programmes have become a very important component of our national development planning. I do believe that these could be used for food aid - in our context we are trying to see to what extent we can monetize food aid to support the cash-for-work activities.
I want to agree with my colleagues about the administrative problems in promoting an increase in the utilization of public works programmes. The issue of the institutional capacity, both at the central government level and the local level, will have to be given attention, if we really want to widen the use of labour-intensive public works as a way of addressing employment issues.
I think for the wide sub-region of southem Africa, I would like to say that I do see the important role that public cash-for-work programmes can play. Not least in South Africa, which we hope is going in the next couple of years to become a multi-democratic country, with hopefully a lot of increased UN roles in that country.
Institute of Development Studies. Sussex, UK
My job is to wrap up the discussion on public works and food aid. This is not a new issue. WFP commissioned a literature survey on the subject as early as 1977, and another in 1985, both of them on food aid, food-for-work, and public works. While I do not see very many new issues coming out of the current discussion, what we do have are more of the excellent IFPRI studies. The Bangladesh Food-for-Work Evaluation was one of these, and we are very much looking forward to the work that comes out of their new research in Africa.
One very important conclusion of the present discussion is that there is huge scope for public works: for building local roads, access roads, erosion control structures, check-dams, reforestation. In almost all the countries where there is underemployment of labour there is also an enormous amount to do. Unfortunately in some places it is quite hard to think what you could do if you had the labour. Northern Sudan is perhaps an example - no stone, not much need for roads, very difficult to plant trees because they might die, and so on. Jens Schulthes' example was very telling, of the enormous effort that goes into digging one hole in the ground, but employs not many people, and uses little food. So it is not always the case that there is great potential. But often there is enormous scope, and this should be emphasized. Some of that would be in emergencies, but also much of it is in non-emergency situations.
Carrying out public works, as the discussions show, can benefit the income and possibly the nutritional status of very many poor people, both in the short-run and in the long-run (because the works themselves generate further income and employment.) The real nutritional impact of food-for-work and public works in specific situations is not well established and perhaps this is something that needs to be explored. There are some groups that are clearly excluded from participation in public works -labour short households particularly. Quite a lot of female-headed households who are amongst the poorest groups - the aged, the disabled - who may together account (in those groups) for something like 25% of the absolute poor in Sub-Saharan Africa, and are simply not able to participate in public works because they do not have time or they do not have the labour. So we need to be careful about assuming that public works is a "catch-all" and a "cure-all". But still, the first conclusion from the discussion is: we have good experience (Botswana provides a very good case) of successful public works; there is enormous scope, and we ought to pursue it.
The second conclusion is that food aid can play a very large role in supporting public works, both directly through food-for-work, and indirectly through monetization. Monetization is an extremely important issue, and hotly debated at present. We have tried to produce guidelines on the conditions under which monetization is or is not a good thing (Maxwell & Owens, 1991). The argument is that the default mode -the normal thing to do - is to give people cash, because that is the mode of distribution which strengthens local markets, and which very often people prefer. The way to finance this with food aid is to sell it in the capital city and use the proceeds to fund public works. Sometimes of course that may not be appropriate. The thing to do next then is to provide food to the community for sale through fair price shops or through the market, so giving people cash, but using the food aid to make sure that food is available in the area.
So far there are two optimistic conclusions. First, public works benefit nutrition. Second, food aid is an important resource, both directly and indirectly, to fund public works.
The third conclusion is perhaps less optimistic, but we should not underestimate the real practical problems. In practice public works are extremely demanding in terms of preparation and design, in terms of the technical administration, the institutional problems, the need for complementary programmes, such as health, and as has been referred to a number of times, in terms of cash needs. It used to be thought that you could send out the food and people would run public works with no support whatsoever; we now know that really is not true. If public works are to work you have to provide cash with it - cash for wheel barrows, cash for spades, cash for inputs, cash for wages in some cases for supervisory staff, and cash for many other things too. It is very easy to run bad public works which are no more than outdoor relief - completely unproductive, their only benefit providing food to people with no long-term benefit whatsoever. Cash is crucial.
All these difficulties are real, but they can all be overcome. They can not be overcome immediately, and we need a process of expansion of public works to districts, then states, regions, and eventually to countries. on a step-by-step basis. Public works are not an immediate large-scale panacea because the institutional development has to go hand-in-hand. But with adequate institutional capacity, they could have a most important effect in the long run.
Finally, the fourth conclusion is that there is quite a lot we do not know about public works. Particularly what the nutritional impact is - which is ironic because that was our main topic. The nutritional impact depends on many factors - the flows of food and income to the household and within the household. If we change the wage rate we may have quite a big impact on the nutrition, especially of children and other vulnerable groups within the household. Monetization is another issue which is very under-explored - what we need is more information about under what conditions monetization works and does not.
So public works are a good thing and they should be expanded. Food aid can play a very major role in expanding them. We should not underestimate the difficulties. And there is quite a lot we do not know. So where do we go next? I have three suggestions to make on the basis of these discussions.
First, we need to do much more to look at the scope of public works. We should start with district plans, even village plans, and work up from there, to take a bottom-up approach to assessing the scope of public works. Questions include: exactly which works? What is going to be the labour intensity, the nutrition impact, and the long-term employment effect of different kinds of works? Roads or forests? Erosion control structures or drains? School buildings or health centres? All these may be possible, but we do not yet know enough about which are the most appropriate under different circumstances. In some countries the solution to this has been to have pilot projects and to work towards national disaster prevention and preparedness strategies. Experience in Ethiopia provides a good example of the way in which that can be done. The organizations represented here might want to consider both how they can support the preparation of disaster prevention and preparedness schemes in the most vulnerable developing countries; and look into the possibility of employment guarantee schemes on the Indian model, especially in the African countries with high levels of underemployment.
The second step would be to substantially increase the amount of food that is used to support public works. There is obviously scope for increasing the rather low level that Mr Schulthes referred to, of only 10% or so of total food aid being used for public works. Counterpart funds could be used more imaginatively in supporting public work programmes. Funds generated by programme food aid can enable local governments, local communities, and NGOs to undertake more rural employment and more public works. To hand out food in an emergency is a failure of disaster preparedness, of relief supply; it is a failure to use food aid in the most constructive way possible. More emergency food aid should be channelled through longer-term disaster preparedness schemes, utilizing public works.
Finally, there is a lot we still need to know. Important questions remain about the appropriate means of monetization, about nutrition impact, about how to set the wage rate, and so on. There is little operational research going on these questions. So my third conclusion is that there needs to be a great deal more operational research, moreover on quite a large scale: not one or two villages, but districts, even countries, to see what works and what does not, and how we can make more constructive use of food aid. We need to work more on the choices: maybe you cannot have supplementary feeding and food-for-work, so we need better information on relative costs and benefits of these different interventions.
Maxwell, S. & Owens, T. Commodity Aid and Counterpart Funds in Africa. IDS Discussion Paper No. 291. IDS, Sussex.