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Submitted by Ugo Gentilini on

Conditional food transfers?

Dear Berk, very interesting post!

Let me suggest that the issue may be elevated even further – the debate could be moved from revolving around UCTs and CCTs to discussing conditional and unconditional transfers more broadly. This would allow factoring into decision-making equations also programs that don’t envision cash as a transfer, but payments in-kind (vouchers or food) – that is, programs like school feeding and take-home rations, which could be considered "conditioanl food transfers", that pursue objectives similar to CCTs’ (e.g., http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTHDOFFICE/Resources/SchoolFeedE2P.pdf) as well as unconditional food transfers that may aim at income transfer goals a la UCT.

Indeed, the same logic laid out for cash-based transfers may hold for in-kind programs – i.e., in between the extremes of pure conditional and hard-core conditional programs there is a wealth of blends that vary by (intended or unintended) design, monitoring, communication and enforcement features. At the same time, there is evidence that, under the same class of unconditional or conditional programs (whatever the definition), cash and food-based interventions may often lead to different impact pathways (e.g. for Ecuador, see http://www.ifpri.org/publication/cash-food-or-vouchers).

In other words, I think there is a need to integrate these two sets of quandaries – those around conditonalities and those pertaining to transfer selection – under a common decision-making framework to inform about what works best in a given context and for a certain set of objectives.

Hence, building on your final suggestion, with which I fully agree with, it's important not only to explore the comparative performance of different unconditional/conditional shapes in the continuum, but also ensuring that such analysis includes potential costs and impacts of alternative modalities – cash, vouchers, food or combinations thereof. This may be particularly relevant for decision making in many LICs and fragile contexts, although even some CCTs in Latin America, such as Oportunidades in its early days, were de-facto conditional cash and food-based programs.

Very best,
Ugo