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Food-for-work for poverty reduction and the promotion of sustainable land use: can it work?


Food-for-work (FFW) programs are commonly used both for short-term relief and long-term development purposes. This paper assesses the potential of FFW programs to reduce poverty and promote sustainable land use in the longer run. There is a danger that such programs distort labor allocation or crowd out private investments and therefore have unintended negative effects. We explore this issue using survey evidence from northern Ethiopia that we use to motivate a simple theoretical model, a more detailed version of which we then implement through an applied bio-economic model calibrated to northern Ethiopia. The analysis explores how FFW project outcomes may depend on FFW project design, market conditions, and technology characteristics. We show that FFW programs may either crowd out or crowd in private investments and highlight factors that condition whether FFW promotes or undercuts sustainable land use.

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We thank John McPeak, Miles Lambert, Simeon Ehui, John Pender, Peter Hazell, Mark Rosegrant, and three anonymous referees and participants at the May 2003 conference at Cornell University on ‘Reconciling Rural Poverty Reduction and Resource Conservation’ for helpful comments on an earlier draft and earlier versions of the models. Bekele Shiferaw and Jens Aune contributed substantially to the development of earlier versions of the simulation model. International Food Policy Research Institute, International Livestock Research Institute, Mekelle University, and Soil Conservation Research Project facilitated the fieldwork in Ethiopia. We acknowledge support from the Research Council of Norway, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through grant No. LAG-A-00-96-90016-00 to the BASIS CRSP. Any remaining errors are solely our own.
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Environment and Development Economics
  • ISSN: 1355-770X
  • EISSN: 1469-4395
  • URL: /core/journals/environment-and-development-economics
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