What's the best way to reduce hunger, improve food security, and improve a variety of other health and welfare outcomes? Despite decades of debate about the relative merits of food, cash, or voucher assistance, the most rigorous study ever conducted on the subject finds that there is no one "right" transfer modality. Led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the randomized experiment was conducted in Ecuador, Uganda, Niger, and Yemen from 2010–2012 and compared the effects of food baskets, cash transfers, and supermarket vouchers. The bottoms line: there's no one-size-fits-all approach to aid.
Researchers found that the relative effectiveness of different modalities depends heavily on contextual factors such as the severity of food insecurity and the thickness of markets for grains and other foods. Furthermore, in three countries cash had the largest impact on dietary diversity, whereas in two countries food had the largest impact on calories available for consumption. The one universal finding: Cash assistance was always significantly more cost-effective to deliver. Watch the IFPRI-WFP Seminar on the study here.