Enhancing the performance of safety net programs to improve women and children’s nutrition in Bangladesh


Photo credit: IFPRI Bangladesh

Outcome Overview

Governments and development partners around the world make hard choices on how to wisely invest their limited resources in development efforts that effectively reach those in need. In a country like Bangladesh, where almost one-fourth of the population of 165 million live below the poverty line, identifying who should receive assistance is particularly challenging. The Vulnerable Group Development (VGD) program, implemented by Bangladesh’s Ministry of Women and Children Affairs with support from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), reaches up to 750,000 women and their 3.75 million family members each year. While VGD has improved the lives of many ultra-poor households, it faces targeting challenges. To better understand and address these challenges, the Ministry and WFP requested an assessment of the program’s targeting performance, which was prepared in 2018 by the Bangladesh Policy Research and Strategy Support Program of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) with support from the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM).

The analysis showed that many of the VGD selection criteria are impractical and fail to correctly identify the poorest because the criteria are not observable, verifiable, or linked with poverty. For example, households were eligible if they were “functionally landless with no owned land or with owned land less than 0.15 acres.” But no mechanism exists to verify this. As another example, VGD selected female-headed households with no income-earning adult male or with no other source of income, whereas around 30 percent of such households are, in fact, well-off, mostly because they receive remittances from family members.

The IFPRI-PRSSP  team in Bangladesh  recommended a new set of criteria that draw on observable, verifiable data with a demonstrated link to poverty, including access to water, electricity, and sanitation (read more here). Within one month of submission, the government accepted most of the recommendations. The new criteria will be used to select VGD beneficiaries as of 2019. In addition, the World Bank Mission in Bangladesh incorporated most of these same criteria into the new World Bank-funded Income Support Program for the Poorest.

Evidence generated by PIM also helped to design the targeting criteria for another new safety net program in Bangladesh, aimed at improving the nutrition and health of pregnant women and children up to age four. The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs recently combined two existing cash-based safety nets, the rural Maternity Allowance and the urban Lactating Mother Allowance, into a new program called “Improved Maternity and Lactating Mother Allowance” (IMLMA). In 2018, upon request of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and of WFP, IFPRI assessed the suitability of indicators used for targeting the poor; and suggested ways to improve program targeting to reach the poor and undernourished women most effectively under the IMLMA program. With support from PIM and USAID, the study proposed six rural and five urban indicators to target the poor for inclusion in IMLMA. The Ministry incorporated these recommendations into the program design, which is anticipated to benefit approximately 700,000 poor rural and 250,000 poor urban women in 2019.

This work was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) under Flagship 4: Social Protection for Agriculture and Resilience.

This story is part of the PIM 2018 Outcomes collection. For more information about our work in 2018, see PIM Achievements in 2018: Highlights and Annual report 2018: CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM)

Key Partners

International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI); Ministry of Women and Children Affairs of Bangladesh; USAID; World Food Programme (WFP)



Research Area

Social Protection for Agriculture and Resilience

Geographic Focus


Corresponding Researchers

Akhter Ahmed (lead investigator), Julie Ghostlaw, Shalini Roy (IFPRI)