Advancing Educational Performance through Food Rations

Photo Credit: UNESCO/2009


In 1991, IFPRI conducted a comprehensive study of a targeted food subsidy program in Bangladesh known as palli (rural) rationing. IFPRI found that subsidies equivalent to US$60 million were being provided each year to run the program, but about 70 percent of the subsidized food (mostly rice) was not making its way to the poor people who needed it. Primarily due to these findings, the government abolished the Palli Rationing Program in May 1992.

But without the food rationing program, 20 percent of the country’s public food grain was no longer reaching the 6.1 million poor households that needed it. To more effectively target food subsidies to the poor, the Ministry of Finance asked IFPRI to conduct a systematic review of alternatives.


  • The Working Group on Targeted Food Interventions, which was chaired by IFPRI, introduced the concept of the Food for Education program in August 1992, through which families were given food in exchange for their children’s continued attendance in school. This innovative idea was endorsed by the World Bank as a promising approach. In 1993, the Bangladeshi government introduced a pilot Food for Education program based on the recommendations from IFPRI and its partners. It used the savings accumulated from terminating the Palli Rationing Program for a more effectively targeted, food-based intervention.
  • In a 1994 assessment of the program, IFPRI documented an increase in primary school enrollment (higher for girls than boys) and attendance and a decrease in dropout rates. The program had also been cost-effective in transferring income benefits to low-income households through food grain entitlements. Because of its success, the government expanded the program in the mid-1990s.
  • According to a 2004 impact assessment study, the Food for Education program increased school participation in Bangladesh by up to 30 percent and girls’ earning potential by up to 35 percent. IFPRI’s documentation of the program’s effectiveness contributed to the design of the Global Food for Education program established by the US Department of Agriculture and USAID.

For more information on IFPRI's research and partnerships in Bangladesh, please go to this brochure.