Tackling Chronic Food Insecurity through Productive Safety Net Program in Ethiopia: Achievements, Challenges and the Way Forward
Contributed by Messay Mulugeta (PhD), Associate Professor, Chairperson of Center for Food Security Studies, College of Development Studies, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia. He can be accessed by email@example.com
Food and nutritional insecurity has become the greatest threat to people in Ethiopia to date, despite the government’s earnest effort to enhance the agricultural productivity. Poverty is widespread in both rural and urban areas. Above all, the livelihoods situation of most of rural residents is precarious. Even in some rural parts of the country, over 90% of the inhabitants have no adequate access to the nationally set minimum dietary requirement of 2100 kcal/person/day. The magnitude is much greater in drought prone rural areas than in urban areas.
There are millions of people who have been facing food insecurity that can be explained either as chronic or transitory in nature. There were about 17.7 million food-insecure peoples in 2016 in Ethiopia. Of this figure, about 9.7 million were population in crises, emergency and famine; while about 8 million were population in chronic situations. The figure is rising, particularly in southern and south-eastern pastoral areas owing to several adverse factors in these parts of the country, such as El Niño and La Niña -driven droughts, loss of crops and livestock, rising food prices, unemployment, forced population displacement, rapid population growth, environmental degradation, diminishing land holdings, lack of on-farm technological innovations, and lack of off-farm income sources. The effect of these causal factors has been exacerbated by lack of appropriate and effective policies and strategies and implementation gaps in the last three or more decades.
Though the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) has provided an important safety net for many poor rural households and there has been registered decline in poverty and malnutrition, prevalence of poverty and malnutrition still remain high. Ethiopia is one of a few Sub-Saharan African countries that made some progress towards target of halving undernourished people by 2015. It has increased food availability by 41%, decreased poverty level by 33%, and showed consistent progress towards decreasing stunting. Though, it is not clearly identified how much of these successes are attributed to FSP in the country, it is clear that PSNP played great roles in the registered achievements. In spite of these progresses, the number of food insecure people in Ethiopia is about 20% of its population and increases more during drought years. This indicates that there are still large number of people who are looking for food aid and other social protection services in Ethiopia. The household asset building programs were not effectively implemented and its outcome is blurred in the program intervention areas. In all corners of the country, there are areas where frequent drought and other shocks happen leaving the people highly vulnerable to food insecurity and poverty. Hence, poverty and malnutrition remains high, health and education services are poorly practiced in these vulnerable areas indicating that there is still a huge need to have additional resources and efforts to get them out of this vicious circle of chronic poverty. In general, the PSNP programs, despite its contribution in enhancing livelihoods schemes of the households, have not been fully harnessed to sustainably address the socioeconomic problems of poor households.
Now, the PSNP is in its fourth phase. As usual, this program is designed in an improved fashion based on the lessons learned from the previous phase implementation. The major goal that the fourth phase PSNP is designed to contribute is: ‘Resilience to shocks and livelihoods enhanced and food security and nutrition improved for rural households vulnerable to food insecurity’. This is assumed to be achieved with integration with other programs interventions, particularly programs that create enabling environment. Therefore, it is with this understanding that this policy brief is put in place for consideration by governmental and non-governmental organizations working on food security enhancement in Ethiopia.
Major components of food security program in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) is the major component of Food Security Program (FSP) in the country, others being Household Asset Building Program (HABP), Voluntary Resettlement Program (VRP), and Complementary Community Investment Program (CCI). PSNP is a multi-year program that makes predictable resource (cash or food) transfer to chronically food insecure targeted people. The program objective, is ‘to provide transfers to the food insecure population in chronically food insecure woredas in a way that prevents asset depletion at the household level and creates assets at the community level… address immediate human needs while simultaneously (i) supporting the rural transformation process, (ii) preventing long-term consequences of short-term consumption shortages, (iii) encouraging households to engage in production and investment, and (iv) promoting market development by increasing household purchasing power’. The PSNP has two components: (1) direct support and (2) public work. PSNP has four phases: PSNP I (January 2005 – December 2006), PSNP II (January 2006 – December 2009), PSNP III (January 2010 – December 2014), and PSNP IV (January 2015 – December 2020)
PSNP IV was introduced in January 2015 (but commenced in June 2015). This specific program targets sub-components such as (1) permanent direct support component; (2) public works and links to social services facilities component; (3) livelihoods component; (4) social accountability and complaints and grievances; and (5) risk management. The key development partners supporting the program are coordinated through the World Bank and the government of Ethiopia. It is unique from its other forerunner phases. Its unique feature, inter alia, is urban food security component known as Urban Productive Safety Net Program (UPSNP). UPDNP has three major interrelated sub-programs. These are unconditional direct support, public work sub-program and livelihood sub program.
The government of Ethiopia introduced UPSNP as a major component of PSNP IV guided by the newly approved Social Protection Policy and based on the successes of rural PSNP. Consistent with the poverty reduction and economic development objectives of the national GTP II and the National Social Protection Policy/Strategy, the UPSNP framework seeks to guide implementation of interventions that will alleviate the varying needs of the urban poor. The long term objective of the program is reducing poverty and vulnerability among the urban poor living below the poverty line by implementing productive and predictable urban safety nets and complementary livelihood interventions over a period of 10 years and beyond.
UPSNP constitutes the first phase of the long term strategy of the government which aims to support over 4.7 million urban poor living in 972 cities and towns. This first phase of UPSNP focused on putting in place basic safety net building blocks and targeted to reach over 600 thousand people in 11 major cities in Ethiopia. The first phase of project is targeted to run between 2016 and 2021 focusing on putting in place basic safety net building blocks including productive and predictable transfers through public works, livelihood interventions and capacity building. In this phase, over 600,000 people (about 55 % of people living below the poverty line in these 11 cities) are targeted through a gradual roll-out plan during a five-year period. In fact, as of April 2018, about 448,885 people are addressed, of which about 370,343 are selected for public work sub-component and the remaining 78,542 are considered for direct support.
The major activities designed for public work and livelihood development sub-components in UPSNP include urban greenery, solid waste management and watershed management activities. UPSNP offers targeted poor people with unskilled work for cash on investments that contribute directly to urban infrastructure and the urban environment, which in turn will make the cities and towns more efficient and competitive in economic growth and job creation endeavours.
Major PSNP Achievements
Despite some drawbacks, the food security program in general, and the PSNP in particular have been playing significant role in addressing food insecurity problems in the country. Millions of people have been benefiting from PSNP food and/or cash transfers that have enabled them ‘to meet consumption needs, reducing the risks they faced and providing them with alternative options to selling productive assets’. Empirical studies conducted on determinants of graduation show improved food consumption of the beneficiaries while the program was running. According to many research finding, the number of months that a household covered its food gap from own production improved, households asset holding levels increased, distress sale of assets decreased, the subjective measure of well-being for chronically food insecure households was better in 2010 as compared to 2008. In the woredas where there have been better leadership that well integrated PSNP and Other Food Security/Household Asset Building Program, households are able to save and accumulate assets only because of PSNP.
In the same way, PSNP has been greatly contributing to improve the livelihoods of the poor and environmental protection schemes across Ethiopia. It has contributed greatly to, inter alia, soil and water reservation schemes, development of infrastructure (school, health centres, roads connecting kebeles to each other and/or to the highway), potable water supply, and establishment of post maternity care service centres. In fact, the quality aspect remained an issue and unsolved thus far. It enabled the beneficiaries to be more resilient to shocks of various kinds and enhanced food security status of the poor. It protect asset depletion and improved agricultural production and productivity across the project areas. It also improved community assets such as degraded watershed rehabilitation, road, education facilities and health infrastructure and potable water points.
As it is stated in the fourth phase PSNP design document, food security situation of the beneficiaries in the highland areas showed improvement from 8.4 months per year in 2006 to 10.1 between 2010 and 2012 as a result of improvement on program implementation such as timeliness of transfer and full family targeting. Moreover, the public work component of the PSNP have contributed to the improvement of rural infrastructure and watershed development; improved access to education and health services through the construction and rehabilitation of thousands of health posts and schools; supported livelihood through the construction and rehabilitation of water infrastructures such as ponds, spring developments, hand dug wells, irrigation canals; and improved market access through the construction and maintenance of rural roads.
|Case Studies Regarding the achievement obtained in UPSNP, Federal Job Creation and Food Security Agency (FJCFSA) accomplished the following over the last two years. These are (1) direct support beneficiaries receive payments within 5-7 days of the following month in almost all the cities, an impressive relative performance given the project in its first full year of implementation; (2) good progress with public works in all the cities selected for UPSNP. All the eleven cities are good in accomplishing annual public works plan with significant progress with implementation. The public works plans priority sub-projects in five main areas: Solid waste management, urban beautification & greenery, urban integrated watershed development, preparation of urban agriculture sites as well as urban social infrastructure and services; (3) in accordance with the project design, a project specific Management Information System (MIS) is expected to be developed to facilitate generation of credible information for implementers and managers and it is expected to be operational at both federal and regional levels; and (4) the project is giving good attention to gender and social development issues. Gender specialist was recruited and Gender and Social Development Taskforce was established and started to follow up issues related to gender equity and equality in the project. The contribution of NGOs/CSOs in PSNP program is also meaningful. A case in point is the work of SOS Sahel in Sidama Zone (SNNPR) targeting 15,441 households. Out of this total, 9332 households are chronically food insecure and registered as beneficiaries of PSNP, of which again 36% are female headed households. The strategy of SOS Sahel in Sidama include creation and protection of productive household asset (wealth) through on-farm and off-farm businesses, creation of enterprise such as beekeeping, poultry as well as herding sheep and goat. There are activities which only target woman to improve their income. These include poultry, sheep/goat keeping, tailored training in financial management and life skill, and credit services. Besides, the project addresses formal and informal institutions to support and respond to women’s needs and priorities through various capacity building & discussion forums. More specifically, the success of the SOS Sahel (as an NGO) project includes: (1) promoted value chain development and trading; (2) promoted high value agriculture and natural commodities such as honey, pepper, vegetable and gums; (3) enhanced rural household food security and income by increasing crops and livestock productivity; (4) enabled the community to fight poverty through better management of their environment; (5) improved on-farm and off-farm income activities; (6) enabled farmers to sell value added and diversified product, and created awareness on domestic and overseas market opportunities.|
Major PSNP Challenges
Now the program is in its fourth phase of implementation. In spite of the intention of FSP to improve and sustain overall food security situation of transitory food insecure households, the number of chronically food insecure has risen in some areas and remained the same in other areas of the country. Thus, the number of chronically food insecure people under PSNP increased from slightly higher than 5 million in 2004 to about 8 million in 2015/16 in eight regions of the country. Though the governments reports at national level is indicating that 496,438 household heads graduated, some assessments show that they were rather removed prematurely from the program, and are unable to support themselves. Research outputs in many parts of the country revealed that many of the beneficiaries under the program had no confidence to graduate.
There are varied views on the low performance of the graduation targets. Some researchers and officials complain of dependency syndrome among the beneficiaries contrary to the expectations of program planners and decision-makers. Some others indicate that participants are unwilling to graduate for the ‘fear of drought; lack of adequate assets in the household; being too poor to graduate, and limited opportunities to access credit after graduation’.
The other issue of graduation is related to program complementarily. It is generally well acknowledged that PSNP transfer alone does not bring about graduation. PSNP is designed to protect chronically food insecure people from experiencing hunger and fall into distress sale of productive assets through covering the food gaps. It is the OFSP/HABP that was designed to build the capacity of beneficiary households to be able to generate and accumulate assets in order to graduate from PSNP. However, PSNP and OFSP/HABP have not been complementing each other made as anticipated uniformly across all the regions. Furthermore, there has been considerable conceptual confusion on graduation, graduation measurements, and graduation benchmarks that impacted the implementation of graduation. Inadequate awareness of graduation guidelines across regions, weak institutional capacity to link various food security program resources and activities at woreda and kebele levels, and quota oriented graduation exercises in some regions persisted up to the completion of third phase of the PSNP.
It is arguable and one of the challenges as asset-based graduation is becoming controversial and risky. It is argued that asset ownership is a very imprecise proxy for a household food sufficiency and resilience and that reducing the criteria for graduation to the monetary value of a bundle of assets deflects attention from other factors that enable or constrain sustainable livelihoods. An asset threshold approach leads to focus on moving people across an essentially arbitrary benchmark value, and assumes a linear accumulation pathway that is at odds with the reality of variable, unpredictable and highly risky livelihood in rural Ethiopia.
Lack of integration between the stakeholders; inability to accommodate all the household members in case the family size is over five; and scarcity, inconsistency and delay of funding for the program are also major challenges to PSNP. It is also a challenge to see recurrent drought prohibiting the beneficiary not to graduate as per the targeted time span. Lack of coordination and overlaps of duties and responsibilities are also challenges. A case in point is the fact that both Strategic Food Reserve Agency (SFRA) and National Disaster Risk Commission (NDRC) receive aids, purchase and store food, which is an overlapping activity creating problems in many ways such as requesting food loan. The absence of coordination and integration between these two very important organizations may lead to unnecessary damage/spoilage of food amidst huge food gap in this country.
Challenges related to reporting and accounting is mentioned by MoFEC in that the reporting mechanism: (1) lacks quality regardless of repeated training and technical support the quality of IFR is not sustain improved; (2) the report lacks adequate narration in terms of variance analysis and data consistency; (3) the program is supported to use IBEX accounting software for FM recording, reporting and budget control. This is not fully implemented in all the woredas; (4) turnover of accountants is still a major issue in some woredas; and (5) FM task force is limited to federal level, as a result of which supervisions limited only to federal level. In addition to financial related reporting challenges, there are also technical program challenges (i.e public works reporting challenges) such as delay of transfers, quality of infrastructure, and overlap/ double counting of public work achievement figures with woreda regular develop reports.
NGs/CSOs have indicated some challenges related to PSNP in Ethiopia. Security issue comes at the top agenda. The political crises in the country, forced them to work under capacity because of the security problems across the country’. Lack of funding organizations is also becoming a severe challenge these days for NGOs/CSOs, particularly, starting the declaration of Charities and Societies Proclamation (No. 621/2009). This proclamation has put excessive restrictions on the work of the organizations, making things very hard to get fund. Sometimes at the community level the program does not cover as it is intended to. Lack of awareness among the beneficiary has created dependency syndrome as a result of which the beneficiaries are becoming very reluctant to graduate from the program. This, in turn, creates more burdens on PSNP in general. Another key point that the NGOs/CSOs mentioned as a change is the less participation of women in PSNP owing to cultural thoughts and some traditions.
Regarding Urban Productive Safety Net Program (UPSNP), the major challenges observed over the last two years include:
- sometimes there are beneficiaries who are unable to collect their payments due to physical, health and age-related constraints;
- while some cities have started relevant activities, the scale is small compared to the needs and that there is little experience to link direct support beneficiaries to available services;
- sometimes there are gaps and delays in reporting progress from cities to the agency, making it difficult to establish overall actual progress to date;
- urban renewal projects may involve displacement
- the extensive rural-urban migration is becoming a burden to the program though migrants living in cities are eligible for inclusion in the UPSNP, on the condition that they meet all project inclusion criteria (being among the poorest and most vulnerable) and have been living in the city for at least 6 months;
- inflation is one of the key challenges;
- low budget utilization in some cities is becoming a challenge;
- problems in availing facilities to experts in some cities; and
- internal audit review of the project and monthly reports from CBE on the transfers made to the beneficiaries.
To summarize issues related to PSNP challenges and criticisms, dependency syndrome, problem of graduation from PSNP Program, lack of coordination between stakeholders, underutilization of the program (PSNP), delayed budget approval, lack of coordination between stakeholders, less quality in watershed management practices, lack of commitment of some stakeholders, staff turnover owing to poor salary, retargeting problems, unsustainable infrastructure envelopment, political interference, and shortage of storage facility are major challenges in PSNP in Ethiopia.
Concluding remarks and policy recommendations
The Productive Safety Program (PSNP), which was originally designed to address about 5 million chronically food insecurity people in targeted chronically food insecure woredas, gradually expanded to most parts of Ethiopia including urban areas these days. PSNP is now benefiting about eight million people rural poor and about 450,000 urban poor. The PSNP objective of food consumption smoothing and asset protection at household level has been fulfilled. There has not been an evidence of famine-induced deaths and forced displacement of people at least in the target woredas. Though, it may not be enough to achieve sustainable graduation, household assets of participant beneficiaries are protected and a few of them who accessed PSNP-HABP have accumulated assets. The public work components have contributed to the provision of important rural infrastructures such as school, health posts, water schemes and roads, soil and water conservation efforts. In the same way, the recently introduced UPSN program is well-underway with various successes and some drawbacks.
The following policy recommendations emerged in light of the findings summarized hereinbefore. The recommendations are assumed to be used as a proposal for future policy formulation/revision, implementation and mentoring regarding U/PSNP and associated activities in food security enhancement both in urban and rural areas of Ethiopia. The recommendations can also be used as point of departure for further discussion and investigations of U/PSNP. The points are presented into two categories, short-term and long-term schemes:
- ease constraints related to delay of transfer and distribution as these are sources of complaints and inefficiency in most cases of the PSNP;
- provision of tailored services and products based on the characteristics of participant households as it has been depicted in the graduation pathways;
- institutional arrangements for the integrated implementation of all food security programs for better impacts has to be seen than adding up of the involvement of new institutions with different mandates which makes coordination and integration of planned activities more difficult;
- revise burdensome planned resettlement rules that obstruct resettlement of farmers inter-regionally across Ethiopia, as a strategy to food security enhancement of the country;
- ensure that the real direct support amount rate is competitive under the current huge inflation rates in Ethiopia;
- revise the PSNP graduation manual so as to fit to each agro-ecological zones, socio-cultural set ups and the livelihoods systems; and
- improve regulatory quality, including the beneficiary selection framework so that issues of favouritism could be minimal, if not avoided at all
- in case of any such development or sustainable programs all the responsible stakeholders shall be clear on the objectives of the program, allowing participatory approach as a best means of implementation methodology, roles and responsibilities of the different actors should be boldly earmarked and build their technical, theoretical and managerial capacity to act actively and collaboratively;
- redress development bottlenecks such as corruption, education quality, political instability, trade imbalance, social instability and income inequality so as to list up the country from poverty and safety net trajectory to a self-sufficient nation;
- establish large-scale agricultural zones that conform to agricultural best practices so as to produce adequate food internally and substitute food importation;
- In fact, it must be well-understood that PSNP cannot be long-term key development strategy in Ethiopia with such enormous budget and very large number of beneficiaries entirely dependent on the program. The country must target for more comprehensive, sustainable development and self-reliant strategy, in which only people who are helpless and unable to work because of health and age related factors could be considered for safety net program. Heavier taxation of luxury goods and furtherance of diaspora trust fund, for example, may augment the government income towards self-reliable safety net funds for the poor.
- better to focus on how to build strong working system that is going to be actionable at levels of the administration structure (national to community level)
- ensuring fair and transparency working modality in each of the program phases so that actors can lively and enthusiastically involved adhere to their roles and responsibilities without having any doubts on issues to be raised as how and why;
- avoiding the mentality of dependency and installing on how to ensure sustainable growth and being self-reliant for life among development actors and program participants;
- put right directions to enhance/widen the stable food preferences of the people to incorporate more root crops, leaves and fruits in addition to the existing most constant foods;
- research reports and empirical evidences indicate that poverty/food insecurity directly correlates family size in Ethiopia, and several U/PSNP beneficiaries are households with large members. Hence, policies at all levels must gear towards family planning only to the level of substitution to curb the increasing population size in Ethiopia. Together with this, awareness creation activities on issues of saving, minimalization of extravagant traditional feasts, and behavioural changes in dependency syndrome, need to be addressed;
- good governance is the panacea for all the predicaments observed in PSNP program. Hence, policies and other regulations at all levels must gear towards transparent planning, implementation and reporting processes to improve the problems in this aspect at all levels;
- the current Civil Society Law must be revised in such a way that it removes resource allotment and implementation restrictions imposed by the law, and go far enough incorporating international principles in protecting the Civil Society; and
- last but very importantly, privatization of rural land seems vital in Ethiopia to sustainably mitigate environment-induced predicaments, which in turn, helps to combat rural poverty/food insecurity and environmental sustainability problems simultaneously.
 Key PSNP development partners are the World Bank, USAID, CIDA,SIDA, DFID, The Netherlands, EU, Irish aid, WFP,