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Humans · Economy

Ethiopia bets on cash and food transfers to cushion rural poor

March 19th, 2018
in: Humans, Economy
by: Bob Koigi
located in: Ethiopia
tags: Africa, cash transfer, drought, Horn of Africa, refugees

As cyclic drought ravages the horn of Africa, leaving with it a trail of death and despair, Ethiopia has placed its hope on a government supported social net project that cushions the rural poor from the vagaries of weather, boosting family nutrition and keeping children in school.

The latest drought has taken a toll on the eight countries in the Horn of Africa including Somalia, Djibouti, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Eritrea with over 16 million people facing starvation as the situation continue to exacerbate since the 2016 El Nino crisis according to the UN.

But this is not a new phenomenon. Over the years, and as the drought metamorphoses due to changing weather conditions, countries have devised new and innovative ways of saving their people from starvation. Ethiopia has been a frontrunner, running one of the largest cash and transfer programme dubbed The Productive Safety Net Programme. Since its inception in 2005, the initiative has sought to cushion the chronically food insecure population from hunger through elaborate cash and food transfers with a view to bridging food gaps, while ensuring this vulnerable population does not deplete their assets. It is concentrated predominantly in rural areas that make up 80 per cent of the country’s population.

While vulnerable members of the community like the elderly and disabled receive unconditional transfers, healthy adults are required to carry out some public works like building of works, farming or road construction in exchange for the transfer. “What the arrangement especially with locals working to receive cash/food transfers is meant to achieve is discourage the culture of free handouts. While these communities are grappling with food shortages, getting them to work to earn also ensures that they are empowered to take care of their areas as the government looks to sustainable ways of ensuring they are self-reliant,” said Aman Abebe, a program officer who has been involved in the cash transfer project in the Oromia area.

The initiative is a brainchild of the government and is supported by development partners including USAID, World Vision and Catholic Relief Services among others.

Since its inception, the programme has assisted over seven million Ethiopians, with yearly transfers averaging $300 million. In the five years after its roll out people living in poverty declined from 46 per cent to 30 per cent, with the economy growing from 8.6 per cent in 2004 to 13.6 per cent in 2016. The programme targets to reach 10 million beneficiaries by the year 2020.

“One of the key successes of the program is the strict distribution and monitoring channels that ensure that money goes to the intended recipients. The collaborative effort of the government and the development partners has also ensured that once an individual or particular area is clustered as not chronically hungry, it is removed from the cash transfer programme,” added Abebe.

Yet even with the over 13 years in operation, Ethiopia still feature in the news for systemic hunger. This year for example it is estimated that more than eight million Ethiopians are in need of humanitarian assistance including over 5 million children. So is the cash and food transfer programme meeting its expectations?

Analysts argue that while the intervention has been noble, a matrix of emerging issues have complicated the roll out. They for example cite the predominantly pastoralist community that has been heavily affected by ravaging drought and the increasing number of displaced people who are constantly displaced by conflicts. In such circumstances the government is forced to include them in the programme due to their vulnerability, which adds to the burden. Over one million people were recently displaced as a result of the conflict in the Oromia Somalia regional border and are now in need of humanitarian assistance. “And then there is the growing number of refugees running away from the drought in Somalia and those escaping conflict in Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. They all find a safe haven in Ethiopia and this means that the government has to stretch its limited resources to cater for them. Such unplanned circumstances further complicate the programme,” said Isabel Nantos from the School of Diplomacy and International Relations of Ethiopian Civil Service University. In 2017, an extra 106,000 refugees entered Ethiopia.

And as Ethiopia counts on the cash transfer program to insulate its poor even as the model continues being replicated across Africa and the developing countries, it is now being forced to go back to the drawing board to rethink the refugee question with the growing numbers now seeing more refugees than Ethiopians increasingly benefitting from the programme.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
Over the years, and as the drought metamorphoses due to changing weather conditions, countries have devised new and innovative ways of saving their people from starvation.
Embed from Getty Images
Ethiopia has been a frontrunner, running one of the largest cash and transfer programme dubbed The Productive Safety Net Programme.
Embed from Getty Images
Since its inception, the programme has assisted over seven million Ethiopians, with yearly transfers averaging $300 million.

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