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Ethiopia's struggle to augment food security


Ethiopia's struggle to augment food security

Ejegu Ayalew  11-05-15

El Niño is a climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean with a global impact on weather patterns.

According to experts of Live Science, the cycle begins when warm water in the western tropical Pacific Ocean shifts eastward along the equator toward the coast of South America. Normally, this warm water pools near Indonesia and the Philippines. During an El Niño, the Pacific's warmest surface waters sit offshore of northwestern South America.

Forecasters declare an official El Niño when they see both ocean temperatures and rainfall from storms veer to the east. Experts also look for prevailing trade winds to weaken and even reverse direction during the El Niño climate phenomenon. These changes set up a feedback loop between the atmosphere and the ocean that boosts El Niño conditions.

The El Niño forecast for 2015 is expected to be one of the strongest on record, according to Mike Halpert, the deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ethiopia is one of the affected countries. Due to the El Niño phenomenon,  8.2 million people are in need of relief assistance. A Government led inter-agency assessment last month identified an additional 3.6 million people in need of food assistance as well as 300,000 children in need of specialized nutritious food.

Affected areas include southern Tigray, eastern Amhara, Afar, and parts of the Somali region, the eastern SNNP, East and West Hararge, and the Arsi and West Arsi, and lower Bale zones of Oromia Regional State.  The number of woredas that have been prioritized for nutrition intervention had doubled from 97 in July to 142 in September.

The indications are that the on-going effects of El Niño may further affect weather patterns in the next few months. The National Meteorological Agency is predicting strong rains along the Omo, Shabelle, and Awash Rivers which may have a further impact on harvests in some areas and cause flooding in Somalia.

The government had been effectively responding as soon as signs of the impacts of the drought started to surface. Indeed, in a show of solidarity and leadership, Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn himself travelled to some of the affected areas.

Two week ago, the Prime Minister went to Ethio-Somali region Shinile zone and met with the local communities, including representatives of religious institutions, women and youth groups, and others. He received first-hand information on the severity of the drought. Livestock deaths were already occurring in some parts of the region adding that further support from the government was a critical necessity in particular for breastfeeding mothers, pregnant women, and children.

It has been months since the government had begun to allocate funds to help people withstand the effects of the drought now affecting various parts of the country. Through an inter-agency coordination committee, Disaster Risk Management, the government has been working to consolidate all possible support and assistance to mitigate the impact of the drought in collaboration with regional governments and development partners.

The government's commitment was shown in finance as well. Instead of relying solely on external financial assistance, it was already utilizing its own available resources and calling on its own reserves. The government has already spent two billion birr in providing assistance to those affected. Indeed, as the Prime Minister noted, the government was committed to make every effort to mitigate its effects for as long as necessary given the forecast that the drought appeared likely to persist for several more months.

It is evident that Ethiopia’s economy has been growing for about a decade. That is shown in its ability to launch and complete multiple mega projects such as the Addis Ababa Light Rail, Gibe II dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the Bole International Airport expansion, an oil pipeline to Djibouti and the planned construction of over five thousand kilometers of railway line.

At the same time, the government has been working on enhancing food security and early warning systems designed to help mitigate the most serious effects of drought or other climatic effects. Indeed, the efforts and progress made in the past two decades are demonstrable.

Over the past six decades, Ethiopia has been particularly susceptible to drought, with a drought occurring every three to five years. Serious droughts and often famine, either widespread or localized, have occurred several times and affected millions of people. Environmental degradation and poor natural resource management – together with a reduction in size of average landholdings due to high population growth and, conflict, governance and institutional capacity issues – have exacerbated the impacts of these droughts. All of these factors have contributed to the erosion of the productive assets and coping capacities of households and communities. Food insecurity is widespread and food aid needs have been sizable, fluctuating between 0.4 - 2.5 percent of GDP between 1996 and 2001.

Chronic food insecurity has been a defining feature of the poverty that has affected millions of Ethiopians for decades. The vast majority of these extraordinarily poor households live in rural areas that are heavily reliant on rain fed agriculture and thus, in years of poor rainfall, the threat of widespread starvation is high.

However, the policy response to this threat has been a series of ad hoc emergency appeals for food aid and other forms of emergency assistance. While these have succeeded in averting mass starvation, especially among the asset-less, they have not banished the threat of further famine and they did not prevent asset depletion by marginally poor households affected by adverse rainfall shocks. As a result, the number of individuals in need of emergency food assistance rose from approximately 2.1 million people in 1996 to 13.2 million in 2003, before falling back to 7.1 million in 2004. Further, the ad hoc nature of these responses meant that the provision of emergency assistance—often in the form of food-for-work programs—was not integrated into ongoing economic development activities.

Significant parts of Ethiopia are characterized by persistent food insecurity. While droughts and other disasters (such as floods) are significant triggers, more important are the factors which create and/or increase vulnerability to these shocks and which have undermined livelihoods. These factors include land degradation, limited household assets, low levels of farm technology, lack of employment opportunities and population pressure. As a consequence, but also exacerbating the situation, levels of education are low and disease prevalence is high. Prior to 2005, the typical response to this persistent food insecurity was emergency relief resourced through an unpredictable annual appeals process.

Although relief was provided, often at great expense, it was rarely adequate or timely. As a consequence, households were forced to sell assets (further constraining their livelihood options); and to restrict consumption (with immediate impacts on increasing the risk of disease and longer term impacts on chronic malnutrition).

Following many years of this approach, it was recognized that the majority of those receiving food aid were chronically food insecure, with households experiencing a food gap even in average or good rainfall years. If the ever-worsening cycle of destitution was to be broken, it would require a significant increase in and better use of the resources supporting those households facing both persistent and transitory food insecurity. Business as usual was not working.

In 2003, the Government launched a large-scale consultation process called the New Coalition for Food Security. Key stakeholders interested in the development of Ethiopia were invited to share views and support the definition of new strategies to address increasing persistent food insecurity. The significant political commitment to this process was reflected in the participation of the Prime Minister and other high level decision-makers in the platform that delivered the New Coalition work.

As a result of this process the government made significant changes to its existing Food Security Programme (FSP), scaling up its level of intervention and incorporating a large ‘Productive Safety Net Programme’ (PSNP). The FSP was designed to help chronically food insecure households reach a level of food security necessary for an active and healthy life. Three components were planned: resettlement, productive safety nets, and other food security interventions. Resettled households were expected to achieve food secure status solely as a result of that component’s package of interventions. Safety net clients, however, would require the complementary other food security interventions in order for sustainable impact to be achieved.

Starting in 2005, the Government of Ethiopia and a consortium of donors implemented a new form of safety net: the Productive Safety Nets Program (PSNP). It reaches more than 7 million people and operates with an annual budget of nearly 500 million USD. Currently, outside of South Africa, it is the largest social protection program operating in sub-Saharan Africa.

Ethiopia‘s Productive Safety Net Program was established 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. The new safety nets approach focused on tackling chronic or seasonal hunger and sought to provide a more sustainable safety nets system. Sustainability was not just about finding an alternative to an emergency system that donors were increasingly unwilling to fund. From the outset, consumption objectives were linked with the protection and creation of assets and the idea that PSNP beneficiaries would graduate‘ into food security as a result of PSNP and wider support that supported their consumption as they built assets and strengthen livelihoods.

The Food Security Strategy rests on three pillars, which are: (1) Increase supply or availability of food; (2) Improve access/entitlement to food; (3) Strengthening emergency response capabilities. The detailed aspects of the strategy are highlighted as follows:

With regard to agricultural production in mixed farming systems, the aim is to enhance supply or availability of food through increasing domestic food production where soil moisture availability is relatively better. Subsistence farming has to be transformed into small-scale commercial agriculture. Household based integrated and market oriented extension packages would be employed.

In chronically food insecure areas, however, where there is severe moisture stress, soil degradation and farmland scarcity, it will be a difficult task to ensure household access to food only through own production. Accordingly a set of comprehensive asset building mechanisms should be in place to augment production-based entitlement.

Pastoral communities depend on livestock for their livelihood. Increases in livestock and human population, however, put pressure on rangeland, resulting in soil erosion and deforestation. Vulnerability of pastoral communities to livelihoods shocks is increasing. With regard to pastoral communities, the Food Security Strategy places emphasis on livestock development, strengthening livestock marketing, agro-pastoralism and voluntary sedentarisation.

As stipulated in the Food Security Strategy (FSS) the government will do everything in its capacity to promote micro and small-scale enterprises. The government will assist the growth of micro and small-scale enterprises through initiating industrial extension services, development of the necessary infrastructure, encouraging competitive marketing of inputs and Outputs and utilizing tax incentives for selected commodities to shift the consumption patterns.

One of the focuses of the FSS is to enhance food entitlements of the most vulnerable sections of society. Under entitlement, there are three elements: supplementary employment income support schemes, targeted programs for the disadvantaged groups and nutrition intervention.

Improving the emergency response capabilities in the country is also a component of the FSS. A range of interventions were envisaged including: strengthening the early warning system; increasing the capacity of the Ethiopian Strategic Food Reserve (ESFRA), and improving the quality of relief distributions.

The major component of the Food Security Strategy is the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). PSNP is one of the largest safety net programs in the world and works with vulnerable households through cash or food for work programs. Its objective is to prevent families from having to deplete household assets in times of shortage. The program also stimulates markets, improves access to services, and builds community assets through the work households engage in. More than seven million people benefit from PSNP. Many of these households are also linked to Ethiopia’s Household Asset Building Program (HABP), which focuses on families who are at less risk of eroding their assets in times of need and are positioned to build their assets in order to graduate out of poverty.

The Productive Safety Net Programme focuses primarily on the chronically food insecure households that is, households that have a food gap of three months or more even during a normal year, within defined food insecure woredas (the ‘programme woredas’). The target group includes the chronically food insecure families of those who have volunteered to take part in the resettlement programme and who have gone in advance of their families to resettlement sites to establish themselves prior to their families joining them. In case of shocks in the programme woredas, the PSNP will also cover the transitorily food insecure populations through PSNP contingency budgets and the Risk Financing component.

The Household Asset Building Programme targets both chronically food insecure and food sufficient/transitorily15 food insecure households within defined food insecure woredas that is, households who have food gap of three months or more in either a normal or moderately bad year. The HAB programme provides the same services to households in the PSNP programme and those having graduated from the PSNP though not yet food secure. However, in case of capacity and/or resource constraints the first priority of the Household Asset Building Programme will be those within the PSNP and those who have recently graduated from the PSNP.

The Resettlement Programme targets chronically food insecure households with adequate adult able bodied labour who voluntarily put themselves forward for resettlement

The Complementary Community Investment component of the FSP is a programme of capital intensive community infrastructure development aimed at benefiting groups of food insecure populations living in selected chronically food insecure woredas. Investments will focus on pastoral, semi-pastoral and moisture-stressed highland areas. Regions will define woredas in need and best able to take advantage of such investments.

In 2002/3 15 million people were identified as needing assistance as a consequence of the 2002 drought. The 15 million figure is the upper boundary of the caseload of food insecure households eligible for the support of the Food Security Programme as outlined in the New Coalition for Food Security documents. Notably, it is an indication of the desirable coverage of the Household Asset Building programme in this phase of the FSP. Within this, the Productive Safety Net Programme to date has had a target caseload of 8.3 million people.

There is evidence that livelihoods are stabilizing and food insecurity is being reduced among these households. Surveys conducted at the end of the last decade show that there have been significant achievements in the government’s efforts to provide critical support to food insecure populations.

More than seven million people have received PSNP transfers enabling them to meet consumption needs, reducing the risks they faced and providing them with alternative options to selling productive assets. In addition, between 692,002 households (around 3.5 million people) received credit financed by the government’s Federal Food Security Budget Line between 2005 and 2007 and a further 355,279 households received credit from the donor financed Food Security Project (between 2002 and 2007). Furthermore, around 205,000 households were supported to resettle to higher rainfall, more fertile areas.

There is also significant evidence that the program is having an impact. The PSNP is smoothing consumption and protecting assets and a growing number of PSNP clients are having growing access to household building efforts. Where the two programs are combined, particularly in areas where program were well implemented (indicated by a high level of transfers) household asset holdings have increased and crop production appears to have improved5.

Subsequently, in 2009 PSNP+ was launched to complement PSNP; it connects smallholders to financial services and markets, including labor markets, to enable these households to be financially self-sustainable. The Household Asset Building Program (HABP) (formerly the Other Food Security Program (OFSP)) was designed as a complementary initiative to the PSNP, rather than a component of the program. The GoE and its development partners recognized that chronically poor households would need support to build up their assets and improve their livelihoods in addition to SSN assistance.

The Household Asset Building Program, which aims to diversify incomes, has facilitated access to agricultural extension services and credit, as well as providing assistance to develop household business plans. The prohgram has demonstrated the value of combining social protection with livelihoods diversification activities to improve household resilience as the biggest gains in food security have been attained where households had access to both the PSNP and the HABP. For instance, PSNP public works combined with seeds, credit, and irrigation raised wheat and maize yields by about 200 kilograms per hectare.

Indeed, significant improvement had been recorded. The 2011 impact evaluation of the PSNP found that after five years in the program:

• The average household food gap (times when households could not meet the food needs of their families) dropped from 3.6 months to 2.3 months, a 29 percent decline.

• Households living in more drought-prone regions experienced a 25 percent decline in the periods in which they went without enough food, while those living in areas less affected by drought reported a 42 percent decline – as compared with households only in the program for one year.

• Household asset levels have increased at a steady pace and there has been a decline in the distress sale of assets. For example, in areas where droughts were widespread, households who participated for five years saw an 11 percent increase in livestock holdings, compared with those in the program for one year.

• Households that were in both the PSNP public works and HABP programs raised their food security by an additional 17 days, compared with those only participating in the PSNP public works. Households in both programs had a higher output of grain and use of fertilizer.

Another multi-agency assessment had shown that:

The PSNP analysis generates the following results for public works wage payments.

* Public works payments for five years improve household food security by 1.05 months.

* Public works payments increased the number of children’s meals consumed, per recipient household, during the lean season between 2006 and 2010 by 0.152.

* Five years’ participation in the public works programs raises livestock holdings by 0.38 tropical livestock units (TLU) relative to receipt of payments in only one year.

* Direct support payments improve food security as measured by the number of months that the household reports that it can meet its food needs. In the very few cases where average direct support transfers have been large (2,500 birr), this effect is two months, which is a substantial livelihood impact. This impact is statistically significant.

* Relative to having no program benefits, the target communities had experienced increased food security by 1.53 months.

* For households receiving the program supports an increase in food security of 0.61 months was recorded.

Indeed, there is evidence that these gains could be made even stronger by giving further attention to programming measures to increase the resilience of the participating households to climate-related shocks.

A recent study on the relationship between household shocks and the PSNP's social protection interventions found that those participants who are exposed to shocks have lower food security and wellbeing indexes than those not exposed to shocks; drought, in particular, has a significant impact on household food security/wellbeing. The PSNP is making a valuable contribution to protecting households against the impacts of shocks, but the effects are not sufficiently robust to shield them from the impacts of severe shocks.

These endeavors are on-going. Despite their achievements, they cannot eliminate the impact of the worst drought of the century. Therefore, relief aid provision is necessary. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the number of drought affected people and the scale of its effect has been minimized due to the efforts made in the last decade.



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