Nefisa used to struggle to feed her family in July and August, two of the driest months in the highlands of Ethiopia’s Oramia region. They were usually able to borrow from neighbours, but Nefisa says her five children were often sick. Their farmland dry, she and her husband would travel from town to town looking for day labour.
July and August are still difficult for Nefisa and her family, but thanks to Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (known as the PSNP) they have now have a reliable supply of food during the months that used to be known as the “food gap.” Ethiopia launched the PSNP in 2005 to help “chronically food insecure” people build resilience to the country’s recurring drought. Each month for six months, families like Nefisa’s now receive either food transfers (15kg of wheat per person) or cash. This extra support means that those families don’t have to sell assets like livestock to make it through the dry months.
Ethiopia’s PSNP is now sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest safety net program, covering roughly ten percent of the country’s population (nearly 7.5 million people). In a year like this one, when the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in 60 years has left 12.4 million people in need emergency food relief, the impact of this program is huge.
The food provided through the safety net isn’t a handout. In exchange for their monthly transfers, Nefisa and her husband work on community projects that range from school and hospital maintenance to building irrigation systems. The benefits of these projects extend beyond safety net participants to reach entire communities. For example, terracing in the highest areas of Nefisa’s village has protected local farms against flooding and soil degradation, enabling some farmers to triple their incomes through increased production.
Higher incomes mean that families can now save and plan for the future. Nefisa is a committee member on her Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC). The SILC’s 20 members (all of whom are women) have increased their weekly contributions from 2 to 5 Ethiopian birr. Collectively, they’ve saved 3,000 Ethiopian birr over the past year (roughly $176), money that can be lent to members to start small businesses or pay for education or health care.
Although the PSNP helps Nefisa “bridge the gap” during her family’s hardest months, she doesn’t have access to the capital and training she’ll need to graduate from the safety net. These are issues that the government and its partners are now tackling through programs like PSNPlus and PSNP Grad. Though challenges lie ahead, one thing is certain: alongside the tales of suffering and hardship coming out of the Horn right now, Nefisa’s story – one of remarkable resilience thanks to innovation and investment – deserves to be making headlines too.
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