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Food security and social protection in highland Ethiopia: linking the Productive Safety Net to the land question*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 August 2013

Tom Lavers*
Department of Social and Policy Sciences, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, United Kingdom


While much recent research has focused on the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), this is by no means the only social protection policy in rural Ethiopia. Drawing on a very different rationale to the PSNP, the Ethiopian government also justifies state land ownership as a form of social protection for smallholders. This paper examines the links between these policies through a case study of an extremely food-insecure site. The paper concludes that while the PSNP and land policy together provide minimal security for landholders, land shortages and the problematic nature of agricultural production are such that there is little chance that the PSNP and its complementary programmes can achieve food security. As a result, the PSNP is used to support failing agricultural policies, limiting urban migration in the interests of political stability. These findings highlight the importance of situating safety net programmes within the socioeconomic context which generates insecurity.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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This research was carried out as part of a PhD supported by an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) studentship. I would like to thank Addis Ababa University for facilitating my fieldwork, Meressa Tsehaye for interpretation, and Shea McClanahan, Joe Devine and two anonymous reviewers for comments on previous drafts.



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Representatives of foreign donors

FD5, head of food security, Development Assistance Group, Addis Ababa, 22.11.2009.

Female residents

GF4, young married woman, Geblen, 15.04.2010.

GF5, married woman, Geblen, 09.04.2010.

GF9, female shopkeeper, Geblen, 10.04.2010.

GF10, landless, female household head, Geblen, 09.04.2010.

Male residents

GM2, male shopkeeper, Geblen, 10.04.2010.

GM4, young single man, Geblen, 09.04.2010.

GM8, urban resident with land in Geblen, Adigrat, 13.04.2010.

GM15, middle-aged man, Geblen, 08.04.2010.

GM16, middle-aged man, Geblen, 12.04.2010.

GM21, elderly PSNP participant, Geblen, 10.04.2010.

GM22, elderly man, Geblen, 08.04.2010.

GM23, elder in dispute resolution, Geblen, 14.04.2010.

GM27, middle-aged man, Geblen, 12.04.2010.

NGO representatives

GN1, Emergency Programmes Coordinator, Catholic Mission, Adigrat, 13.04.2010.

Tabiya officials

GT1, chairman, tabiya administration, Geblen, 07.04.2010.

GT4, development agent, Geblen, 08.04.2010.

GT5, development agent, Geblen, 08.04.2010.

GT7, member of the LAC, Geblen, 15.04.2010.

GT11, head, FSTF, Geblen, 07.04.2010.

Wereda officials

GW1, head, wereda Land Administration desk, Freweyni, 06.04.2010.

GW2, expert, wereda PSNP desk, Freweyni, 06.04.2010.

GW3, expert, wereda Youth and Social Affairs desk, Freweyni, 06.04.2010.

GW4, extension expert, wereda Agriculture and Rural Development desk, Freweyni, 15.04.2010.

Regional government officials

IR1, head, Tigray EPLAUA, Mekelle, 01.04.2010.