Poverty eradication in Ethiopia has had positive impact in recent years. Government action strengthened food security and alleviated poverty.
By Ashvin Ramasamy

Overview of Development

In a country experiencing solid economic growth, disadvantaged groups in rural areas have largely not participated, let alone reap the big rewards. Still, Ethiopia ranks among the ten poorest countries in the world, with an estimated annual per capita income of US$883 in 2016. Although public unrest has undeniably contributed to setbacks in inclusive growth, the focus here is social development for the betterment of the poor people of Ethiopia, most notably pastoralists and women. Rural women contribute tremendously to the economic output of the agricultural sector. However, they remain shut out of to skill training, financial services, and market information. Pastoralist communities have shown improvement, driven in large party by partnerships with international support in agro-pastoral activities. As approximately 85 percent of Ethiopians depend on some form of subsistence agriculture, international assistance has been able to turn agricultural communities around. The government has made genuine advancement in the development agenda, with 10 percent of GDP growth coming from development efforts since 2007. The core development objective of the Ethiopian Government is poverty eradication. The focus of this course of action is on the positive socioeconomic development for pastoralist communities and specifically women in rural areas.

A Public Safety Net to Fight Poverty

Launched in 2005, the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), implemented by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other development partners is committed to fighting food insecurity in Ethiopia. The objective is to equip the rural poor facing chronic food insecurity to fight shocks, create assets and become food self-sufficient. Comprehensive in scope, the PSNP has multidimensional goals to fight rampant poverty and the food crisis:

● Income transfers for food insecure households
● Income transfers for households affected by shocks
● Public works projects to develop sustainable infrastructure
● Strong effectiveness in PSNP implementation
● Coordination among stakeholders, including implementers and other development and relief efforts

Over the past 12 years, assessment of the performance of the PSNP has generated positive results. Among the main indicators for success, attention has been on the number of months of food security, number of livestock and value of assets. In 2014, survey analysis found that over seven million of the most affected by poverty were more food secure and claimed more assets. In terms of logistics, the Programme fared well; public works individuals received the required transfer levels to realize those projects. In particular, PSNP construction has delivered over 39,000 km of road and ensured the maintenance of an additional 83,000 km. Rural Ethiopians have gained accessibility in areas typically segregated from services, markets and material inputs. All parties involved in achieving the Programme engaged through a participative platform to fuel the engine of the Programme: end food insecurity. With the insights gathered by the assessment experts, the government has received clear directions over decision-making year after year. As such, authorities have been fine-tuning the development agenda to meet the evolving needs of food-impoverished regions of Ethiopia.

PSNP: Aiming for SDG 13

In line with the Sustainable Development Goal target 13.2 (Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning) integration of climate adaptation principles in infrastructure plans had commendable results. Over 49,000 hectares of land utilize sophisticated water management techniques to gain in water retention and decreased flooding as well as the planting of 75 million seedlings. Public works sites followed climate smart strategies, such an annual carbon sequestration of 5.7 tonnes per hectare. Stakeholders noted the climate-sensitive approach to public projects had a positive effect on livelihoods and helped prevent shocks to rural households.

Programme to Support Pastoralists

Pastoralists in Ethiopia present a curious case of human enterprise defined by action for the collective good. While they own about 40 percent of all livestock in the country, pastoralists have not emerged out of the shadows of society. Incidentally, many of them face serious risks as they battle worsening effects of a changing climate, particularly in their typical ranges of the northeast and southeast portions of the country. What they require to survive is basic access to social services, technological development, water and land resources. Could decision-making be such that it involves the communities’ interests in creating this change?

A multipartner project spanning 15 years, led by a consortium of international funders and the Ethiopian government, is making a transformative impact in the livelihoods of pastoralists through resource management techniques and climate-fighting measures. The objectives capture the essential needs of the beneficiaries, that is help drive up income, nutrition, health and education. Pastoralists engaged with the stakeholders with the design and delivery of services and resources. Altogether, nearly five million rural people in 145 local districts have been benefiting from increased access to public services and livelihoods (only the small pastoral districts of Benishangul Gumuz and Gambela were excluded). How did the project leaders achieve the high level of success?

Through a concerted regime of decentralized decision-making and sustained capacity-building efforts, community groups implemented local projects for housing, infrastructure and education. Most importantly, community leaders commanded decision-making power over funding of local initiatives. They focussed on creating access and help establish services that their members required: health, veterinary and social services. Financially, members obtained financing through the creation of pastoral savings and credit cooperatives, with about 66 percent of clients being women. The popular interest in the financial services brought about positive change. Cooperatives have been making low-interest and low-risk loans for income-generating activities. Female entrepreneurs have produced higher and steady incomes, which in turn created gains in nutrition, natal childcare and schooling of children. Male leaders benefitted by injecting funds to expand livestock and harvest yields as well as building permanent shelters.

The drought-prone areas in semi arid and arid areas of Ethiopia posed tremendous water supply needs for pastoralists. In addition, planning for natural disasters in the absence of sophisticated early warning systems was done with low guidance and subpar mitigation measures. Capacity-building initiatives supported the communities to engage in mitigating natural disaster impacts. Locally trained experts have since been collecting data on warning systems and household data in order to broadcast preventative measures to community members. The same communities have also benefited from training in the leading causes of disasters in their areas, helping about 64,000 pastoralists build five-year mitigation plans to fight drought, flood and erosion. Through collaborative water supply development, local communities have gained access to potable water and decreased the occurrence of waterborne diseases. New water sources have appeased quarreling pastoralists competing for the scarce resource in the past and lessened the commute for collecting water.

One would be remiss not to emphasize the pastoralists as actors of change throughout the project. Truly a participative platform that has welcomed discussion and debate shaped the successful outcomes explained above. Pastoral groups have organized events to share knowledge and best practices for agriculture productivity, and several media events have taken place to promote their mutual interests and solidarity. Grassroots activities have enabled community members to benefit and intervene in project development, creating a greater sense of civic empowerment for a group traditionally marginalized in society.

Empowerment of Rural Women

Women in rural areas play important roles in the agricultural industry of Ethiopia. However, their input has has been hindered by a series of setbacks. Institutional structures have not played their part in supporting specifically women endeavours, such as finance institutions and cooperative organizations. Decision-makers have failed to produce positive outcomes for gender equality and women empowerment. As a consequence, activities led by women have not received due economic support.

Since 2014, Ethiopian women have been able to use their potential as leaders, owners and actors of change. Afar and Oromia districts have been the sites of transformative change in securing livelihoods and land rights of women. Accelerating Progress Towards The Economic Empowerment of Rural Women is an integrated pilot project aimed at empowering the rural women of Ethiopia through increased food security and nutrition. Authorities applied the pilot project in relation to Sustainable Development Goals together with the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II) for gender equality progress. Taking into account the vulnerable conditions women had been facing — low resource access, limited skills and largely unavailable financing — the focus of the programme had diversified objectives. Technical assistance training was given in order to facilitate the acquisition of land rights. Previously, property and agricultural inputs were well out of reach of women. Women associations have become consultants for individuals applying for joint land rights through government certification. An enduring outcome of the programme has been the creation of the Ethiopian Network for Gender Equality in Agriculture (ENGEA). As a direct response of the institutional weakness in gender empowerment, the project helped ministries make ENGEA a tool to strategize socioeconomic development for women. That is, market research to help them the most for generating profit for their product and services, derive gender-specific benefits from agriculture transformation and advocate for gender mainstreaming in agriculture policies, among others.

Fast Facts on Accelerating Progress Towards The Economic Empowerment of Rural Women

● A revolving fund was created to increase capacity-building on basic business and entrepreneurship skills
● Another revolving fund gave access to over 1,700 rural women of much needed startup capital as well as gender-specific support in financial and non financial services
● Gender-sensitive training changed the attitudes of over 3,000 men and women on the role and participation of women in society
● The inception of the Ethiopian Network for Gender Equality in Agriculture was created under the Programme

The multipartner project in pastoralist communities discussed earlier has given a sizeable boost to women empowerment. The financial cooperatives have played a major in community engagement, notably due to strong contribution of women. However, many efforts were put towards expanding the enrollment of girls in schools while minimizing dropouts. With many women capable of sustaining themselves, they have not had the need to pull their children out of school for additional work income. Enrollment of girls increased by 43 percent and the primary school dropout rate dropped by 53 percent. With the sudden growth in graduates, new secondary schools have been constructed to accommodate them.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Despite the progress being made a the national level, women emancipation remains an unfulfilled goal. For example, women engaged in science in high paying economic sectors is underwhelming. Empowerment translates into positions of power and influence, but many women do not command leadership roles in their community or workplace compared to men.

A major factor in underrepresentation of women is the high level of poverty as well as high unemployment rate. Economic growth projected in the decade needs to factor gender equality and economic empowerment of women, in particular the vulnerable groups in rural areas. Safety net programmes, however successful, must take the next step towards expansion: existing measures cover only a small portion of the poorest of the poor, and many do not qualify due to stringent criteria.

Ethiopian authorities should consider a sound monitoring and evaluation (M&E) system for assessing performance of national mechanisms, as well as building an inventory of valuable past work experiences. Continued work in poverty eradication by the government must continue unabated through the Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program (SDPRP), A Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty (PASDEP) and Growth and Transformation Plan I and II (GTP I & II). Those courses of action have equal ambition to mainstream critical SDG targets into their outcomes. Skill development and school retention rate of young women deserve more attention in policy formulation, may it be horizontal or vertical integration in economic sectors. Food insecurity will continue to constrain institutional responses in the wake of natural disasters, thus solicitation of international efforts and partnerships will support disaster prevention and relief. Long term development intervention will help meet food supplies, agricultural productivity and livestock maintenance.