Linking food aid and food security in Ethiopia

Final Report

In a globalising world the impact of protracted food crises has raised the urgency to address humanitarian needs, poverty as well as vulnerability in new ways. The LEAFS research has contributed to the debate to address food insecurity by studying the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in Ethiopia. The PSNP is one of the largest social protection programmes in Africa and currently addresses the needs of almost ten million people. LEAFS has been studying food security policy making and thinking on social protection from a global to a local perspective by giving special attention to linkages between these levels. LEAFS studied the different interpretation frames and interactions between the global actors (for example the World Bank, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agricultural Programme), national actors (the Ethiopian Government, donors and specialised agencies) and local actors (regional and local government, NGOs and target communities). LEAFS also conducted longer-term ethnographic research in selected villages to study how formal assistance programmes enter into the day to day lives of beneficiaries.

- LEAFS found that the PSNP’s impact at household level was strongly conditioned by labour availability and that impact on graduation depended to considerable extent on a households access to credit (as delivered through the PSNP’s complementary programmes). PSNP targeting, progress reporting and impact measurement was found to be subject to political processes whereby local government officials adjusted the programme’s requirements to suit their bureaucratic working styles and career perspectives.

- LEAFS found that the PSNP and its complementary programmes fell short of projected developmental impact and that graduation-at scale from the PSNP (that is people becoming food sufficient) is unlikely to happen in the short to medium term. Apart from implementation challenges LEAFS found that there are important flaws in design including under resourcing of the PSNP.

- As part of the LEAFS programme a psycho-social study was done using the so-called Self Reporting Questionnaire (known as the ‘SRQ-21’). The study found that a negative psychological impact of long term aid, mediated through the popular belief of ‘aid dependency syndrome’, appears to be ill-founded. Rather, the study found indications that predictable long term aid may be protective in terms of psychological morbidity. With very few studies done in protracted food crises on this subject this is a very interesting finding and deserves more attention in future research.

- The LEAFS programme has in various ways, such as international and national conferences, workshops and panels, involved various stakeholders including governments, donors, implementing agencies and researchers. This created space for debate and research in Ethiopia to inform the country’s food security programming.

- Findings have been made available through a number of publications in international journals and books. The LEAFS programme also produced a 600-page book bringing together the work of international and Ethiopian researchers on the issue of food security, safety nets and social protection in Ethiopia.

- LEAFS also contributed to capacity building the Department of Disaster Risk Reduction and Sustainable Development Sustainable of Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia. LEAFS has invested in enhancing provisional qualification of staff, staff training and curriculum development for courses aimed at university students and a short course for mid-career professional staff of government, donor and NGOs.


This research program aims to contribute to ongoing reforms in food aid and food security policies through studying the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) and surrounding food security policies in Ethiopia. Since 1984, annually more than 5 million people have received food aid in this country, creating a situation of chronic food insecurity. The new Food Security Policy has the double aim to protect people against hunger and asset depletion, and lift them out of poverty. It is a joint initiative of the Government of Ethiopia and the international community.

The programme will identify and analyze the crucial sectoral, horizontal and vertical linkages between policies implementation and livelihood strategies of vulnerable populations targeted by food security programmes. It is composed of three subprojects. The first project will investigate the linkages between people?s perceptions and practices to cope with drought and food insecurity on the one hand and food security interventions (emergency aid and PSNP) on the other. The second project targets the institutional linkages and gaps that promote or impede the sectoral, horizontal and vertical integration of food security programmes. The third will focus on the linkages between food security programmes in Ethiopia and international approaches to food aid and food security.

The programme combines the approach of Disaster Studies, focusing on situations of crisis and vulnerable populations with a focus on long-term processes of institutional change from a Governance and Development perspective. Increasingly it is recognized that the manifold ways in which people respond to crisis display a large degree of continuity and that institutions are molded by crisis. The researchers will make use of qualitative and quantitative research methods, the study of secondary sources and ethnographic field work in both village and institutional settings.

The project will produce 3 PhD theses, a number of articles and an edited volume. The researchers will also engage in workshops, dialogue and dissemination meetings and produce separate publications to popularize the results of the research. A contribution will be made to improve the performance of institutional actors, by providing insights on the working of policy and on the patterns of interaction between them. Dissemination and validation of the results will be guaranteed through collaboration with various stakeholders in the PSNP and policy dialogue. Furthermore, a contribution will be made to capacity building through the new department of Sustainable Development and Disaster Management of Bahir Dar University.


Book or monography

  • A. Dagnachew Siyoum:


  • A. Dagnachew Siyoum(2012): Broken Promises Food Security Interventions and Rural Livelihoods in Ethiopia , Wageningen  September 17, 2012

Chapter in book

Scientific article

  • D. J. M. Hilhorst, C.N. Bishop(2010): From food aid to food security Journal of Modern African Studies pp. 181 - 202
  • A. de Sherbinin, M Castro, F. Gemenne, M.M. Cernea, S. Adamo, P.M. Fearnside, G. Krieger, S. Lahmani, A. Oliver-Smith, A.S.A. Pankhurst(2011): Preparing for resettlement associated with climate change Science pp. 456 - 457
  • D. J. M. Hilhorst, I. Christoplos, G. van der Haar(2011): Reconstruction from Below. Magic Bullet or Shooting from the Hip? Third World Quarterly pp. 1107 - 1124
  • A. Daganchew Siyoum, D. J. M. Hilhorst, A. Pankhurst(2012): The differential impact of microcredit on rural livelihoods: Case study from Ethiopia International Journal of Development and Sustainability pp. 1 - 19 ISSN: 2186-8662.
  • A. Dagnachew Siyoum, D. J. M. Hilhorst, A. Pankhurst(2012): Food aid and dependency syndrome in Ethiopia: Local people?s perception Online Journal of Humanitarian Assistance pp. 1 - 19 ISSN: 2168-8662.


Project number

W 01.65.302.00

Main applicant

Prof. dr. ir. D.J.M. Hilhorst

Affiliated with

Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), International Relations and Development Programme

Team members

Dr. A. Dagnachew Siyoum, Drs. H. Geerling, Z. Letyibelu MSc, Dr. A. Pankhurst PhD, Dr. J.G. van Uffelen


01/01/2008 to 28/11/2013