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An overview of REST’s implementation of the Productive Safety Net Programme


By The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) Mekelle Team

The Relief Society of Tigray (REST) has been in existence in Ethiopia for over 30 years, starting out as a relatively small organisation in 1978 in response to the needs of Tigrayan's displaced because of drought and food insecurity to neighbouring Sudan. The 1984/5 famine that affected large numbers of the Tigrayan population saw REST implementing large scale cross border (with Sudan) humanitarian relief programmes. In 1987, REST oversaw the agricultural rehabilitation programme, established to assist 160,000 repatriated Tigrayan refugees to rebuild their livelihoods.

Tigray is a region of over 4.3 million people (out of a population of 76 million in Ethiopia) in the north of Ethiopia. Eighty per cent of the population live in rural areas, of which the majority are subsistence farmers producing, on average, only 40% of their annual minimal food requirements. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita is US$115.00 and 89% of the population earn less than US$2.00 a day. Average life expectancy is 43 years.

In 1991, REST was registered as an indigenous non-governmental organisation (NGO) and since this time, has focused on longer term development programmes whilst maintaining capacity in emergency response. Today, REST is one of the largest indigenous NGO's in Ethiopia, with the head office in Tigray's capital, Mekelle. REST has 700 staff and is funded by many donors and international NGOs, with an annual budget of around USD$10 million (2010). REST works in 23 out of 34 woredas (districts) in Tigray.

Gully rehabilitation to protect farm lands

REST priorities and programme areas

The stated goal of REST's programming is to bring about food security for households within its operational areas. REST is organised into a number of departments as follows:

  • Environmental Rehabilitation and
  • Agricultural Development
  • Irrigation Development
  • Health
  • Education
  • Rural Water Supply
  • Relief and Rehabilitation
  • Supplies and Logistics
  • Planning and Coordination
  • Research and Policy Development

Relief and Rehabilitation

From its inception, REST has provided emergency relief across Tigray and as a result, has developed significant experience and capacity in this field. Following the end of the civil conflict in 1991, the strategy evolved to integrate emergency programmes within development processes. For example, free food distributions were restricted to the most vulnerable in an emergency (estimated to be around 20% of the emergency affected population at any one time) whilst the remaining 80% receive food as part of food for recovery programmes.

Furthermore, REST has developed very rich experiences in drought and disaster management and in early warning and disaster preparedness. This has enabled REST to initiate responses to droughts or other shocks at an early stage.

As part of disaster response management, REST initiated a strategy that food aid 'should go to the people and not bring people to the food'. As a result, REST manages a number of distribution points close to those in need in all its operational woredas and has an overall storage capacity of 50,000 metric tons (MT) of food. Over the past five years REST has delivered 393,000 MT of food assistance, 2,100 oxen, 2,550 sheep, and 800 donkeys. In addition, 4,900 households have bought farm implements from REST.

Implementation of the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP)

REST has been an implementing partner in the national PSNP since 2006 working in six chronically food insecure woredas in Central, Eastern and Southern Tigray (Ahferom, Degua Tembien, Mereb Leke, Werie Leke, Wukro and Raya Azebo) reaching over 450,000 beneficiaries (see Figure 1).

The PSNP is a multi-year programme with resources committed to 2014. The overall goal of the programme is to make a sustained change to food security and livelihoods of chronically poor communities and reduce their vulnerability to disaster shocks. The PSNP utilises food and cash transfers to support household food consumption, build community assets and provide a platform for the engagement of the most poor in agriculturebased food security packages and programmes. The REST PSNP originally provided food transfers for a period of eight months for contributions to public works by able-bodied PSNP beneficiaries, and for a period of 10 months for direct support beneficiaries (disabled persons, the elderly, sick and female headed households). From 2008, the transfer period was similar to that of the government PSNP for six months for public work and direct support. The food entitlement is 15 kg of grain, 1.5 kg pulses and 0.45 kg oil per month per household. This is a larger monthly food transfer compared to other PSNP implementing agencies. REST also distributes 4.5 kg/month/person of corn soya blend (CSB) to malnourished children (low weight for age) and pregnant and lactating mothers, based on regular growth and nutritional monitoring by health service institutions. This food is also distributed during emergencies to PSNP and non PSNP beneficiaries. RESTs distinct approach to the PSNP is on integration of activities with other national programmes activities at the woreda and village level to maximise coverage and impact.

RESTs Environmental Rehabilitation and Agricultural Development Department oversees the natural resource management related activities in the PSNP in tandem with the Irrigation Development and Rural Water Supply Departments. Natural resource management is viewed as a key activity area in order to reduce the effects of drought and soil erosion, and to increase food security through irrigated agricultural production and increased livestock holdings. Natural resource projects account for more than 90% of the total public works budget. All natural resource activities are implemented at watershed level. Typically, soil and water conservation projects include physical measures (stone bunds, hill side terrace, trench bund, gull treatment, micro-basin and pitting for plantation), biological measures (which includes area closures for regeneration, grass strips, and afforestation) and water harvesting measures (river diversion, mini dam, water harvesting check dam, open hand dug well, spring development). Since 2005, REST has treated and developed over 57,000 hectares of degraded hill sides, 442 kilometres of large gullies, seven mini-dams, 11 river diversions, 190 water harvesting check dams and 645 open hand wells in the PSNP woredas.

Vegetable production from open hand dug well

Watershed management is another key natural resource activity. This involves the construction of stone walls and trenches to retain water, provide moisture for shrubs and trees, re-charge the groundwater, prevent soil erosion and thereby enable cultivation in the previously dry valleys and river beds of diverse crops (fruits, vegetables and drought resistant crops) throughout the year. REST also supports implementation of micro-irrigation check dams, open medium and large hand dug wells, livestock development, crop development and clean water supply activities.

PSNP implementation process

All activities are closely managed by committees at the community level. At the Tabia level, PSNP has two task forces: kebele/Tabia food security task force (KFSTF) and community food security task force (CFSTF). Both task forces have representation from local administration, health extension, teachers, youth, and farmer and women associations. The role of the KFSTF is to consolidate public work plans, prepare PSNP plans in consultation with woreda sectors, verify PSNP clients and to evaluate PSNP activities.

Hill side terrace to conserve soil and water

Comprising three females, three males, a youth representative and development agents (DA), the CFSTF is responsible for targeting the eligible communities, identifying public work and direct support participants and for mobilising the community jointly with DAs for participatory works planning. CFSTF also organise public meetings to discuss the proposed list of PSNP beneficiaries, encourage comments from people attending the meeting and make amendments to the list as required, to reach overall agreement among the community on the list of PSNP clients. This list is submitted to the KFSTF, which ensures there is no stigma against the inclusion of eligible people living with HIV. The CFSTF also participate in regular review of PSNP clients, monitoring the implementation of public works and informing appeal process to the community.

In addition to REST's links with the KFSTF and CFSTF, REST is a member of the woreda level food security task force and technical assistance team. The role of REST at this level is to strengthen the community and woreda management capability through capacity building and technical assistance.

Micro-credit support activities

REST integrates bee keeping, dairy, small ruminant, vegetable and fruit production to the needy PSNP beneficiaries to increase their food security. These are described in case studies in Box 1.

Bee keeping

Box 1: Micro credit support case studes

Landless beekeeping groups in area closures (Wukro woreda)

In Ayna-alem village of Kilte-Awlaelo woreda, REST is working with young landless families to form beekeeping groups in areas where there is ongoing watershed management that allows bee fodder to be grown (flowers). REST provides a Birr 3600 loan to each person to enable capacity building to get started and establish bee hives. Each bee group has, on average, 40 hives and can sell the honey as well as bee colonies. When managed well, 12 quintal (1 quintal = 100kg) of honey can be harvested per person and sold for Birr 120 per kg. In addition, the beneficiaries raise bee colonies and sell them to the market at average price of 700 Birr/colony.

Communal hand dug well (Wukro woreda)

Income for water pumps

A 32 year old farmer, Gebre Kassa, lives in the eastern zone of Tigray and is one of the PSNP clients. He says that, "the safety net programme has saved our lives. Apart from the grain we get as payment, it has changed our work ethics. The implemented catchment treatment activities recharge the ground and our degraded grazing land is saved from erosion and is rehabilitated. As a result, the village PSNP beneficiaries are able to develop open hand dug wells for irrigation and grow vegetables for the market and consumption. Income of PSNP families has increased from time to time from sale of vegetables and other livestock products"

Gebre with his motor pump

Gebre and his family depend on subsistence farming and off-farm income as daily labour. As a result of natural resource activities, he and his neighbours developed an open hand dug well for irrigation using PSNP public works. From the other food security programmes he has gained credit access for a motor pump and has planted tomatoes in his half hectare of land and earned 7,000 birr income. He was then able to lease another half hectare of land in the village and increase his income to 15,000 birr. The change is seen in many aspects. He says, "In the first place we are able to get income and adequate and variety food, we are dressing well and my children are attending school, and I am able to pay the credit."

Dairy development rural families (Degua-tembien woreda)

Milk cooperative

Established in 2005, the members of the Milk Cooperative have increased from 15 to 30. The average milk production capacity and profit is high as shown in Table 1.






Table 1: Six month milk delivery and expenditure, 2009
Month Milk delivery litres Average revenue Birr Expenditure for milk supplies Birr Employ-ment costs Birr Home rent Birr Net profit Birr
January 5398 40800 24291 500 600 15409
February 5070 40800 22815 500 600 16885
March 5070 40800 22815 500 600 16885
April 6540 52700 29430 500 600 22170
May 6300 52600 28350 500 600 23150
Total 28,378 227,700 127,701 2,500 3,000 94,499

PSNP linkages with Nutrition

The PSNP is closely linked to key government national health and nutrition programmes including the Health Extension Programme, HIV/AIDS programme, the National Nutrition Programme (NNP) and national Outpatient Therapeutic Programme (OTP) roll-out. Linkages are through the provision of supplies to health posts (gloves, weighing equipment, teaching aids), provision of CSB for malnourished children, capacity development including training, and through the referral of moderately and severely malnourished children from PSNP households to the clinics and health posts.

REST/PSNP provide capacity building focused on the NNP components for community health workers, health extension workers and health staffs in order to facilitate the effective delivery of information, education and communication (IEC) activities.

REST/PSNP pursues nutrition and health improvements by integrating agriculture with IEC. Interventions target women and children (0-24 months) and focus on improving family diets in terms of intake/consumption and quality/ diversity through increased farm production, storage and processing of high value and surplus crops. Food for work and food as incentive programmes are also key areas of activity. These make special provision for supplementary food for children, as well as increasing women's and community education and knowledge to enhance mother and child health to bring about positive behaviour change.

Measuring the impact of the PSNP


Annually, it is estimated that Ethiopia loses over 1.5 billion tons of topsoil from the highlands including Tigray, which is equal to a loss of 1.5 million tons of grain to the country's harvest. Soil erosion is a very serious threat to food security and requires urgent management in Tigray and the PSNP areas. Soil loss in the PSNP woredas was estimated at 42 tons/hectare/year before the PSNP. Based on the PSNP impact assessment (conducted by the World Bank), the average soil loss is now estimated at 19.4 tons/hectare/annum. This means that the watersheds and treated land activities are saving the region an estimated 1.1 million tons of soil per annum, and have the potential to continue having such a positive impact.

The planting and area closures that have been put in place also have the potential to contribute significantly to carbon sequestration. There are likely to be local and global benefits in terms of potential earnings from carbon credits, as well as reduced global warming as a result of reduced green house gases.

Asset ownership

Resiliency grows in parallel with the accumulation of productive assets by integrating other food security packages into PSNP target households. This entails providing diverse agricultural inputs and technologies to asset less poor households in a manner that enables them to own motor pumps, livestock, money, built houses in nearby towns, and fruit trees to produce more and diverse range of food crops and livestock for consumption and for market. As a result, households are more confident in taking out additional loans to maximize their income. Current research studies indicate that there is no significant difference in oxen ownership among the households. This indicates that most households own oxen as the result of income increment and credit access form PSNP and other food security programmes.

Nutritional status

In 2008, REST carried out a nutrition survey1 to identify whether any changes in prevalence of wasting, stunting or underweight had been achieved in the PSNP programme areas compared to the baseline survey prevalence identified in 2005. The findings were also compared to the prevalence of wasting, stunting and underweight in a non-PSNP (control) woreda (Hintalo wajirat). Table 2 presents some of the findings.

Table 2: Prevalence (%) of underweight, stunting and wasting among children 2005 to 2008 and relative to non-REST PSNP*
Baseline 2005 Target 2008 Actual 2008 Actual 2007
% of children 0-60 months that are wasted (<-2WHZ) 7.2% 2% 4.6% 12.5%
% of children 0-60 months that are stunted (-2HAZ) 50% 34% 38.2% 42.4%
% of children 0-60 months that are underweight (-2WAZ) 45% 32% 34.3% 34.8%

WHZ: weight for height z score; HAZ: height for age z score;
WAZ: weight for age z score
* The woreda taken for non-REST PSNP was Hintalo wajirat (2007)2.

The prevalence rates of wasting, stunting and underweight were found to have reduced in 2008 from the baseline levels reported in 2005, by 2.6%, 11.8% and 10.7% respectively.

These results are encouraging and suggest that the PSNP activities are having a positive impact on nutrition outcomes. When compared to the non-REST PSNP (control) area, the prevalence rates of wasting, stunting and underweight were also lower in the PSNP areas. This suggests that the change in prevalence was due to the impact of the PSNP.

Understanding the causes of stunting

The REST policy and research unit studied the determinants of child stunting in the REST PSNP woredas using regression analysis (see Table 3). The study found that the chance of stunting among children from households who are dependent on the PSNP increased compared to those who depend on producing and purchasing their own food. Households who own livestock were found to be less likely to have stunted children. Family size, as expected, was strongly associated with the probability of a child being stunted, with the risk of child stunting being higher if the household had more family members. Likewise, a mother's education is negatively correlated with child stunting, i.e. a mother who is literate had a lower probability of a child who was stunted compared with those who are illiterate. Access to nutrition education is negatively and significantly correlated with levels of stunting. This suggests that a mother of a child who has been exposed to nutrition education has a lower probability of a stunted child, compared with those who have not participated in nutrition education.

Table 3: Parameter estimates of a logistic model for determinants of children stunting level (N = 5391)
  Coefficient Standard error Z Significance level P>z [95% Confidence Interval]
Gender -.0074053 .085988 -0.09 0.931 -.1759387 .1611281
Age of mother .0002603 .0050509 0.05 0.959 -.0096394 .01016
Family size .0382093 .0182387 2.09 0.036 ** .002462 .0739566
PSNP beneficiary .2180809 .0648287 3.36 0.001*** .091019 .3451429
Irrigation plot .1096148 .0857793 1.28 0.201 -.0585095 .2777391
Duration of breast feeding .0110853 .0201191 0.55 0.582 -.0283474 .0505179
Nutrition education -.3741028 .1689836 -2.21 0.027 ** -.7053046 -.042901
Water availability -.0582521 .0645057 -0.90 0.366 -.1846809 .0681768
Latrine availability -.0992738 .0790179 -1.26 0.100 -.2541461 .0555985
Full vaccination -.1772792 .9174281 -0.19 0.847 -1.975405 1.620847
Oxen per capita .0212997 .1831977 0.12 0.907 -.3377613 .3803607
Cow per capita -.5413497 .1443165 -3.75 0.000*** -.8242049 -.2584946
Shoat per capita -.1123467 .0482356 -2.33 0.020** -.2068868 -.0178066
Literacy of mother -.1688753 .0675757 -2.50 0.012** -.3013212 -.0364295

Note: ** = significant at p<0.05; *** = significant at p<0.01.

The results also showed that child stunting is more likely to be prevalent in households who don't have a toilet. Access to a potable water source was found to decrease the risk of stunting, however, this was not statistically significant. One interesting result from the regression analysis was that contrary to the general impression, a child from a female headed household was less likely to be stunted than a child from a male headed household, though this difference was not statistically significant.

Overall, the analysis of determinants of child stunting level signifies that increasing access to livestock (cows and shoats), female literacy, nutrition education and latrines has role to play in reducing the prevalence of levels of stunting in Tigray.

Household food security

Information on the number of months in the last year in which a household was not able to maintain a minimum level of food security, i.e. the ability to access food, was also assessed (following the FANTA guidelines1). Typically, the months of June to September are the food gap months when food insecurity is most severe in Tigray. The 2008 survey showed that 70% of PSNP households had adequate food for at least eight months in a year, of which only four months was from a household's own production. The 2008 findings were an improvement on the baseline survey findings and this improvement was attributed to three interlinked factors: the PSNP food transfers to meet immediate household food gaps, the creation of local employment and income generation opportunities, and use of the PSNP as a stepping stone to access other food security packages.

According to the survey results, the major reasons given by respondents for failing to produce sufficient annual food needs were shortage/absence of land (49%), rainfall shortages/ excess (36%), lack of oxen (16%) and crop losses due to damage, pests, disease and flooding (5%). The major coping strategies practiced by the people in the project areas during food shortages were reported as borrowing cash or food (22%), eating less preferred food (21%) and eating fewer meals per day (25%).

Farmers confirmed that the PSNP had helped minimise household level stress associated with hunger and poverty. It enabled them to salvage their productive assets rather than forcibly selling them to cover consumption needs, and allowed them avoid distress migration in search of food and employment. The food for work activities ensured short-term employment opportunities for many of the resource poor farmers in the project area and additional relief food assistance coming to the area, further acting to stabilise the situation.

Dietary diversity

The household dietary diversity score is a proxy indicator for socioeconomic status and the ability of households to access food. Household dietary diversity score is reflected in the number of different food groups consumed over a given reference period. To gauge the level of dietary diversity, sample households were asked about the number of different food groups consumed using a 24 hour recall period and a broader non-time bound question about numbers of foods consumed2. The results of the survey indicate that the overall mean dietary diversity score in the REST PSNP project area is five. This implies that, on average, households had consumed about five different food groups within the previous day indicating a 47% improvement against the baseline figure of 3%. The main factors contributing to the improvement of the dietary diversity score are expanded and diversified production of crops and vegetables and expanded mainstreaming of health and nutrition education through the REST PSNP and other Food Security Programmes over the last four years.

Future challenges and opportunities in the REST PSNP woredas


Although the PSNP has significantly improved household resilience to shocks in Tigray, drought and increasing market shocks (inflation/price increases) continue to threaten the livelihoods of the poor. These can potentially undermine the assets developed both under the PSNP and with REST's programmes more widely. To preserve the PSNP results, additional efforts are required in water harvesting and management and the provision of potable water supplies both for humans and livestock. Drought and other shocks could also undermine the improvements seen in nutritional status of children under five, particularly levels of wasting which are sensitive to short term shocks.


The increase in food prices is affecting food security, especially given that the majority of PSNP beneficiaries are net food purchasers (Tigray has the second highest food price inflation in Ethiopia). Although the PSNP transfers are assisting PSNP households to absorb the food prices to a certain extent, additional shocks (drought, hail, flooding) are compounding factors. For direct support beneficiaries (the disabled, orphans, the elderly, people living with HIV/AIDS) who have no other sources of income, price increases and the reduction of food transfers in the programme from 10 to eight months could have a negative impact on this group.

Lack of strong market intermediaries

Gully treatment to reduce soil erosion and stabilize land so as to enhance ground water recharge

The production of economic crops like vegetables, spices, and fruit is expanding in rural communities, especially as access to irrigation water through the public works is increasing. Lack of strong market intermediaries, however, in these rural and marginalised areas is creating a disincentive to production. Additional efforts are needed, therefore, to strengthen the market environment by developing market infrastructure, market information dissemination systems, and strengthening market intermediaries.

PSNP graduation

Graduation from PSNP needs special attention. To encourage household to graduate and reduce risks associated with graduation, households who are in a good position to progress towards graduation should get a food transfer for fewer months than other client groups.

Health and nutrition

Using screening and nutrition surveys could help to highlight potential areas that need special attention. In addition, nutrition survey on the impact of PSNP could be used to design approaches to achieve greater impact on nutrition outcomes, particularly stunting.


The roll out of the PSNP through which the most vulnerable households are guaranteed food resources has helped in maintaining and/or improving nutrition levels. This is complemented by increases in confidence and aspirations by PSNP households evident in their widened participation in food security packages that in turn have enhanced the ability to cope with shocks.

For further information, contact: Tesfay Desta, email tdesta22@yahoo.com

130 by 30 cluster methodology was employed in all six PSNP woredas.

2MSc by Teklebirhan Aydebeb

Imported from FEX website


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