People trickle into the clearing, their feet kicking up dust as they make their way to a huge tree. They sit on the ground, men on one side, women on the other tugging at the scarves around their heads. As more people join, they begin discussions, gesticulating as they debate the community's greatest needs: building a hospital? reforesting a barren hillside? constructing a road?
Mohammad, a 54-year-old father of six, has participated in many such discussions over the years. He joined the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) in 2005 after the community was asked by the Government of Ethiopia to select households facing chronic food insecurity. Mohammad’s neighbours chose him because, though hardworking, he had a low crop output. His family was among the poorest of the poor in the community.
PSNP is designed to help the rural poor facing chronic food insecurity resist shocks like high food prices or extreme weather. It does this by protecting their assets and enabling them to become self-sufficient in food. During the hunger season, PSNP provides transfers of food, cash or a combination of both to tide the chronically food-insecure over food shortages. The initiative also helps them avoid depleting their assets. PSNP is supported by WFP and eight other development partners.
Through PSNP, Mohammad received extensive training in watershed maintenance and water conservation. He began rehabilitating watersheds, building terraces, and repairing dams, waterways and drains to prevent flooding. In exchange for his work, Mohammad received regular food and cash assistance. He currently gets 50 Birr (US$3) and 15 kg of wheat per month every three months. “PSNP helps bridge the gap,” he says.
Using the lessons he learned from PSNP, Mohammad began applying the same strategies to his own land. Despite being a competent farmer, he realised that the farm’s low yield was due to its proximity to a watershed which often flooded, leading to degradation of the land. By learning how to manage his natural resources, Mohammad was able to improve the fertility of the soil. His farm now produces sorghum and teff - the latter is used to make injera, traditional Ethiopian bread. He says his output has increased since he started applying his training.
Mohammad puts most of his earnings towards his children’s education. The remainder goes towards buying sheep and goats. The two oxen he uses for plowing have further boosted productivity.
“So many changes have occurred since PSNP” he reflects. “My family eats three times a day now.” He points proudly to his digital watch which he bought with profits from his farm.
Mohammad expects to be self-sufficient within the next year. He is confident he can continue using the information gleaned from PSNP to improve his life. “I’m devoted to my work and to increasing my productivity,” he says.
Mohammad hopes that one day he will make enough money for his children to get more education and go to university. He knows it will be difficult but is convinced he can succeed.