Ethiopia receives World Bank financing to help 8.3 million food insecure people through 2015 By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

April 9th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Although Ethiopia has been fighting to get past its hunger and famine image, it has hardly managed to do so with several million people still dependent on international food aid — just to be alive.

It should not come as surprise that, during a presentation on 4 April 2012 at Stanford University, California, in response to a questioner’s concern about Ethiopian productivity and the various policy bottlenecks and poverty-related problems, Bill Gates explained, “Ethiopia is a very interesting case, because it has more food insecure people who need food aid than any country in the world.”

This is the kind of truism that annoys Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. We now know that the task of ‘overhauling Ethiopian agriculture’, which has been taking place with utmost secrecy is now becoming public knowledge. For instance, following the meeting Meles Zenawi had with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah on April 5, 2012, the Ethiopian News Agency, quoting a foreign ministry official for the first time reported that the two “discussed as to how overhaul the agriculture system in Ethiopia.”

That article should be honored for cryptically signaling a watershed in Ethiopian agriculture, which I would not dare to call it a new beginning.

In fact, the deal was done with Bill Gates on 28 March, after “a couple of hours” of haggling in his first trip to Ethiopia. It appears that he has won a few concessions and leaving the rest for future contacts, which he described as “another chapter”, during his presentation. This page would discuss it in a forthcoming article.

Ethiopia is still a country of several million people that are in dire need of assistance — possibly for a long time to come — just to be alive. It is unlikely we have learnt as a nation that either denying altogether the existence of widespread hunger in the country or covering it up even in the early phases of harsh droughts, as some human lives and substantial livestock perish, helps. The way forward is greater openness and transparency and facing the problem head on.

We are staring at a very serious problem in Ethiopia. The reason — Bill Gates says, “Their agriculture is not working…they had messed up in terms of fertilizer distribution, farmer education, not using the latest varieties of the crops.”

He is optimistic though that the project he now is helping through the Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA), the Gates Foundation recommended its creation to Meles Zenawi and is accepted. In hoping against hope, one should expect that Gates the entrepreneur and the philanthropist would make important achievements. However, Ethiopians may not expect much out of it, as Mr. Gates seems to want and believe. Removal of the obstacles in fornt of his project and the scientific community calls for tackling the Ethiopian developmental problem in a holistic manner.

Productive Safety Net Project (PSNP)

In the meantime, the task of saving lives must be left to others. For six years now, the problem of killer hunger in Ethiopia has officially been contained, not by the productive capacity of Ethiopia’s economy but by international food aid, euphemistically called Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). Even at this very moment, according to reports filtering out of the country, in some remote corners people are dying of hunger, the situation worsening because of the terrible food shortages resulting from the last drought and the longstanding double-digit food inflation that has made food inaccessible.

The magnitude of the problem seems to be in line with recent conclusion by the International Food Policy Institute (IFPRI), which acknowledges, “Ethiopia’s government safety net program, for example, reaches 8 million people [under normal times] but covers only about 25 percent of the country’s poor.”

There is no doubt that the PSNP has helped save several million lives, ranging from 7.5 million people under normal times, to higher ups by several millions. Nevertheless, the project has a number of problems, especially about the graduation criteria of beneficiaries. The World Bank blames the government; government blames donors. Most of all, a few experts in the World Bank have doubts, and rightly so, that the success of the project is dependent on a poorly constructed tool of assessing graduating beneficiaries.

Moreover, its role should not be confused with other development activities/initiatives, since that is not PSNP’s role. The PSNP is only another means of keeping alive the millions of people it has been supporting since 2005. It is a fact that only a small number of beneficiaries get to successfully graduate from that program, some thousands, not to speak of returnees into the program.

Therefore, if there is genuine interest in changing this situation, I mean in the interests of the beneficiaries, the World Bank and its patrons must look beyond the mere handing out food aid and small amounts of cash. These activities must be calibrated, in the interest of the beneficiaries, to facilitate their graduation — judging their situation with appropriate yardsticks. this would help them stand on their two feet and become self-supporting and self-sustaining productive citizens.

The existing measures are not efficient, as even the press release, announcing the approval of a credit of $370 million toward the beneficiaries, seems to belabor. It is announced therein that the beneficiaries number would reach 8.3 million by 2015. In addition to the other problems discussed above, the number of beneficiaries is simply dubious. How did they get to that number, why not even possibly on the upper or lower end.

In such a press release, the Bank speaks to the people around the world. But I regret to say it acts, as if it does not take into account, if at all, the evaluation reports written about its work, especially regarding the very subject we are discussing. If it continues to do this, it would hurt its own credibility, giving the impression that it is behaving like some propaganda addicted governments.

In this regard, I should point out that the evaluation report is generous in rating the Bank’s performance as SATISFACTORY, and the government’s MODERATELY SATISFACTORY.

I am referring here to the evaluation report by the Independent Evaluation Group and the recommendations thereon. For instance, in its June 2011 report entitled, ROJECT PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT REPORT: PRODUCTIVE SAFETY NET PROJECT (CR. 4004, IDA Grant H136, TF056013), it highlighted the problems around PSNP and recommended further work in respect of the management and how the project should be reformulated to serve the interests of the beneficiaries’ successful graduation from PSNP, instead of keeping them dependent on aid or pushing them out–fore prestige sake–before they are equipped to face life with their own means.

Here is one of the problems the evaluation group has identified:

Despite widespread public, government and donor support for the PSNP (including financial resourcing until 2015) and the many improvements made, there remain significant risks to the program.

First, claims that political affiliations influence access to the PSNP continue, despite the Bank putting numerous safeguards in place, including monitoring systems and independent evaluations.

Second, Ethiopia has the ninth fastest growing population in the world with an annual increase of more than three percent. Given the importance attached to graduation from the PSNP (i.e. raising household income such that it is no longer food insecure) and reversing the trend in chronic food insecurity, population growth is likely to undermine progress towards achieving the very ambitious goals of the PSNP and may undermine government and donor support for the program.

Third, donor willingness to fund the PSNP is partly influenced by government performance on governance and democracy and this remains a significant risk to development outcomes in the PSNP.

Finally, government commitment to the PSNP was (and continues to be) dependent on unrealistic graduation objectives that involve highly ambitious objectives of reducing food insecurity.

Press here to read the full press release issued by the World Bank

*This article is reissued after correcting some errors in the original relating to some financial data and related editorial reasons. Our apologies for that!

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