Completed Research

Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme: Addressing Food Insecurity with Food and Cash Transfers

University of Toronto

Prior to 2005, approaches to food insecurity in Ethiopia did not address the root causes of hunger. With the support of international donors, the Productive Safety Net Program was introduced to tackle climate resilience, community capacity building and rural market penetration through food and cash transfers. As of April 2020, the Productive Safety Net Program supports over 8 million of the most food-insecure people across Ethiopia.

The Hard to Reach

People experiencing food insecurity throughout Ethiopia

Key Takeaways

The PSNP went from supporting 4.5 million of the most food insecure people in its first year (2005), to over eight million people in 2020.

  1. Moving to scale the PSNP (despite limited piloting in just the highland regions) required the government, donors, NGOs, and other stakeholders to be adaptive and flexible, which led to all parties being much more willing to compromise.
  2. At every level of the PSNP’s institutional framework, there was clear collaboration and dialogue. It instituted a more harmonious and collaborative, community-level targeting system via regional and local councils and task forces, giving local administrators more responsibility, flexibility, and jurisdiction rather than leaning on a more rigidly defined federal-level system. At all levels, the push toward collaboration allowed parties to leverage the others’ skill sets and expertise, while also better understanding the barriers and challenges that each stakeholder faced. This collaborative effort also ensured success since the program was less likely to fail with a shift of government or staff turnover.
  3. The shift from solely emergency aid to emergency and chronic aid signaled a need to develop productive and sustainable solutions while still accounting for shocks in dire circumstances.
  4. The final key to the PSNP’s success was the level of accountability for all levels – from a government-led drive to move away from a donor reliant model, to local councils taking responsibility for their communities resulting in lower appeal rates.


This research was made possible through the Reach Alliance, a partnership between the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. Research was also funded by the Canada Research Chairs program and the Ralph and Roz Halbert Professorship of Innovation at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. We express our gratitude and appreciation to those we met and interviewed in Ethiopia, including staff at the World Bank and international donor organizations, NGOs, implementing partners, and government officials. We are so grateful for the insights they shared and without which this report would not have been possible. We also thank our extended research team: Tseday Tiluan.

This research was vetted and received approval from the Ethics Review Board at the University of Toronto.