Aschale Dagnachew Siyoum is an Assistant Professor of Food Security and Rural Livelihoods at Bahir Dar University, Ethiopia; Dorothea Hilhorst is a Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction in Disaster Studies at Wageningen University, The Netherlands; and Gerrit-Jan van Uffelen is the Coordinator of the LEAFS Research Program in Disaster Studies at Wageningen University, The Netherlands.

Introduction
Long-term provision of aid to people in need of assistance has been associated with fear of creating a dependency syndrome.[1] The primary concerns are that beneficiaries will lose the motivation to work to improve their own livelihoods after receiving benefits, or that they will deliberately reduce their work efforts in order to qualify for the transfer.[2],[3] Governments and development actors use such concerns to justify introducing safety net programs in the form of labor-intensive public works, which aim to support chronically food-insecure households in developing countries. This paper strives to answer the question of whether long-term recipients of aid develop a dependency syndrome, reducing their own efforts to improve their livelihoods, by analyzing the behavior and livelihoods activities of food aid beneficiary households in rural Ethiopia, where food aid has been provided every year for over two decades.

Food insecurity resulting from poverty, recurrent drought, and soil and land degradation is a persistent problem in Ethiopia.[4],[5] Ethiopia has been experiencing famine and food insecurity for over a century.[6],[7] Agriculture in Ethiopia is characterized by its subsistence nature and dependence on unreliable rainfall patterns. Irrigation is limited; only about 2% of the country’s arable land is irrigated.[8] This, together with extensive soil erosion, low levels of fertiliser use, and susceptibility to diseases and pests, has resulted in the low performance of the agricultural sector since the 1960s.[9]

Ethiopian governments have tried to address the issue of food insecurity in the country. However, none of them have successfully addressed the problem. Structural attempts to address food insecurity started in the mid-1970s. However, neither the Imperial regime during the 1974-75 famine nor the Derg[10] regime during the 1984-85 famine had effective safety net mechanisms in place to deal with the consequences of severe droughts that occurred at the time.[11] Consequently, a large proportion of the population has been surviving on imported food aid for many decades. Currently, it is estimated that over eight million people receive food aid under the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) to cover their food shortages.[12] The 2011 food crisis in the Horn exacerbated the issue. Of the 13.3 million people in need of food assistance in the Horn of Africa, 4.6 million were in Ethiopia.[13]

In Ethiopia, food aid has been an important mechanism by which chronically food-insecure households survive. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of food aid in the world. [14],[15] Due to insufficient food production and recurrent food shortages, the country has been dependent on food aid for decades. Since 1984, more than five million people have been annually dependent on food aid, reflecting the chronic nature of food insecurity.[16] In 1999-2000, for example, of the estimated 62 million people in the country, 16% of the total population received food aid.[17] At the same time, the amount of food aid as a share of Ethiopia’s foreign exchange earnings grew at alarming rate from about 2% in the 1950s to over 40% in the mid-1990s.[18]

Drought and famine are the major drivers of food aid flows to Ethiopia. The proportion of Ethiopians affected by drought and famine rose from 4% in the 1972-74 famine to over 20% during 2002-2003 food crisis.[19] At the same time, the number of people requiring food aid also reached its highest level of about 13 million people in 2003.[20] As a result, the amount of food aid required to mitigate the impact of drought and famine in 2002-03 was the highest in Ethiopian history, with an estimated amount of 1.4 million metric tons.[21],[22]

Massive investments in the food aid program did not change the food security situation for people in Ethiopia. Despite decades of food aid, food insecurity remains a key challenge. The country has remained one of the most food-insecure in the world with nearly half of the population being undernourished. [23],[24],[25],[26] In an attempt to address this issue, the government introduced the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) and the Other Food Security Programs (OFSPs) in 2005. These programs are designed to help beneficiary households become self-sufficient. The PSNP program started by assisting 5 million people; by the end of the first phase of the program in 2009, the number of beneficiaries had reached 8.3 million people.[27]

Many development actors, including the Ethiopian government, seek an explanation for continued reliance on food aid in Ethiopia.  Accusations of dependency syndrome are controversial and worth investigating.

Though studies on the dependency debate in relation to food aid in Ethiopia have been conducted, most were either extensive literature reviews or employed qualitative semi-structured interviews and household economic data,[28],[29] giving little attention to the views and perceptions of beneficiaries. As a result, existing studies fail to take into account people’s own experiences and perceptions, which are vital in understanding people’s dependency situations. It is, therefore, the intention of this paper to fill this gap by analyzing how the decades-long availability of food aid has affected people’s livelihoods activities.

Methodology
This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in a chronically food-insecure district in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, for approximately 18 months from February 2009 to July 2010 in response to the question: How do people perceive the role of food aid in their livelihoods and how does this relate to notions of dependency syndrome?

The paper used household surveys and in-depth interviews in order to collect relevant data. Both recurrent and thematic interviews were undertaken with case study households. In total this study investigated 112 households (73 current PSNP beneficiary and 39 previous food aid beneficiary households) purposely selected on the basis of their access to current PSNP program and previous food aid programs. A household survey was conducted with all 112 households. Of these households, 20 were randomly selected to be part of a panel for recurring in-depth interviews. Over the 18-month period, the 20 panel households were interviewed every month, in order to gain a more in-depth understanding of their perceptions of dependency syndrome. This in-depth interview approach aimed to obtain information about households’ behavior and reactions in response to food aid availability. Through this process, which involved a daily presence in the field, the research team was able to build trust with the community. This, in turn, enabled the team to observe research participants in their natural settings and speak openly regarding food aid experiences. While the use of in-depth interviews enabled the team to have a more detailed understanding of the situation, it used survey results to cross-check and validate panel findings.

In addition to in-depth interviews, six focus group discussions were held with members of the community who were selected based on their knowledge of the study area. The objective was to collect information relevant to community-level opinions about the existence of attitudes of dependency in the area. Finally, the methodology included eight key informant interviews with Ethiopian officials at different administrative levels, including representatives of community elders, Kebele administrators, development agents, district agricultural officials, and experts at the regional food security bureau. This provided information about how dependency was viewed by different stakeholders at different levels.

Measuring the extent of household dependency syndrome is not simple, as it relates to household behavior. As such, this study used proxy indicators[30] to analyze whether beneficiaries of food aid modified their behavior in anticipation of aid. In order to achieve this objective, aid beneficiary households were asked about the reliability of food aid, the share of food aid in household’s food consumption and the type and nature of livelihood activities households pursue to improve their livelihood and food security status. Reliability of food aid in this sense refers to the sufficiency, timeliness and predictability of transfers. Since dependency syndrome is defined as a behavioral change caused by beneficiaries anticipation of food aid, farmers’ experiences regarding these indicators can show local people’s perceptions and attitudes toward aid.

Though this research has tried to address the issue of dependency syndrome in the context of decades-long availability of food aid, the study is not without limitations. It is focused on two research villages in one of the districts of Amhara region and based on a small number of cases studies, which is not enough of a representative sampling strategy to make generalizations about dependency on food aid in Ethiopian overall. Moreover, it was challenging to cross-check the reliability of data obtained through in-depth interviews. Though an attempt was made to build trust with members of the community through the day-to-day presence of the researchers in the study area, there is still a possibility that interviewed households were not completely honest or accurate in their responses. And finally, since this paper is based on qualitative data collected through interviews, it difficult to determine if there is a casual relationship between food aid and attitudes of dependency syndrome.

In order to inform decision-making processes and address issues of dependency syndrome, similar research is needed in other chronically food insecure areas. Such research should focus on better understanding people’s perceptions of food aid and the nature of dependency. However, regardless of the limitations, the results discussed in this paper provide important insights regarding what should be taken into account when dealing with local people’s behavior and dependence on food aid and thus have significant implications for future research on the subject.

The Study Area
The study was undertaken in Ebinat district, one of the chronically food-insecure districts in northern Amhara, Ethiopia. About 94 percent[31] of the district’s population lives in rural areas. Peoples’ livelihoods are highly dependent on agriculture; about 95 percent[32] of the rural population earns its livelihood from agriculture directly or indirectly.[33] Rainfall patterns are, however, unreliable, resulting in crop loss.

Food insecurity in northern Amhara is a long-term phenomenon caused by a combination of both natural and man-made factors. These include unreliable rainfall pattern, frequent drought, dependence on unpredictable weather conditions, poor soil fertility, land degradation, lack of modern agricultural inputs, limited credit facilities and lack of alternative income sources outside agriculture[34]. Based on information obtained from the District Agricultural Office, the average land holding is less than a hectare per household. As a result, production of cereals is insufficient to support an average family size of 5.5 people.[35] Many households are thus vulnerable to chronic food insecurity.

The district has experienced both chronic and acute food insecurity for more than two decades. Consequently, large numbers of people have depended on food aid to cover part of household food gaps since the mid-1980s. Information obtained from the District Agricultural Office indicates that on average, a quarter of the households in northern Amhara have been receiving annual food aid since the mid-1980s.

Discussions with agricultural office experts and results from focus group discussions reveal that food aid distribution started in the mid-1980s when the northern parts of the country were hit by severe drought, resulting in the deaths of thousands of people. Since then food aid has been distributed on an annual basis. Household interviews show that when food aid was introduced in the area for the first time, it was provided without requiring that households invest their labor in public works. Official documents from the District Agricultural Office also reveal that food aid was provided to needy households for free until the Employment Generation Scheme (EGS)[36] was established in 1993. Moreover, during the 1980s, food aid was provided to many households irrespective of households’ food insecurity situation.

However, since 1993, beneficiary households have been required to participate in the Food-for-Work (FFW) program under EGS. EGS was a major component of the National Policy on Disaster Prevention and Management (NPDPM), introduced in 1993 by the Ethiopian government to address the causes of disaster and the imminent threat of famine and recurrent drought in the country. One of the objectives of implementing EGS was to address the issue of dependency that farmers could develop as a result of free food distribution.[37] However, due to limited capacity of local level implementers, enforcement was limited. Interviewed local officials argued that, during the EGS program, there were no clear targeting criteria for selecting people for the program.

Later in 2005, the government started the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). The PSNP program has clear targeting criteria. It is primarily for people who are chronically food-insecure and who have faced at least three months of food gap over three consecutive years.[38] The program also requires able-bodied members to invest their labor in public works projects for five days per month per household members to be eligible for resource transfer. Official documents[39] at the District Agricultural Office showed that since the introduction of the PSNP in 2005, on average about 74,400 people—roughly 34 percent of the total rural population of the district—have been receiving support in the form of food aid and/or cash transfers (See Table 1). Large numbers of households have been relying on food aid to cover part of their household food gaps, even in normal years. As such, there is a widespread belief among local government officials and experts at the district level that local people have developed a dependency syndrome and lack interest in engaging in activities to improve their own livelihoods.

Dependency Syndrome: Conceptual Definition
Barbara Harrell-Bond introduced the term ‘dependency syndrome’ in 1982 to describe refugees during her research in Ugandan refugees in Sudan. She observed a tendency for aid workers to attribute a dependency syndrome to refugees, which she described as “the real and apparent lack of support for each other, the refusal to co-operate under conditions where co-operation appears advantageous, and the prevalence of destructive and anti-social behavior.[40] Kibreab[41] and van Uffelen[42] have challenged this concept; their research suggests that dependency is a myth and stereotype rather than a reality. Kibreab, for example, argued that refugees use all the available means at their disposal to cope with crisis and improve their situation.[43]

Dependency syndrome is a general term that is not clearly defined. One of the most popular ways of defining it is based on who is dependent on aid. In this regard, Lind and Jalleta’s[44] analysis of dependency syndrome can be classified into two broad categories. The first is ‘beneficiary dependency’, which refers to the dependency of local people who receive food aid for survival. The second refers to the dependency of the entire aid apparatus, which includes the government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), as well as donor agencies, as being dependent on relief assistance for their existence.[45] This paper deals with the first type of dependency syndrome.

This paper adopts Little’s[46] definition of dependency syndrome as “a condition where farmers modify their social and economic behavior in anticipation of food aid.” It assumes that beneficiary households depend on external assistance to the extent that they reduce engagement in other livelihood activities that could enable them to become food self-sufficient.[47]

In Ethiopia, the dependency syndrome is explained by the special situation of prolonged food aid and by what is called ‘aspiration failure’ of local people who have lost hope for a better future. Frankenberger et al.,[48] for example, defined aspiration failure as “the lack of systematic pro-active effort to better one’s future.”[49] Bernard et al. (2011) also tried to link aspiration failure to what they called “fatalism:” a term commonly associated with poor Ethiopians that refer to “the implied acceptance of their circumstances and a lack of proactive and systematic effort to better one’s own life.”[50]

The debate over dependency syndrome in Ethiopia has strongly influenced government food aid policy since the 1980s.[51] In an attempt to address the issue, the government introduced a public works component to food aid programming. The government’s Productive Safety Net Program states that no able-bodied person should receive free food aid without working on public works activities. This policy aims to ensure that food aid should not create dependency behavior among beneficiaries.[52],[53],[54]

In developing the current Food Security Program, a key government aim was to reduce the dependency of beneficiary households on government handouts by promoting self-sufficiency. The recent food security policy of the government aims to ‘graduate’ food aid beneficiary households after five years of support, which is a major attempt to reduce the dependency of households on external assistance.

Food aid and people’s perception of dependency
Due to the inability of farmers to grow enough food crops, large numbers of people in the study area have been receiving food aid since from the mid-1980s to cover their food gaps. Local officials and development actors working in the area argue that such provision of food aid for an extended period of time is an obstacle to tackling reliance on food aid. During interviews with government officials at the district level, officials think people suffer from a dependency syndrome. The head of the District Agricultural Office, for example, explained that “due to availability of food aid for many years, farmers have developed a dependency syndrome and have become reluctant to improve their lives. As a consequence they are not willing to use their potential to improve their livelihood by themselves.” Officials and experts generally describe local people as unwilling to invest their time and resources to improve their own wellbeing.

Reliability of food aid
For households to depend on food aid and opt not to invest available resources in improving their food security, provision of food aid should be reliable.

Interviewed food aid beneficiary households and Kebele[55] administrators explained that, based on their experience of food aid delivery since the mid-1980s, food aid was not reliable. Sixty-two percent of the interviewed households argued that food aid usually arrived later than scheduled and that as a result they hardly depended on food aid, even in times of crisis. The following account of a farmer regarding the distribution of food aid in the 1980s and 1990s is telling:

“Food aid usually comes after we have used our available means to survive and even after we sold our productive assets. Moreover, when it finally arrives in our Kebele, we don’t know whether we will be eligible to receive it or not.”

Even under the current productive safety net program, wgich was supposed to ensure a predictable transfer for targeted beneficiaries, interviewed households complained about the delays of food and cash transfers. Although official documentation states that the reliability and timeliness of the resource transfer is central to the program’s success[56], interviewed PSNP beneficiary households reported that most of the time they received their payments late. During the fieldwork period, households were not paid for two months following completion of the public works.

During focus group discussions, people argued that they did not have confidence in the predictability of the transfer. Most of the beneficiary households also said that they were not sure whether they would continue receiving food/cash transfers, as frequent retargeting exercises and the implementation of ‘graduation’ might disqualify them from being entitled to such benefits. Though transfers are guaranteed in principle for a five-year period, the retargeting and ‘graduation’ means that people perceive food/cash transfers as uncertain.

Share of food aid in household’s food need
The share of total household food needs that is made up of food aid also influences whether families can count on food aid. Interviewed officials both at the district and regional levels argued that when households experience shocks, food aid is the majority of household’s food needs. Accordingly, households were asked if the food aid was enough to cover annual household food needs during shortages.

Households’ responses, however, revealed that experiences did not reflect official assumptions. Survey results show that, for more than 60 percent of the interviewed households, the amount of food aid was not enough to cover household food needs during shortages. Beneficiaries argued that food aid constituted a small share of the total household food requirement. When asked about the share of food aid as a percentage of total household food needs, current safety net public works beneficiary households, for example, argued that on average food aid contributes about 20 percent of the total household food needs (See Table 2).

Interviewed current PSNP beneficiary households explained that, though large numbers of households received safety net support, no one was entirely dependent on safety net transfers to cover their household food requirements. Households argued that they engaged in other livelihood activities to cover their household food gaps in addition to receiving food aid.

While 60 percent of interviewed households acknowledged the importance of food aid in covering part of their food shortages, they revealed that food aid fell short of covering critical needs at the household level. They argued that food aid transfers fail to help them achieve food self-sufficiency. One interviewee said:

“We have six family members and we have been getting food aid under the productive safety net program over the last five years. However, the amount of food aid that we have been receiving was not enough to cover our food gaps and we always have to supplement our income from other sources.”

Accordingly, survey results show that, in addition to the food aid they were receiving, about 65 percent of the surveyed households depended on the sale of productive assets like livestock and credit to cover consumption gaps in times of need (See Table 3).

Another interviewee expressed why they were not entirely dependent on food aid to cover their food gaps:

“The amount of food aid that we receive is small and is not enough to cover our food gaps. Therefore, we are not entirely dependent on food aid to cover our food shortages. We have to engage in other activities to be able to cover our food needs throughout the year.”

This farmer’s perception was shared by more than 60 percent of the interviewed households. Generally, focus group discussions revealed that beneficiary households could not rely on food aid alone to cover food gaps, mainly for the following four reasons:

  • Small amount of transfer as compared to total food consumption needs
  • Delays in food aid transfer
  • Dilution of transfer due to sharing of one’s quota with other unregistered households
  • Lack of full family targeting.[57]

Types and nature of livelihood activities
Another issue in the dependency syndrome debate is the types and natures of livelihood activities households’ pursue to improve their livelihoods. One of local officials’ main arguments is farmers’ perceived lack of interest in engaging in livelihood activities to supplement their income. To take up this issue, households were asked about the type of livelihood activities they pursued in order to cover household’s food requirement.

Households’ responses revealed that for the majority of poor farmers, food aid is one of the many sources contributing to their livelihood portfolios. Interviewed households explained that they engaged in multiple activities to earn income and support their families. For example, one interviewed household head explained that he could not depend on food aid alone to cope with crisis: “If we were waiting for the food aid without doing anything else, we would not be here talking about food aid at this time.” Survey results also show that, as food aid was insufficient to cover household food gaps, households engaged in as many livelihood activities as possible. Table 4 shows the number of livelihood activities households in the area pursued to cover their food shortages.

As indicated in the table, the majority of households’ livelihood portfolios included more than one livelihood activity. 42% of the households employed at least four types of livelihood activities to earn a living, while about 53% of them employed 2-3 types of livelihood activities. Interview results also revealed that the major livelihood activities people in the area undertook included subsistence farming, casual labor, petty trading, seasonal migration and other non-farm activities (See Table 5).

Discussion with beneficiary households further revealed that, during crises, instead of entirely depending on relief assistance, people tried to maximise the number of livelihood activities they undertook in order to diversify their source of income. This is in line with the observation by Ellis[58] and Young et al.[59] who argued that for people affected by crisis, external aid is one of the many ways in which people survive.

Table 6 shows the major types of coping strategies, apart from receiving food aid, that people in the study area pursued in order to overcome household food shortages in times of crisis. Literature on coping strategies supports these findings.[60],[61],[62],[63],[64]. Corbett,[65] for example, argued that aid is one of the many different mechanisms that people use to deal with shortages during a crisis situation.

This finding challenges the assumption that people are passive recipients of aid. Survey results demonstrate that in times of crisis, about 70 percent of interviewed households pursued at least seven different types of coping strategies in addition to receiving food aid to deal with their food shortages. This result suggests that the limited nature of food aid forced people to employ a diversified livelihood strategy to earn their survival income.

Can the dependency syndrome explain people’s behavior?
Targeting problems can contribute to the dependency syndrome. This is especially true when people receive food aid when they do not need external assistance to smooth their consumption. This is what Lentz and Barrett[66] described as a negative dependency, which occurs when individuals’ or households’ needs are met at the expense of recipients’ capacity to meet their own basic needs in the future. This makes targeting a critical issue in the management of food aid as it may ‘cultivate’ a dependency syndrome.

As discussed earlier, in the study area, people were provided with food aid irrespective of households’ food insecurity status in the 1980s and 1990s. This seems to have created a dependency attitude for some households. This is reflected by the fact that some interviewed households believed that they should be eligible for transfers even if they were not chronically food-insecure by local standards. In this regard, some households in the study area tried to portray themselves as chronically food-insecure and by doing so expected to have access to food aid transfers. Especially in one of the villages, during a focus group discussion, there seemed to be a general unwillingness to use the term “better-off” among community representatives. There was also a tendency to exaggerate the problem when it comes to food-gap related questions especially for non-beneficiary households. However, this self-representation of households as in need of food aid cannot be described as a dependency syndrome.

Instead, it can be labelled with what Utas[67] described as “victimcy,” which refers to self-representation as victim, in order to be a “legitimate recipient” of humanitarian aid. In the same way Bakewell[68] indicated how labeling people (in this case as having a dependency syndrome) encourages people to describe themselves in terms of that particular label. Woods[69] furthermore described labeling as “an act of valuation and judgement involving prejudices and stereotyping.” Wood argued that labeling is used by those who create and impose labels to determine access to resources, to set rules for inclusion and exclusion, and to determine eligibility for resource transfers. He explained that: “People are thus compelled to adjust their behavior, to redefine the way they present themselves in order to handle access successfully.”[70] This, however, should not be interpreted as a sign of people’s dependency syndrome. According to Bakewell,[71] it is rather an active response to strengthen and diversify their resource base.

Therefore, the attempt by some households in the study area to portray themselves as chronically food-insecure and in need of food aid is best explained by “victimcy,” rather than by dependency syndrome. It represents an attempt by households to secure access to resource transfers that otherwise they would not have access to.

Generally, results of this research reveal that in the study area there is no evidence a dependency syndrome or a dependency mentality among food aid beneficiary households. Research findings indicate that, given households’ experience with food aid transfer for over two decades, it is unlikely that food aid beneficiary households have developed a dependency syndrome as a result the decade’s long availability of food aid transfers. The amount of transfer as a share of overall household food needs is limited while the reliability and predictability is not guaranteed. As a result, farmers cannot afford to depend on such transfers and engage in diversified sources of income even in times of crisis. However, due to limited livelihood opportunities to improve their food security status, a large number of households depend on food aid transfers to cover part of their food shortages. This is a reflection of positive dependency and should not be confused with dependency syndrome, which is characterized by unwillingness to engage in life-changing activities due to anticipation of external transfers.

Conclusion
Due to its inability to produce enough food for its population, Ethiopia has been dependent on foreign food aid for more than three decades. The country is one of the largest recipients of food aid in the world. Massive amounts of resources have been transferred to the country since the mid-1970s in the form of relief aid, but this has not addressed the problem of food insecurity. Currently, more than 8 million people are dependent on food aid as part of Ethiopia’s productive safety net program. In this regard, government officials and development actors have attributed a dependency mentality of beneficiary households as one of the reasons for the country’s failure to deal with the issue of food insecurity successfully.

This paper has looked into the dependency syndrome debate in the context of long-term food aid transfers in one of the chronically food-insecure districts in Amhara region, Northern Ethiopia. Using ethnographic research this paper has studied a group of 112 past and current food aid beneficiary households for over a period of 18 months. It has attempted to understand impact of food aid transfers on the dependency syndrome.

Findings show that, as opposed to what is often assumed, food aid transfers contributed to only a small amount of overall household food needs. Results also reveal that food aid transfers were often made after households used all available means to cover their food shortages. Even under the PSNP program, where predictable and timely resource transfers are seen as central to smooth consumption and avoid the sale of productive assets, food aid transfers were unreliable. Discussion results also demonstrated that households do not rely on food aid alone to cover their food gaps because transfers comprise only a small amount of total food consumption needs; there are often delays in food aid transfer making delivery unreliable, sharing transfer with another unregistered household and lack of full family targeting. Research findings generally indicate that in situations characterized by unreliable food aid transfer, it is unlikely that households would reduce engagement in other livelihood activities in anticipation of food aid. It further suggests that households engaged in as many livelihood activities as possible in times of crisis to increase the possibility of earning additional income to cover household food gaps.

It is important that when households should be able to depend on food aid to meet their basic needs when they face livelihood shocks and are unable to cover food gaps alone. However, this kind of dependence on food aid should not be confused with a dependency syndrome. These two types of dependence are fundamentally different. The inability to produce enough food in the face of environmental degradation and external shocks, such as recurrent drought, and the limited possibilities for other livelihood opportunities and the resulting need for seeking additional support should not be interpreted as an indication of a dependency syndrome.

It may be argued that the government and development stakeholders are using the dependency syndrome argument as a scapegoat for the failure of the food security program in addressing the root causes of food insecurity in the country. In line with this, this paper demonstrates how a dependency argument has been used to introduce the ‘graduation’ concept in the food security programming since 2004. Though introducing the concept of graduation is not inappropriate by itself, households should graduate in line with the technical criteria and not for other reasons as this may render households even more vulnerable than they were at the start of the program. This also may result in making households highly dependent on external assistance for their survival in the future.

Low agricultural productivity in the study area and households’ dependence on food aid should not be interpreted as a consequence of farmers’ dependency syndrome. Rather it indicates weakness of the government’s food security strategy in introducing innovative technologies that address underlying food production failures. The major structural problems responsible for the persistence of food insecurity, namely poor soil fertility, environmental degradation, population pressure, fragmented landholdings, and lack of income-generating opportunities outside of agriculture, have not been addressed.

However, the government and its development partners continue to incorrectly claim that suffer from dependency syndrome, which may lead to a wrong diagnosis and, inevitably, inappropriate responses.[72],[73] This to a considerable extent explains what is happening in the study area. Attributing a dependency syndrome to aid beneficiaries may shift the focus away from addressing the root causes of food insecurity.

In this regard, the research findings suggest that, if the problem of food insecurity is to be addressed effectively in Ethiopia, it should not be focused on efforts to address dependency syndrome. Rather, the government and its international partners should focus instead on addressing the major structural problems discussed above in order to provide vulnerable households with an opportunity to move out of poverty and food insecurity permanently.


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[2] Margaret Grosh et al., For Protection and Promotion: The Design and Implementation of Effective Safety Nets (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2008), 37.

[3] Bram J. Jansen, “The Accidental City: Violence, Economy and humanitarianism in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya” (PhD diss., Wageningen University, 2011).

[4] Fekadu Nigussa and Ignatius Mberengwa, “Challenges of productive safety net program implementation at local level: the case of Kuyu Woreda, North Shewa zone, Oromiya region, Ethiopia,” Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa 11, no.1 (2009): 249.

[5] John Hoddinott et al., Evaluation of Ethiopia’s Food Security Program: Documenting progress in the implementation of the Productive Safety Nets Program and the Household Asset Building Program, Draft Report (Washington D.C.: IFPRI, 2011), 1.

[6] Ashenafi G. Gobena, “Triticale production in Ethiopia: Its impacts on food security and poverty alleviation in Amhara region” (PhD Diss., Faculty of Organic Agricultural Sciences, University of Kassel, 2008), 1.

[7] Richard Pankhurst, The History of Famine and Epidemics in Ethiopia Prior to the Twentieth Century (Addis Ababa: Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, 1985): 4.

[8] FAO/WFP, Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. Special report: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Ethiopia (Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006): 25.

[9] Stein T. Holden and Bekele Shiferaw, “Policy instruments for sustainable land management: the case of highland smallholders in Ethiopia,” Agricultural Economics no. 22 (2000): 217–232.

[10] The Derg, meaning “committee,” is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army that ruled Ethiopia between 1974 and 1987.

[11] Bevan and Pankhurst, 3.

[12] MoARD, Food Security Program 2010–2014 (Addis Ababa: Ministry of Agriculture, 2009), 19.

[13] OCHA, “Horn of Africa: Humanitarian Snapshot (as of 9 September 2011)” (United Nations: Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2011), 1.

[14] Erin Lentz and Christopher B. Barrett, “Food Aid Targeting, Shocks and Private Transfers among East African pastoralists,” (Paper presented at the American Agricultural Economics Association Meeting, Denver, Colorado, 2004), 2.

[15] Solomon Asfaw, Amare Mulubrhan and German Calfat, “Food Aid and Rural Poverty in Ethiopia” (Conference paper) Accessed January 9, 2012, http://www.csae.ox.ac.uk/conferences/2011-EdiA/papers/305-Asfaw.pdf, 1.

[16] MoARD, Productive Safety Net Program: Program Implementation Manual (Addis Ababa: Ministry of Agriculture, 2004), 1.

[17] Jeremy Lind and Teriessa Jalleta, Poverty, Power and Relief Assistance: Meanings and Perceptions of ‘Dependency’ in Ethiopia (London: Overseas Development Institute, HPG Background Paper, 2005), 9.

[18] Berhanu Nega and Befekadu Degefa, eds., Annual report on the Ethiopian Economy 1999/2000 (Addis Ababa: Ethiopian Economic Association, 2000), 1.

[19] EEA/EEPRI, 2.

[20] EEA/EEPRI, 2.

[21] 52 ett,  structure in Ethiopia n, please. [21] FAO/WFP, Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. Special report: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Ethiopia (Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization, 2007): 23.

[22] EEA/EEPRI, Report on the Ethiopian Economy, 3.

[23] MoARD,  Productive Safety Net Program, 1.

[24] WFP, “Country Program – Ethiopia 10430.0 (2007-2011). Executive Board Second Regular Session, Agenda item 8,” (Rome: World Food Program, 2006), 3-6.

[25] FAO/WFP, Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture. Special report: FAO/WFP crop and food supply assessment mission to Ethiopia (Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization, 2010): 27.

[26] FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World: How does international price volatility affect domestic economies and food security? (Rome: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations 2011), 44.

[27] MoARD, Food Security Program, 19.

[28] Peter D. Little, “Food aid dependency in Northeastern Ethiopia: myth or reality?,” World Development 36, no. 5 (2008): 861.

[29] Harvey and Lind, Dependency and humanitarian relief: 19.

[30] Proxy indicators are indicators used to understand people’s behavior in the study area. These indicators are used to assess if people have modified their behavior because of anticipation of food aid.

[31] Annual report of the District Agricultural Office (Ebinat, 2009), 1.

[32] Annual report (Ebinat, 2009), 1.

[33] Directly though engaging in agricultural production, or through selling their labor to work in other people’s farms.

[34] Degefa Tolossa, “Household Seasonal Food Insecurity in Oromiya Zone: Causes” (OSSREA, 2002), 1.

[35] Annual report (Ebinat, 2009), 2.

[36] EGS was a labor-intensive public works program designed to provide temporary employment for able-bodied people affected by disasters or threatened by severe food crises.

[37] TGE, National Policy on Disaster Prevention and Management (Addis Ababa: Transitional Government of Ethiopia, 1993), 27.

[38] MoARD, Productive Safety Net Program, 1-2.

[39] Annual report of the District Agricultural Office (Ebinat, 2009), 3.

[40] Barbara Harrell-Bond, Imposing Aid: Emergency Assistance to Refugees (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 283.

[41] Gaim Kibreab, “The Myth of Dependency among Camp Refugees in Somalia 1979-1989,” Journal of Refugee Studies 6, no.4 (1993), 322.

[42] Gerrit-Jan Van Uffelen, “Returning After Flight. Exploring the Decision Making Processes of Sudanese War-displaced People by Employing an Extended Version of the Theory of Reasoned Action” (PhD Diss., Wageningen University, 2006).

[43] Kibreab, The Myth of Dependency, 347.

[44] Lind and Jalleta, Poverty, Power and Relief Assistance, 5.

[45] 52 ett,  structure in Ethiopia n, please. [45] 52 ett,  structure in Ethiopia n, please.  Lind and Jalleta, 5.

[46] Little, Food aid dependency, 861.

[47] Lind and Jalleta, Poverty, Power and Relief Assistance, 10.

[48] Timothy R. Frankenberger et al, “Ethiopia: The Path to Self-Resiliency. Volume I, Final report” (Addis Ababa: CHF – Partners in Rural Development, 2007), 23.

[49] Frankenberger et al., 23.

[50] Tanguy Bernard, Dercon, Stefan and Taffesse Alemayehu Seyoum, “Beyond Fatalism – An Empirical Exploration of Self-Efficacy and Aspirations Failure in Ethiopia,” CSAE WPS/2011-03 (Oxford: University of Oxford, 2011), 2.

[51] Lind and Jalleta, Poverty, Power and Relief Assistance, 12.

 [52] TGE, National Policy:27.

 [53] Little, Food aid dependency, 865.

 [54] Thomas S. Jayne at al., “Giving to the Poor: Targeting Food Aid in Rural Ethiopia,” World Development 29, no.5 (2001): 890.

[55] Kebele is the lowest administrative structure in Ethiopia.

[56]MoARD, Productive Safety Net Program, 2.

[57] Full family targeting refers to the provision of sufficient resources to households to meet all family members’ consumption needs to help households avoid the sale of their productive assets to compensate for partial transfers.

[58] Frank Ellis, Rural Livelihoods and Diversity in Developing Countries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000): 40.

[59] Helen Young et al., Darfur – Livelihoods under Siege (Medford, MA: Feinstein International Famine Center, Tufts University, 2005), 1.

[60] Jane Corbett, “Famine and Household Coping Strategies,” World Development 16, no. 9 (1988), 1100.

[61] Patrick Webb, “Coping with drought and Food Insecurity in Ethiopia,” Disasters 17, no. 1(1993), 40.

[62] Christopher B. Barrett and Daniel G. Maxwell, Food aid after fifty years: Recasting its role (London: Routledge, 2005).

[63] Harvey and Lind, Dependency and humanitarian relief, 14.

[64] Little, Food aid dependency, 863.

[65] Corbett, Famine and Household Coping Strategies, 1100.

[66] Lentz and Barrett, Food aid and dependency, 12.

[67] 52 ett,  structure in Ethiopia n, please. [67] Mats Utas, “Victimcy, girlfriending, soldiering: Tactic agency in a young woman’s social Navigation of the Liberian war zone,” Anthropological Quarterly 78, no. 2 (2005): 408.

[68] Oliver Bakewell, “Uncovering local perspectives on humanitarian assistance and its outcomes,” Disasters 24, no. 2 (2000), 112.

[69] Geof Wood, (1985), “The politics of development policy labeling,” Development and Change 16, no. 3 (1985): 348.

[70] Wood, “The politics of development policy labeling,” 352.

[71] Bakewell, Uncovering local perspectives, 112.

[72] Harrell-Bond, Imposing Aid, 284.

[73] Bakewell, Uncovering local perspectives, 112.

2 Responses to Food aid and dependency syndrome in Ethiopia: Local perceptions

  1. Pat Alker says:

    I have found this paper very interesting and agree with the conclusion. On our visits to the country, (as interested tourists) including the Amhara region of Ethiopia, we have found farming practices that are not really fit for purpose. The lack of funds to purchase fertiliser and tools make the job of actually growing any meaningful amount of crops very difficult. With the added problem of poor soil, drought and isolation for most farmers it is a permanent struggle to grow enough to feed the family without any additional amount to sell and provide other basic needs such as soap, cooking oil, clothing. The life as a subsistence farmer is hard and to use the dependency argument is most unfair. The PSNP is also not a useful as it might sound as we are told by our friend in Lalibela (who we have help set up in his own Ladies Garment Business) that it is all very well asking farmers to work for food aid but whilst they are working they are unable to spend enough time on their own farms, tending to their growing crops and animals. I hope that this comment is of interest. Pat Alker

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