In an effort to help some of the most vulnerable people in one of Ethiopia's most food insecure regions, the government of Tigray has launched a pilot scheme to transfer cash to those least able to earn money for themselves. If successful, it could be adopted country-wide.
The scheme follows a series of interventions by the local government designed to improve food security among a fast-growing, predominantly rural population. According to a recent report published by the journal Ecology and Society, recent initiatives "such as water harvesting schemes, employment generation schemes, and promotion of technology adoption significantly contribute to a higher likelihood of household food security status" in Tigray.
According to the country's Central Statistics Office, the region, whose population is around 4.5 million has more than 217,000 orphans and 69,000 people with disabilities, as well as 119,000 destitute elders and 6,734 child-headed households
A document from the Labour Bureau explains that "the needs of this vulnerable segment of the population cannot be fully addressed with the current limited government and donor support."
Among the beneficiaries of the pilot is Tigisti Adhano, 38, a widow living in Hintalo-Wejerat.
"I have three children, all of them still in school. With the growing problem at home, I was struggling to keep them there," she said. "But now I don't think I should ever worry about that," she said, referring to a new social protection initiative from which she is benefiting.
The Social Cash Transfer Pilot Programme aims to benefit "extremely poor and at the same time labour-constrained" families, according to the region's Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs.
In addition, the programme aims at "increasing school enrolment and attendance and improving health and nutrition of children living in the target group".
Due to the effects of persistent drought, past wars, HIV/AIDS and poverty, along with the global food price hikes, the number of vulnerable people such as Tigisti and her children is high.
The project aims to set up social protection mechanisms for vulnerable groups and transfers a small amount of resources to them and assesses the impact of these transfers on their lives. It operates through Community Care Coalitions (CCCs).
The bureau is piloting a social protection minimum package in two woredas (districts), Abiadi and Hintalo-Wajirat (with a population of 17,000 and 152,000 respectively).
Across both woredas, a total of about 3,300 households will receive one or a combination of instruments, consisting of social pensions, basic household poverty grant, disability grant and child support grant. The project began on 12 August.
The grants range from 80 to 160 birr or US$4.80-$9.70 per month per household, depending on specific composition, and the project is expected to cost a total $2.3 million to March 2014.
Targeting school enrolment
Douglas Webb, one of the designers of the project, from the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said the programme was different from existing safety net initiatives "as it is designed to benefit those vulnerable people that can't work or who shouldn't be working, like under-aged children".
The indicators in other African countries show that such programmes "tend to improve school enrolment, [and] nutritional and health status of this particular community", he said.
"This is an important step to provide a social protection safety net for vulnerable population groups in a manner that is affordable, community-based and which limits dependency," said UNICEF representative to Ethiopia, Ted Chaiban.
He said it would help to provide an "important lesson that can be brought into policy dialogue around how Ethiopia can build on existing social protection strictures".
The Federal Minister of Social and Labour Affairs, Abdulfetah Abdulahi, said the programme would be referred to for a new social protection policy being drawn up. "Based on its result, we will use it intensively throughout the country," said the minister.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions