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Ethiopia’s PSNP: A social protection programme building climate-resilient communities

Climate-smart land-use interventions include terraces, soil bunds planted with multi-purpose perennial legumes, cut-and-carry forage systems and multistorey agroforestry systems.


Poverty and undernutrition are directly linked to environmental degradation, further aggravated by climate change, natural disasters or economic crises. By integrating environmental and climate change concerns, Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) has contributed to improving food security through land restoration and reforestation, becoming Africa’s largest climate-resilient programme.

In 2005, the Government of Ethiopia launched the PSNP with the aim of providing both short-term relief and long-term solutions to food-insecure households, by addressing the causes of food insecurity, including environmental degradation. The programme provides regular cash and food transfers to able-bodied community members willing to participate in labour-intensive public works for integrated watersheds management. This includes soil and water conservation activities, rangeland management and the development of community assets like roads, water infrastructure, schools, and health care centres.

To counteract the increasing impact of climate change, in 2009 the programme started integrating environment and climate change considerations through the Climate Smart Initiative (CSI), making climate-resilience a key priority for its interventions.

Thanks to this, Ethiopia’s PSNP is known today as one of the “largest climate change adaptation programmes in Africa”(1), which also counteracts deforestation and mitigates climate change by sequestering carbon in soils and biomass and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from the agricultural, forestry and other land use sectors.

Coping with food insecurity and building resilience

Ethiopia’s PSNP is currently in its fourth phase, covering the period 2015-2020. To date, it has benefited 7.8 million inhabitants supporting the restoration of the local environment. Total expenditure under the programme, between 2015 and 2020, amounts to € 3.4 billion.

Evidence from the field reveals that PSNP public works have improved the people's capacity to grow food, by increasing land productivity three to four times and have thereby enhanced community resilience. Higher crop production has been achieved by reducing soil erosion and sediment losses by 50%. The average household food gap (times when households cannot meet their food needs) dropped from 3.6 months to 2.3 months. (²)

The PSNP has also contributed to mitigation of climate change, by promoting practices that increase carbon sequestration in land-use systems. A Public Works Impact Assessment (2015) estimated that total CO₂ sequestered during phase 3 of the programme, in ten of the watersheds sampled, amounted to over 1 million CO₂ (tonnes CO₂) or an annual average of 200,688 tCO₂e. As vegetation cover can be expected to remain at least at the current levels, the effect of the intervention in terms of reducing CO₂ is likely to be felt for many more years to come. (³)


We are happy with the PSNP work because the output is for our own good too. We can see that our work on check dams, hillside terracing, soil [bunds], and planting trees will benefit our posterity. (…) Where we have done public works, we have seen tree growth, germination of animal forage and re-emergence of springs. We have made hillside terraces on communal land where before the hillsides were abused with no control. Since we have invested in them, we protect them keenly, like it was our own possession” (4)
Mr. Abdella Ali, Hawi Bilisuma Kebele, Oromia


     Key facts

  • Household’s food gap dropped from 3.6 months to 2.3 months
  • Woody biomass production from area closures was doubled from 5,194 MT/ha in 2005, to 10,682 MT/ha in 2015
  • Total CO2 sequestered during phase 3 in 10 watersheds sampled, amounted to over 1 million CO2 (tonnes CO₂), an annual average of 200,688 t CO₂e.
  • 40 000 kilometres of rural access roads (dry weather roads) constructed and/or maintained
  • 600 000 km of soil and water conservation physical structures (degraded land rehabilitation)
  • 200 000 ponds and 35 000 hand-dug wells for rainwater harvesting
  • 2 800 kilometres of canals for small-scale irrigation as well as access to water for households
  • 4 000 classrooms built and/or rehabilitated using local materials; and
  • 600 new health posts constructed


PSNP improved livestock feed which increased meat and milk production and helped to enhance the moisture regime in the enclosures and beyond.



(1) House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (2011). The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation. Volume I. House of Commons, London. At:

(2) The World Bank Group, Rapid Social Response, The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), (June, 2013). Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). Integrating Disaster and Climate Risk Management. Case study. At:

(3) Productive Safety Net Programme, Phase III 2014 Public Works Impact Assessment (October, 2015). The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Ministry of Agriculture. At:

(4) Coping with Change: How Ethiopia’s PSNP & HABP are building resilience to climate change (2013). World Bank. At:

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last update
27 April 2017

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