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Climate Risk, Safety Nets, and Household Welfare

This blog focuses on our Fieldwork in Tigray in 2010, which was the fifth round survey to the same 15 communities in the region. Students in our joint Master Program in Development and Natural Resource Economics with four African universities (Mekelle University and Hawassa University in Ethiopia, University of Malawi, and Makerere University in Uganda), funded by NORAD, carried out the fieldwork and will use the data for their MSc-theses. In addition PhD-students and staff use the data in their reseearch on a range of policy issues related to climate risk, land management, land law reforms, food security and safety nets, and household behavior and welfare.

Why Productive Safety Net Programs Should Invest More on Private Lands

Activity update Posted on Thu, June 10, 2010 17:25:22

Productive Safety Net Programs (PSNPs) have so far prioritized investments on public lands. Their other intended effects were to protect beneficiaries from distress sales of their assets and build-up of assets such that they could graduate from the program. After the first 5 years a very low share of the households in the program in Tigray has graduated. Some believe this is because the households have incentives to stay in the program and therefore are unwilling to make investments such that they would graduate. We see, however, that the areas with most graduation in Tigray are areas with irrigation and good soils. One may therefore ask whether the PSNP has been too unproductive and could be made more productive by investing more on private land?

Our baseline survey in 1998 showed that the majority of households perceived the land degradation problem to be largest on private lands. The most important reason for too little investment in conservation on private land was stated to be lack of labor. Could therefore the high level of labor mobilization for conservation of communal lands have a negative effect on investments on private land?

More fundamentally, do households in Tigray have sufficient incentives to invest on their private lands? Our research has shown that the provision of land certificates has enhanced tenure security, maintenance of conservation structures and land productivity on private lands. But could there still be underinvestment on private lands? Our 1998 baseline study gave several important reasons why public investments on private lands may make sense. First, soil and water conservation requires technical skills in technology design. Second, implementation requires coordination across farms as spatial externalities are substantial and can lead to conflicts. Third, labor mobilization is important to ensure equal treatment across farms and leads to labor transfer from labor-rich to labor-poor households that otherwise may have failed to conserve their land.

The new Land Laws (proclamation and regulation) aim enforce sustainable land management and the new 2nd Stage land certificates also state the obligations of the owners. Law enforcement may be difficult in this area, however, and has not yet been implemented. Implementation could make labor-poor households tenure insecure. It may be better to use the PSNP labor to help conserve the land of such households. If more PSNP labor is also directed towards irrigation investments where there is irrigation potential this could also help more households to reduce their dependency on the PSNP.

Free Labor Mobilization for Conservation in Tigray

Activity update Posted on Thu, June 10, 2010 17:24:03

A unique feature in the Tigray region is the mobilization of free labor at community level. The amount of work that each adult between 18 and 60 years has to provide has recently been increased from 20 to 40 days per year. This may be seen as a tax on the labor force of the households. It implies that labor is taxed at a flat rate and that labor-rich households pay more tax than labor-poor households do. If all households benefit equally from the work done through this mass mobilization scheme, it has an equalizing effect of reallocation of resources from (labor) rich to (labor) poor households.

Most of the labor mobilized has been invested in soil and water conservation. This may also be seen as a Pigouvian tax to address the environmental problems in the region. Labor is one of the most abundant resources in developing countries. Mobilizing idle labor for investment in public goods may therefore be a cheap and good way to enhance welfare and sustainable land management and even contribute to building of skills and reduce crime rates.

In our baseline survey in 1998 when 20 days per year was the standard, 70% of the respondents were highly motivated to participate in this work and only 6% stated that the motivation was low. 62% stated that the 20 days per year was a suitable level of the labor requirement, while 10% stated it was too low, and 8% that it was too high.

It is possible however that this activity is at the expense of other household activities even though it is carried out outside the main agricultural season when other activities are at a low level. In our 1998 survey 44% of the households stated that the labor mobilization was affecting domestic work, 37% stated that it became more difficult to look after their animals, and 14% that it affected their business activities. Such effects are likely to become stronger when the labor requirement is doubled.

A lot of labor is currently being invested in conservation of public lands in Tigray and the impacts are very visible. The environmental rehabilitation is impressive considering the semi-arid climate. An important question is, however, whether more of this labor could have been invested on the private land to enhance sustainable land management and productivity there. In 1998 we found that 25% of the households had been mobilized to conserve private land and these decisions/priorities were made locally. Under the current PSNP these decisions are made centrally and all the labor is used to conserve public land. In our 1998 survey we also found that 81% of the respondents considered the land degradation problem to be largest in the private land while 28% stated that it was largest in the communal land (implying 9% perceive it equally important in the two types of land). There may therefore be good reason to question the priorities under the PSNP program.