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World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 


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The interplay between planned and autonomous adaptation in response 
to climate change: Insights from rural Ethiopia 


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Azeb Assefa Mersha 3 ’*, Frank van Laerhoven 

a Utrecht University, Tilburg University, Ethiopian Civil Service University, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands 
b Utrecht University, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Heidelberglaan 2, 3584 CS Utrecht, The Netherlands 



Article history: 

Accepted 1 March 2018 
Available online 16 March 2018 


Climate change 

Productive Safety Net Programme 

Using the notion of institutional interplay, which refers to situations where the operation or conse¬ 
quences of one regime influence another regime, the article explores the interplay between planned 
adaptation and farmer households' autonomous adaptation. Drawing empirical data from two 
drought-prone districts in Northeastern Ethiopia (Kobo and Raya Azebo), this article deals with the dif¬ 
ferentiated effects of planned adaptation, exemplified by Ethiopia's Productive Safety Net Programme 
(PSNP). Two layers of differentiating effects are studied by looking at the differences between households 
that are and households that are not targeted by PSNP; and the more detailed differences are explored by 
zooming in on male and female-headed households, respectively, within the subset of households tar¬ 
geted by PSNP. We use semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with female and male 
household heads and key informant interviews with government officials. Our study indicates that the 
interplay has a differentiated effect following the participation of households in planned adaptation pro¬ 
grams and gender lines. We show that the effect on building community assets can be positive at the 
community level and expands autonomous adaptation particularly for non-targeted households; how¬ 
ever, targeted households in general and female-headed households in particular experience a negative 
effect of the interplay: planned adaptation constrains autonomous adaptation due to time and labor 
demands of public work, program restrictions and local gender norms. 

© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 

1. Introduction 

As evidence has shown, most African countries, and destitute 
communities in those countries in particular, are disproportion¬ 
ately affected by climate-induced problems. Prevalent poverty, 
social inequality and environmental problems such as land degra¬ 
dation, low adaptive capacity and, arguably most importantly, 
their high reliance on agriculture make them susceptible to the 
adverse effects of climate change (1PCC, 2014). Agriculture remains 
fundamental in economic, social and cultural aspects of life in Afri¬ 
can countries (Bryan, Deressa, Gbetibouo, & Ringler, 2009; IPCC, 
2014). For instance, in Ethiopia, agriculture accounts for 43 percent 
of the gross domestic product and 90 percent of all exports. It also 
employs nearly 80 percent of the population, i.e. about 72 million 
people (FDRE, 2015). Thus, in view of the observed trends in 
climate change, the urgent need for adaptation in agriculture to 
protect the livelihoods of people is widely acknowledged (Bryan 
et al„ 2009; Kumamoto & Mills, 2012). 

* Corresponding author. 

E-mail address: (A.A. Mersha). 

0305-750X/© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 

This article considers vulnerability as a product of the interac¬ 
tion of both climate and non-climate stressors. With this under¬ 
standing, adaptation responses need to focus on not only direct 
climate-related impacts (for instance, the provision of drought- 
resistant crops and irrigation) but also the underlying socioeco¬ 
nomic and institutional factors that influence people’s vulnerabil¬ 
ity and their adaptive capacity (cf. Moser & Ekstrom, 2010; 
Pelling, 2011). This is particularly relevant for the case of develop¬ 
ing countries, where social inequality, institutional, financial and 
technological constraints shape actors’ vulnerability and adaptive 
capacity in relation to climate change (Kumamoto & Mills, 2012). 
In light of this, as stated in the Agriculture Sector Programme of 
Plan on Adaptation to Climate Change (ASPPACC), the Productive 
Safety Net Programme (PSNP), despite being originally a “safety 
net” program, is now also explicitly considered and treated as an 
adaptation intervention by the government to reduce people’s vul¬ 
nerability to extreme climate events such as drought and to 
enhance their adaptive capacity (FDRE, 2011). Adaptation to 
climate change has been carried out throughout society by individ¬ 
uals, community and governments and materializes in different 
types and forms (Smit et al., 2001). Farm communities and 


A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 

households have been engaged in adaptation in response to expe¬ 
rienced or perceived changes in climate. Such responses have com¬ 
monly been referred to as autonomous adaptation. Similarly, 
governments and other public bodies also engage in what is called 
planned adaptation (Fiissel, 2007; Smit et al.. 2001). Our premise 
here is that autonomous and planned adaptation regimes inter¬ 
play, with the latter having a differentiating effect on the way in 
which local actors can and will adapt autonomously. 

Planned and autonomous adaptations emerge as important 
subjects in the adaptation literature. On the one hand, part of the 
literature emphasizes the value of planned adaptation interven¬ 
tions and questions the extent to which society can realistically 
rely on autonomous adaption processes alone, especially as more 
intense climate change-induced problems can be expected to occur 
in the future (Easterling et al., 2007). Therefore, some analysts 
claim that autonomous adaptation is inefficient and suggest focus¬ 
ing on planned adaptation instead (cf. Eisenack, 2009). In planned 
adaptation regimes, the government is perceived as the main actor 
with the capacity to take a leading role by developing and imple¬ 
menting adaptation strategies and mainstreaming adaptation into 
existing policies and practices (Adger et al, 2007). 

On the other hand, the need to emphasize autonomous adapta¬ 
tion practices has also been advocated (Bonzanigo, Bojovic, 
Maziotis, & Giupponi, 2015; Christoplos et al., 2009; Forsyth & 
Evans, 2013; Thorn, Thornton, & Helfgott, 2015). On this side of 
the debate, it is stated that even though vulnerable people have 
been engaged in adaptation autonomously, such practices are often 
“unnoticed, uncoordinated, and unaided by national governments, 
development agencies or international agencies” (Christoplos et al., 
2009, p. 3); this results in further marginalization of vulnerable 
groups. Furthermore, Malik and Smith (2012) note that govern¬ 
ment planned adaptation that restricts autonomous adaptation 
can lead to a risk of conflict. 

However, little attention has been paid to the interplay between 
planned and autonomous adaptation regimes (1PCC, 2012; Smith & 
Malik, 2012). This article seeks to partially fill this gap but also to 
extend the notion one step further by exploring the socially differ¬ 
entiated effect of the interplay between planned and autonomous 
adaptations. In this regard, despite the common framing of inter¬ 
play as having a unanimous effect, i.e. that planned adaptation 
can either stimulate or hinder autonomous adaptation, the inten¬ 
tion here is to explore how the effects vary across segments within 
communities by giving special attention to differences between 
households that are and households that are not targeted by PSNP 
and to differences between male and female-headed households 
within the subset of households targeted by PSNP. 

Feminist scholars have asserted that state policies and interven¬ 
tions, often unintentionally, tend to (re)produce the gender order 
in society, and consequently, they reject top-down policy interven¬ 
tions and programs as manifestations of hegemonic masculinity 
(Walby, 1991). Also, adaptation policies are not free from socioeco¬ 
nomic and gender dynamics; unless planned adaptations are 
designed and implemented with consideration given to the vulner¬ 
ability and adaptive ability differences, they will result in discrim¬ 
inatory effects that make women and other vulnerable groups 
more vulnerable (Ayers, 2011; Pearse, 2016; Terry, 2009). Simi¬ 
larly, autonomous adaptation processes are neither asocial nor 
apolitical. The ability of individuals and households to adapt 
autonomously is shaped by a number of factors, including finan¬ 
cial, social, institutional and gender-related (Adger et al., 2009; 
Ayers, 2011; Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). This results in vari¬ 
ation in the number and kind of alternative adaptation measures 
available to different groups such as men and women, respectively. 
It also leads to variation in the effectiveness of any adaptation 
strategy that a male or female-headed household may end up 
choosing (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). 

Therefore, the premise here is that autonomous and planned 
adaptation interplay, with the latter having a differentiated effect 
on households based on their participation in the program and 
based on gender (i.e. differences between male and female house¬ 
hold heads) within the subset of participating households. The 
study has been guided by two research questions: How does 
planned adaptation emanating from the state interplay with autono¬ 
mous adaptation operating at the household level? and How and 
why are the effects differentiated? We intend to answer these ques¬ 
tions by looking at adaptation to drought in rural Ethiopia. 

2. Research context 

Ethiopia is a pertinent case for achieving the objectives laid out 
above because it often has been portrayed as a prime example of 
the consequences of the current climate crisis. Overreliance on 
rain-fed smallholder agriculture along with widespread poverty 
and land degradation increase Ethiopia’s vulnerability to climate 
change and variability (Bryan et al., 2009; Conway & Schipper, 
2011; FDRE, 2015). Identified climate change-related threats for 
Ethiopia include rising temperature trends, fluctuating and erratic 
rainfall and increased climate extremes such as flooding and 
drought (FDRE, 2015). 

Particularly, extreme events such as drought have been 
acknowledged as an important climate-related threat in Ethiopia 
that affects millions of people’s livelihoods. Their frequency, mag¬ 
nitude and spatial coverages have become more significant in 
recent decades. Future projections also expect a likely increase in 
climate extremes and rainfall variability ( cf. FDRE, 2015; Viste, 
Korecha, & Sorteberg, 2012). Every drought incident has caused 
human death and displacement, combined with immense eco¬ 
nomic and livelihood costs (FDRE, 2015; Gebrehiwot & van der 
Veen, 2013). Specifically, every drought incident so far has caused 
an estimated decline in GDP of between 1 and 4%. The figure is 
expected to rise up to 10% (FDRE 2015). Beyond humanitarian con¬ 
sequences, droughts and subsequent famines have had significant 
political and historical implications as well. For instance, the 1972- 
73 drought and famine precipitated the removal of the imperial 
regime in 1975. The failure of the military regime to handle the 
1984-85 drought and famine helped the current regime, then 
guerrilla fighters, to garner international attention and local sup¬ 
port to overthrow the military regime in 1991 (Comenetz & 
Caviedes, 2002; Young, 2006). This historical and political context 
not only influences the current response to drought but also affects 
how the success and failure of adaptation interventions are evalu¬ 
ated and presented. 

Regarding the adaptation responses of smallholders, especially 
in the highlands of Ethiopia, studies report ongoing adaptation 
strategies that can be classified into two groups; farm-level adap¬ 
tation (irrigation, crop diversification, soil conservation, changing 
planting dates, planting trees) and non-farm adaptation (off-farm 
and non-farm diversification, temporary and permanent migra¬ 
tion) (Bewket, 2012; Deressa, Hassan, Ringler, Alemu, & Yesuf, 
2009; Gebrehiwot & van der Veen, 2013; Mersha & Van 
Laerhoven, 2016). Different financial, social (e.g. gender inequal¬ 
ity), structural and institutional (e.g. access to information, credit, 
extension services) factors determine the adaptation choices and 
decisions of smallholders (Bewket, 2012; Deressa et al, 2009; 
Gebrehiwot & van der Veen, 2013; Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 
2016). Planned adaptation and government interventions are sug¬ 
gested to overcome such obstacles (Bewket, 2012; Gebrehiwot & 
van der Veen, 2013). 

So far, a number of policies and institutional arrangements in 
response to climate change have been put in place by the govern¬ 
ment. Table 1 presents the main policies and programs that 

A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 


Table 1 

Ethiopia's main adaptation policies and programs. 









Issued Description 

National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) 2007 

Ethiopia’s Programme of Adaptation to Climate 2010 


Agriculture Sector Programme of Plan on Adaptation 2011 
to Climate Change (ASPPACC) 

Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE): Green 2011 

Economy Strategy 

Climate Resilience Strategy for Agriculture and Forest 2015 

Prepared in response to the call by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate 
Change (UNFCCC). It aims to formulate priority adaptation options and identifies 11 project 

Intends to identify sectoral problems and concerned federal agencies. The document identifies 
20 major climate change-related problems, and calls for all sectors to issue their own adaptation 

Developed in response to EPACC call. [‘ASPPACC identifies PSNP as an adaptation option] 

Aims to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change and to build a green 
economy that will help realize its ambition of reaching middle-income country status by 2025 
Aims to devise a resilience strategy in the agricultural (crop, livestock and forest) sector. 
[‘CRSAF identifies PSNP as one adaptation option in the agriculture sector) 

directly deal with climate change adaptation. The National Pro¬ 
gramme of Adaptation to Climate Change calls for all sectors to 
issue their own adaptation programs (FDRE, 2010). Consequently, 
the Ministry of Agriculture issued its own adaptation program 
called the Agriculture Sector Programme of Plan on Adaptation to 
Climate Change (ASPPACC) (FDRE, 2011). Claiming a “no/low- 
regret” approach, ASPPACC adopts already existing programs and 
interventions in agriculture sectors. Identified adaptation strate¬ 
gies include disaster and risk management programs, food security 
programs, social welfare programs, climate monitoring and fore¬ 
casting and others. The Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) 
is one of the various food security program packages (FDRE, 2011 ). 

This study explores PSNP as an example of a planned adaptation 
regime in Ethiopia. Despite the current framing of PSNP as an adap¬ 
tation program, it was originally developed as a so-called “safety 
net” program targeting chronically food-insecure individuals 
(FDRE, 2014). Indeed, an extensive debate exists around PSNP 
within the social protection discourse (cf. Bene, Devereux, & 
Sabates-Wheeler, 2012; Devereux et al., 2008); however, the inten¬ 
tion of this article is not to examine the authenticity of PSNP in 
social protection but rather to analyze its public work component 
(hereafter referred to as PSNP-PW) from an adaptation discourse 

2.3. PSNP in brief: A planned adaptation option 

Following the 2002-03 drought, the Ethiopian government, in 
collaboration with a consortium of donors, 1 made a promise to 
“break the cycle of emergency appeals - which saved lives but did 
little to protect household assets" and therefore devised a new food 
security strategy. PSNP became one of its main components along 
with other food security programs. It aims to provide transfers to 
the food-insecure population in chronically food-insecure wereda 2 
in a way that prevents asset depletion at the household level and 
creates assets at the community level (FDRE, 2014). The transfer 
can be either in cash, food or both. PSNP consists of two components. 
Direct support, designed for households with insufficient labor capac¬ 
ity such as elderly people with disabilities and pregnant women, is 
one of the components. The other is public work, which aims to pro¬ 
vide temporary employment for chronically food-insecure house¬ 
holds with an “able-bodied" adult member. About 85 percent of 
the targeted households participate in labor-intensive activities for 

1 Including the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, Irish 
Aid, the European Union, Canadian International Development Agency, Swedish 
International Development Agency, the Netherlands, Danish International Develop¬ 
ment Agency, the United States Agency for International Development, UN Children’s 
Fund, the World Food Program and the World Bank. 

2 Wereda (or woreda ) is an administrative unit equivalent to district. 

six months (often from January to June) in return for the transfer. 
Activities in the public work component of PSNP include environ¬ 
mental rehabilitation - such as terracing and reforestation, soil 
and water conservation - and infrastructure building - such as 
roads, schools and health centers. PSNP is now in its fourth phase 
(2015-2020). In this phase, the aim is to reach 10 million people 
(nearly 10 percent of the population) in 411 wereda each year 
(FDRE, 2014). 

2.2. A glimpse at gender 

In Ethiopia, despite recent improvements in securing women’s 
rights through gender equality laws and legislation in different 
areas such as access to land (cf. Kumar & Quisumbing, 2015), the 
de facto gender power imbalance remains a salient feature that sig¬ 
nificantly influences the lived experiences of men and women in 
general and of female-headed households in particular (Kumar & 
Quisumbing, 2013; Torkelsson, 2007). According to Torkelsson 
(2007), rural women’s access to resources and economic benefits 
relies highly on their relationship with men and their networks, 
as dominant social structure privileges men. Consequently, female 
household heads with small children and no close male figure in 
their extended family end up being marginalized. On a similar 
note, but in pastoralist communities, Enyew and Mengistu (2013) 
indicate that female-headed households face problems in securing 
their livelihood due to limited access to resources and constrained 
rights. Thus, this article pays special attention to the gender-based 
differentiation between household heads in analyzing the inter¬ 
play between autonomous and planned adaptations and its effects. 

3. Analyzing institutional interplay 

Although institutional interplay in climate change regimes has 
often been dealt with at the international level, the concept can 
be extended to analyze interplay at the national and local levels. 
Institutional interplay is defined as a situation in which the devel¬ 
opment, operation, effectiveness and broad consequences of one 
target institution are affected by the rules and programs of another 
source institution (Gehring & Oberthiir, 2009). As the number of 
institutions increases, institutional interplay can be expected to 
become more common and more significant. The influencing pro¬ 
cess can be unidirectional, for instance in the case of the enactment 
of national regulations without considering local situations. It can 
also be bidirectional or symmetrical in the case of two or more 
institutions with equivalent regimes (Young, 2002). 

Young (2002) has made a distinction between horizontal and 
vertical interplay, based on the form of interplay, and functional 
and political interplay, based on the role of interplay. Horizontal 
interplay is an interaction between two or more institutions 


A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven/World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 

located at the same level of a social organization. Vertical interplay 
is an interaction between two or more institutions located at dif¬ 
ferent levels of a social organization such as global adaptation 
and national adaptation or national adaptation and local adapta¬ 
tion. Functional interplay refers to a situation in which two regimes 
attempt to tackle the same issue or where their actions are linked. 
For instance, the actions of both farmer households and the state in 
response to climate change results in functional interplay. Political 
interplay refers to a situation in which actors intentionally create 
linkages across issues or institutions in order to achieve individual 
or collective goals (Young, 2002). 

According to Gehring and Oberthiir (2009), institutional inter¬ 
play analysis needs to, first, identify the source institution (or its 
particular component, decision or rule) that exerts influence as 
an independent or explanatory variable; second, identify the target 
institution (or its particular component) that is being subject to 
influence as a dependent variable; and third, make explicit the cau¬ 
sal link that is hypothesized to exist between the source and the 
target institution in order to explain the effects of interaction. It 
must furthermore be recognized in the analysis that in the influ¬ 
encing process, actors such as state, non-state or other interest 
groups play important roles (Gehring and Oberthiir, 2009). In view 
of this, the focus of this study is primarily on functional interplay 
between planned adaptation by the Ethiopian government (i.e. 
the source institution) and autonomous adaptation by farmer 
households (i.e. the target institution). 

As a deliberate policy intervention, planned adaptation is often 
carried out by the government (but also by non-government 
actors) in response to actual or expected changes in climate 
(Adger et al„ 2007; Fiissel, 2007; Smit et ah, 2001). It can be antic¬ 
ipatory (i.e. adaptation interventions before the climate-induced 
impacts are being experienced) or reactive (i.e. adaptation inter¬ 
ventions after climate-induced impacts have occurred); localized 
or generic; and focused on the short or on the long term (Fiissel, 
2007; Smit et ah 2001). Planned adaptations are often sectoral 
interventions targeting, for example, agriculture, water and infras¬ 
tructure (Adger et ah, 2007). 

Autonomous adaptation, on the other hand, is carried out by 
local actors - i.e. individuals, households or communities (Smit 
et ah, 2001). Different studies document the nature and type of 
autonomous adaptations carried out in different parts of the world; 
for instance, diversification, migration, storage of food, farm-level 
adjustment and systems of mutual support are mentioned 
(Bonzanigo et ah, 2015; Thorn et ah, 2015). In the Nile Basin of 
Ethiopia, Deressa et ah (2009) identify crop switching, late plant¬ 
ing, soil conservation and tree planting in particular as the main 
forms of autonomous adaption carried out by smallholders. 

We adopt Agrawal’s (2010) analytical categories of adaptation 
activities that households engage in - diversification, mobility, stor¬ 
age, market exchange and communal pooling (Table 2). According to 
Agrawal’s (2010), diversification consists of on-, off- and non-farm 
diversification; however, merging together these three activities 
may obscure what diversification means to men and women, 
respectively. In our analysis, thus, we differentiate on-farm adapta¬ 

tion (referring to activities related to farming) and diversification 
(referring to non-farm and off-farm activities), respectively. 

3.1. Effects of socially differentiated interplay 

When institutions interplay, there are resultant effects that can 
generate either positive or negative outcomes (Young, 2002). In 
this study context, planned and autonomous adaptation interplay 
may help to achieve adaptation goals by pooling resources and 
by readdressing constraints at local levels. But in order for positive 
interplay effects to occur, goals must be mutually reinforcing. If 
this is not the case, the resultant effects become problematic for 
autonomous adaptation and the farm households whose liveli¬ 
hoods depend on it. 

One focus of this study is on the differentiated effect of the 
interplay. Actors whose autonomous adaptation is influenced are 
heterogeneous. We assume that vulnerability and the ability to 
adapt to climate change varies across and within communities 
according to differences in socioeconomic status, gender and eth¬ 
nicity (Agrawal, 2010; Ayers, 2011; Perez et al., 2015). Thus, any 
planned adaptation intervention that operates without considering 
such heterogeneity cannot address the underlying vulnerability 
and can even end up reinforcing existing inequalities (Pearse, 

Top-down state interventions have inevitable effects on differ¬ 
ent socioeconomic groups such as between influential and subordi¬ 
nate groups, men and women, and so forth. For instance, Walby 
(1991, p. 150) notes that “The state is engaged with political forces, 
its actions have gender-differentiated effects and its structure is 
highly gendered”. The (re)production of social inequality, such as 
gender order, through state interventions, can occur directly - 
when biased norms and practices are reinforced - and/or indirectly 
- when a neutral policy intervention (unintentionally) ends up 
producing inequitable effects (Ayers, 2011; Pearse, 2016; Terry, 
2009). Adaptation literature has also indicated that men and 
women, as well as male and female household heads, respectively, 
indeed employ different adaptation measures. Choices and options, 
as well as the way in which adaptation works out, are determined 
by different factors and barriers that are also gendered (Mersha & 
Van Laerhoven, 2016; Pearse, 2016). In view of this notion, the 
interplay between planned and autonomous adaptation is ana¬ 
lyzed and understood by looking not only at how the interplay 
unfolds but also at its gender-differentiated effects. 

4. Methodology 

We use a single case study design based on its premise to cap¬ 
ture a complex phenomenon in a given context (Yin, 2013). To this 
article, the context refers to understanding adaptation as a 
response to climate change-induced problems and other non¬ 
climate factors. Considering frequent drought occurrence and gov¬ 
ernment intervention, purposive sampling was used to select two 
drought-prone wereda from North Eastern Ethiopia: Raya Azebo 
Wereda, located in Tigray Regional State, and Kobo Wereda, situated 

Table 2 

Types of autonomous adaptation. 

Adaptation types 


On-farm Adaptation 




Market Exchange 

Communal Pooling 

Adjustment of farming activities in response to climate change, such as cropping time adjustment and mixed cropping 
Spreading risks across assets through engagement in non- and off-farm activities 

Spreading risks across space through temporary labor migration, international migration and remittances 

Spreading risk across time 

Spreading risk through product exchange 

Spreading risk across households using common resources such as forests and water or labor sharing 

Source: Adopted from Agrawal (2010). 

A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 


in Amhara Regional State (see Figure 1). According to Etikan, 
Abubakar Musa, and Sunusi Alkassim (2016), purposive sampling 
is a nonrandom sampling where participants/cases are selected 
deliberately due to their relevance to the stated goal. These two 
districts are drought hotspots and have experienced every drought 
that made national and international headlines since the 1970s. 
They are also among the state’s top prioritized areas for interven¬ 
tions in response to the drought of late 2015, which has affected 
nearly 10.2 million people nationally. From the districts mentioned 
above, two kebeles 3 were selected: Mechare from Raya Azebo and 
Zoble from Kobo. Fieldwork was carried out in 2014 (March and 
May) and in 2015 (February and March). 

The study uses both primary data sources - resulting from 
semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions, key infor¬ 
mant interviews and observations - and secondary data sources 
such as policy documents, reports and archives. With regard to 
the policy documents, a large part of the analysis is based on 
national policies and implementation guides related to PSNP. 

Government officials (including federal, regional and local-level 
bureaucrats) and male and female household heads were direct 
participants in the study. We interviewed government officials at 
these three levels in order to capture the perspective of policymak¬ 
ers at the national level and implemented at regional and local 
levels. Hence, officials who are responsible for climate change 
adaptation and gender-related issues in their respective public 
organization were selected purposively. 

Data collection from household heads were facilitated by four 
field assistants (two males and two females). The field assistants 
proved information on venue and time of particular public work 
activities in the area and introduced the interviewer and the objec¬ 
tive of the interview to the respondents. PSNP-targeted household 
heads were selected using convenience sampling when we found 
them engaged in public work activities. Convenience sampling is 
a nonrandom sampling technique where participants are selected 
simply because of their availability at a given time and place 
(Etikan et al„ 2016). Non-targeted households were initially 

3 Kebele is the lowest administrative unit. 

selected with the help of field assistants, and then these respon¬ 
dents were asked to suggest individuals with more information 
about previous drought situations and environmental conditions 
in the study areas (i.e. snowball sampling). Interviews were 
recorded 4 and field notes were used throughout. With regard to data 
collection procedures, the first author conducted all interviews, 
informal discussions and observations of the activities performed 
by targeted households in PSNP-PW. 

In total, 15 key informant interviews were held with govern¬ 
ment officials. Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted 
with households targeted for the PSNP program (10 female house¬ 
hold heads and 10 male household heads), and 10 semi-structured 
interviews were held with non-targeted households (2 female 
household heads and 8 male household heads). Table 3 provides 
the detailed background characteristics of respondents. 

Both semi-structured and key informant interviews were car¬ 
ried out with the use of topic lists. Questions covered issues that 
dealt with perceptions of drought and its effects, adaptation mea¬ 
sures taken and motives for adaptation, the implementation of 
PSNP and its effect on households' livelihoods, the local environ¬ 
ment and the community. However, interviews were open to probe 
emerging issues. To increase the validity of the study, we checked 
for consistency of data across sources (i.e. respondents) (Yin, 2013). 
Focus group discussions were carried out with men and women 
villagers. In both study areas, two focus group discussions were 
held with both men and women, and two with women-only. 

The analysis of data was grounded in content analysis 
(Charmaz, 2006). Coding and thematic grouping were used to ana¬ 
lyze interview transcripts and field notes. Coding refers to “attach¬ 
ing labels to segments of data that depict what each segment is 
about” (Charmaz, 2006, p. 3). The focus of the content analysis 
was on adaptation discourses and on the attention that was given 
to autonomous adaptation practices and gender-based differences. 
After the coding, thematic grouping and systematic organization of 
narrations were made (Charmaz, 2006). In this sense, whereas our 

4 With the exception of some cases where interviewees did not permit it; in those 
cases, notes were taken by the researcher instead. 


A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 

Table 3 

Characteristics of interviewed household heads (n = 30). 


Targeted households 

Non-targeted households 





Age group 











Above 60 





Marital status 
















Single mother/father 






No schooling 





Primary Education 





Secondary Education 





Land ownership 











Who cultivates the land? 











Share croppers 





research design was guided by a preconceived framework based on 
our understanding of the literature, interview questions were 
reconstructed throughout the data collection process in an attempt 
to probe more deeply into newly emerging themes (cf. Charmaz 

5. Results 

5.J. Climate change adaptation agenda 

All interviewed government officials and document analysis (cf. 
FDRE, 2015) confirmed that climate change has posed a threat to 
the country; hence, adaptation is prioritized as a crucial national 
agenda. “Adaptation [to climate change] is neither motivated nor 
imposed by the international discourses. From the actual experience 
we encounter, it happens to be a matter of survival,’’ said an inter¬ 
viewed government official. However, our review of policy docu¬ 
ments shows that the National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA) 
(see Table 1) - which was prepared in response to a call from the 
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 
(UNFCCC) - is the country’s first focused document that explicitly 
deals with adaptation to climate change. Prior to NAPA, extreme 
climate events such as droughts were situated in the disaster pre¬ 
vention and social protection discourses (Conway & Schipper, 
2011; Devereux, Sabates-Wheeler, Tefera, & Taye, 2006). Particu¬ 
larly, the climate change debate gained momentum in Ethiopia 
after the Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change in 2009, 
where Ethiopia represented Africa. The timing of most self- 
initiated policies and programs identified in Table 1 seems to con¬ 
firm our impression that the Ethiopian (planned) climate adapta¬ 
tion regime was put in place largely in response to international 

Whatever its genesis, at present, climate adaptation has cap¬ 
tured the attention of the Ethiopian government. An expert from 
the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change 
(MoEFCC), which is a focal point for the coordination of all adapta¬ 
tion and mitigation activities both nationally and internationally, 
indicated in our interview that the ministry is working to make 
adaptation a primary policy issue on the agenda of all sectors. 
Moreover, for government officials, the agenda of “changing the 
national image” seems to have become important in the adaptation 

discourse, as illustrated by the following quote from a government 
official interviewee: 

You know, we [Ethiopians] have been an example of drought, fam¬ 
ine, hunger and you name it for a long time. We want to change the 
image of our country and make famine something from the past by 
devising an effective adaptation and mitigation strategy. 

As mentioned above, the Ministry of Agriculture identified PSNP 
as one adaptation option in the agriculture sector. Document anal¬ 
ysis results and government officials’ interviews indicate that the 
adoption of PSNP as a planned adaptation option is justified by 
its role in reducing vulnerability and enhancing community resili¬ 
ence. ASPPACC states that “the encouraging results of this pro¬ 
gramme need to continue as a tool to counteract climate change 
as well” (FDRE, 2011: 59). While PSNP included a climate change 
discourse, no amendment has been made to the program. As our 
result indicates, linking PSNP with climate change adaptation is 
effectuated at the national level. However, in speaking with gov¬ 
ernment officials, we find that the linkage between the state inter¬ 
ventions with the climate adaptation discourse is significantly 
lacking at local and regional levels, where PSNP is implemented 
in a business-as-usual manner. 

5.1.1. Gender in the implementation of PSNP 

As our document review indicates, on paper PSNP gives due 
attention to gender-based differences. The PSNP Programme 
Implementation Manual (FDRE, 2014) considers “gender equity” 
as one of its nine principles, and it states that: 

PSNP is designed to respond to the unique needs, interests and 
capabilities of men and women to ensure that they equally bene¬ 
fited from the programme. 

The document adopts three mechanisms to enhance gender 
equity, namely the participation of women and men in the PSNP 
task forces (i.e. decision-making groups), recognition of women’s 
productive and reproductive roles and differential access to 
resources by female-headed households. 

Our field results from both study areas establish that women 
are indeed represented in both the kebele and wereda-level task 
forces. However, an interviewed female kebele representative in 
Zoble noted that the representation of women in decision- 

A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 


making tends to be nominal due to dominant masculine norms 
that expect women to refrain from talking in public gatherings. 

Regarding the attention to women’s productive and reproduc¬ 
tive roles, our results in both study areas seem to indicate that 
respondents disagree on the extent to which women are treated 
with some degree of leniency in PSNP-PW (i.e. allowing women 
to turn up later or leave earlier, or having women engage in “light" 
work). For instance, an implementing official in Mechare said the 

We consider the condition of women. For example, they engage in 
light work and we let them leave early considering their domestic 

Yet female respondents reported that in general, no considera¬ 
tion is actually given to them. As a female respondent from 
Mechare stated, “We do equal work and spend equal amounts of time 
as men do." The difference in perspectives arises in part from the 
difference in perceptions of what entails “light” work. For example, 
when men dig the ground for water harvesting activities or terrac¬ 
ing, women may perform activities such as shoveling and carrying 
rocks. In absolute terms, women respondents do not consider car¬ 
rying heavy loads of rocks as “light" work, even when this task may 
seem less “heavy” than what their male counterparts engage in 
(Jones, Tafere, & Woldehanna, 2010). 

5.2. Interplay at work 

Both autonomous and planned adaptation regimes attempt to 
tackle similar issues, and as a consequence, their respective actions 
become linked. All interviewed male and female household heads 
reported recurrent drought as the main challenge they encoun¬ 
tered in their livelihood. This quote from a male interviewee from 
Mechare is a good illustration of the general sentiment encoun¬ 
tered during the fieldwork: 

While preparing my farm, my mind always wonders whether the 
rain will come early or late, whether there will be enough rain 
and what crop I shall grow, and what I would do in case of a crop 
failure. Yet, God only knows the answer. 

The main adaptation practices carried out by farming house¬ 
holds in both study areas include on-farm adaptation (e.g. crop 
diversification, cropping time adjustment, planting cash crops), 
mobility (e.g. international and temporary local to regional labor 
migration), diversification (both on- and off-farm), storage and 
communal pooling (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). 

PSNP as a planned adaptation regime aims to reduce vulnerabil¬ 
ity to drought by targeting the poorest of the poor and chronically 
food-insecure households (FDRE, 2011). The first two objectives of 
PSNP are (i) smoothing household consumptions by bridging the 
production deficit of chronically food-insecure farming households 
during the dry season and (ii) preventing poor households' produc¬ 
tive assets depletion (Devereux et al„ 2006). As discussed, for the 
majority of the households, the PSNP transfer is in return for 
labor-intensive public work. Thus, PSNP offers a kind of employ¬ 
ment where households are expected to provide five days (6-8 h 
per day) of labor per month for each targeted household member. 
All our respondents indicated that PSNP-PW demands a consider¬ 
able labor and time investment that causes a significant conflict 
with the autonomous adaptation activities of the type mentioned 
in the paragraph above. The third objective of PSNP is the develop¬ 
ment of community assets by means of environmental rehabilita¬ 
tion and infrastructure development (e.g. roads, health centers 
and schools) through public work (FDRE, 2014). PSNP’s condition¬ 
ality is based on the assumption that free and unconditional trans¬ 

fers may cause dependency among farming households, though 
the validity of this assumption is still under debate (Little, 2008). 

5.3. The differentiated effects of interplay 

Due to, for example, differentiated social conditions and posi¬ 
tions and resource entitlements, farming households vary in how 
they are affected by and respond to climate change impacts 
(Agrawal, 2010; Perez et al., 2015). Particularly in the study area, 
as a result of gendered barriers, male and female-headed house¬ 
holds rely on different adaptation activities, the effects of which 
differ as well (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). As a consequence, 
we expect that the interplay between autonomous and planned 
adaptation will have differentiated effects. 

Our analysis indicates that in general terms planned and auton¬ 
omous adaptation interplay has both positive and negative effects, 
which can be analyzed at two levels: between targeted and non- 
targeted households (where class-based differences are pro¬ 
nounced) and between male- and female-headed households 
within targeted households (where gender-based differences are 
pronounced). On the positive side, activities performed by PSNP- 
PW in the realm of community asset building have contributed 
to the improvement of the targeted districts. Both PSNP-targeted 
and non-targeted household heads who were interviewed affirmed 
that the situation of their village has changed in terms of resource 
rehabilitation and provision of infrastructure. They linked this 
change explicitly with the PSNP-PW intervention. 

Look at the surrounding mountains. It was barren land, before, but 
now the vegetation is recovering as a result of our work (male 
household head interviewee in Zoble). 

Female respondents, in both study areas, also mentioned that 
unlike before the PSNP intervention, they now have better access 
(based on a locally agreed upon schedule) to forest and rangelands, 
as the conditions of these resources have improved. Similarly, gov¬ 
ernment officials asserted that community asset building was one 
of the successful achievements of PSNP: 

Two decades ago, these areas were turned into barren land. You 
could barely see a single tree around here. But now, look how the 
area has become green and moist (local-level government official 

Linking community asset building to Agrawal’s (2010) classifi¬ 
cation of adaptation activities of households, the positive outcome 
can be related to communal pooling - i.e. the use of resources such 
as forests - and market exchange (as influenced by improved access 
to roads). Hence, such asset building can contribute to reducing 
vulnerability and enhancing the adaptive capacity of the commu¬ 
nity at large to climate change-induced problems. 

However, these positive outcomes are pronounced for non¬ 
participant households. Our results indicate that households that 
are not part of the PSNP-PW program (i.e. arguably the better-off 
households) benefit from community asset building without 
engaging in labor activities. As such, we would argue that the inter¬ 
play between this particular planned adaptation regime and auton¬ 
omous adaptation measures leads to negative effects for poor 
households who are targeted by PSNP-PW. These effects emanate 
from two aspects: the labor and time effect of PSNP-PW and 
restrictive preconditions attached to PSNP participation. We iden¬ 
tify three autonomous adaptation measures that are negatively 
influenced by the interplay with the planned PSNP regime: effects 
that regard on-farm adaptation, mobility and diversification, 


A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 

5.4. On-farm adaptation 

Farming is at the core of livelihoods and is the main source of 
income for rural households in both study areas. In response to 
drought, farmers, especially male household heads, engage in on- 
farm adaptation such as crop diversification, crop timing adjust¬ 
ment and planting cash crops (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). 
All PSNP-PW targeted male household heads reported that time 
and labor that had to be dedicated to PSNP-PW compete with what 
can be invested in their own farming activities. An interviewee 
noted the following: 

As you see, we are digging the ground on this sunny and hot day. By 
the time we are done, we are tired and it becomes difficult to work 
on our own farm. 

Similar findings on timing overlap have been also reported by 
other studies (cf„ Devereux et al., 2008; Weldegebriel & Prowse, 

2013). Government officials claim that the PSNP-PW has been car¬ 
ried out from January to June considering major farming activities 
such as seeding, weeding and harvesting (often carried out from 
June to November/December). Nevertheless, as farmers reported, 
land preparation, which is the main labor-intensive farming activ¬ 
ity, overlaps with PSNP-PW time. This is particularly important for 
poor farmers, as physical resource barriers to adaptation such as 
lack of direct access to oxen to plough remain important in their 
adaptation process (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). Households 
with no oxen either rent oxen from someone else in exchange for 
ploughing the land of the owner or they rely on a reciprocal labor 
exchange system (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016); both practices 
demand extra labor and time in addition to the assumed normal 
farming activities. 

Additionally, the occurrence of drought and changing patterns 
in the onset of the rainy season render timing increasingly crucial 
in the adaptation process. Under these circumstances, the inter¬ 
vention puts targeted households in a difficult situation where 
they have to choose PSNP-PW over their on-farm autonomous 
adaptation practices. The following quote illustrates this dilemma: 

I know that working on my farm could change my life. Participating 
in safety-net [PSNP-PW] is like focusing on daily survival, only. But 
I have to do it because there is no certainty about the rain. What I 
am sure of is that if I work here [PSNP-PW], at least I will get some¬ 
thing for my family (a male interviewee from Zoble). 

5.5. Mobility 

Temporary labor migration is an important autonomous adap¬ 
tation in both study areas (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016); how¬ 
ever, due to restrictions that accompany PSNP against leaving the 
area even for short-period job opportunities, it may not be an 
option for targeted household heads. In our interviews, PSNP- 
targeted households stress that temporary labor migration could 
make a valuable contribution to their livelihoods, especially to 
cover expenses related to the schooling of their children, as the 
PSNP-PW transfers are insufficient. According to government offi¬ 
cials, this mechanism is designed to discourage rural-urban 
migration. 5 

Some male household head interviewees reported that despite 
such restrictions, participants decided to leave since the wage from 

5 The Ethiopian Constitution validates states ownership of land and provides 
farmers with a usufruct right that excludes the right to sell or mortgage the land only. 
By law, leaving farmland for three consecutive years (either by renting it out or 
transferring it to family members) results in the loss of the land. Other national 
policies and strategies, such as PSNP, are geared towards discouraging rural-urban 
migration, even temporarily (cf. Lavers, 2013). 

temporary work is better than the PSNP transfers. Yet, only male 
household heads with able family members such as a spouse 
and/or grown-up sons or daughters who can perform the PSNP- 
PW share for the remaining family members reported making this 
decision. The following quote illustrates this general sentiment: 

There is no alternative income-generating opportunity available in 
the village to engage. If I go to other urban areas, I will lose my 
safety net quota (i.e. PSNP). Nonetheless, I decided to leave since 
my wife can take care of hers and our children’s quota (male inter¬ 
viewee from Mechare). 

5.6. Diversification (off-farm and non-farm activities) 

With the growing threat posed by both climate extremes and 
non-climate problems (such as land degradation), both male and 
female household heads seek off-farm and non-farm diversification 
activities in both study areas. Some of the activities reported by 
male respondents include carpentry work, trading, livestock fat¬ 
tening, and working on other farms. Meanwhile, for female respon¬ 
dents, important diversification activities include hairdressing, 
petty trade, handicraft, selling local drinks and laboring for others 
(see also Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). Both groups also men¬ 
tion PSNP-PW as an alternative wage opportunity. Nevertheless, 
all targeted respondents frequently complain about the low 
amount of the transfer in comparison to the time and labor 
demands of the public work activities. An interviewed female 
respondent argues that: 

The amount we get is far lower than our labor contribution. We 
repeatedly reported this to the taskforce and experts but nothing 
comes out of it (female interviewee from Mechare). 

Yet, despite the repeated complaints about the lower rate of the 
transfer, both male and female respondents targeted by PSNP 
reported that they stick to the program mainly because of the pre¬ 
dictability of the transfer, as illustrated in the following quotations. 

Although everybody thinks that we get aid and benefit, Safety Net is 
sweated labor. I don't think the payment is fair, but I cannot afford 
to leave it because there is no other opportunity here and at least 
we get the transfer regularly (female interviewee from Zoble). 

The limited role of PSNP in creating diversification to adapt to 
climate change is also reported by other studies (cf. Weldegebriel 
& Prowse, 2013). In contrast, interviewed government officials at 
all levels seem to consider the amounts that are transferred as suf¬ 
ficient. A typical response from interviewed official to our question 
about the fairness of the amounts and its impact on the livelihood 
of targeted households is the following: “Unlike during the previous 
drought incidents, at least now we are able to prevent starvation" (an 
interviewed government official at a region level). 

The gendered assumptions in designing the program are vividly 
manifested in the relation between the perceived role of non-farm 
activities in the livelihoods of farmers, on the one hand, and the 
timing of the program, on the other hand. PSNP perceives of non¬ 
farm activities as a supplement to farming income in the program, 
an argument that is also used by interviewed government officials 
to justify the relatively low amount of the transfer. However, this 
perception underplays female household heads’ lived experiences. 
Due to restrictive gendered norms that prohibit women’s plough¬ 
ing and constrains their labor, most female smallholders do not 
engage in farming. Instead, they rent out their land through share- 
cropping arrangements where they get one-third or half of the har¬ 
vest (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). Consequently, non-farm 
diversification activities are not merely ancillary for the livelihoods 
of female household heads. Moreover, as increasing drought and 

A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 


fluctuation of rainfall leads to declining harvests, the share of 
female landowners will be further reduced, which in turn makes 
diversification a crucial adaptation and livelihood strategy for 
them. In this context, the insufficient transfer for their labor contri¬ 
bution affects female household heads more vigorously than it 
affects their male counterparts, as elaborated in the following 

I have been participating in Safety Net since the beginning. I also 
work as a domestic worker for better-off farmers and on their farm 
as well. Everything I earn is for daily consumption and nothing 
comes out that will change my life. I wish the payment from the 
government would at least become decent (female interviewee 
from Mechare). 

We sell our labor cheaply. Most of the time, when I get the transfer, 
I come home empty-handed after paying my loans. If I get any 
financial capacity, / prefer to engage in trading rather than partic¬ 
ipating in safety-net (female interviewee from Zoble). 

The timing aspect also strengthens this gendered assumption. 
As discussed above, PSNP-PW is not carried out for six months 
from July to December in order to avoid conflict with farming 
activities; this is apparently based on a consideration of men’s 
experiences only. This pro-male household head nature of PSNP 
is reported in other studies as well (e.g. Mogues, 2013). 

6. Discussion 

As climate change is taking its toll, devising effective adaptation 
strategies and options that reduce people’s vulnerability and 
enhance their adaptive capacity becomes urgent on the policy 
agenda. Adaptation is carried out by different actors, including 
households that try to devise autonomous responses to climate 
change (and other non-climate factors) and states, who by main- 
streaming and more explicit, pinpointed interventions are building 
planned adaptation regimes. As Young (2002) has pointed out, 
these efforts inevitably result in functional interplay. The aim of 
our study was to explore the interplay between planned and 
autonomous adaptation, with a particular focus on its differenti¬ 
ated effects. 

The study found evidence of functional interplay. In both 
planned adaptation and autonomous adaptation cases, drought is 
perceived as an important problem that influences livelihoods in 
the community. Functional interplay is illustrated by the way in 
which both government and smallholder farmers attempt to tackle 
this issue, and as a consequence, their respective actions become 

Our results indicate a differentiated effect of functional inter¬ 
play across farming households, i.e. between targeted and non- 
targeted households (class-based difference) and between male 
and female-headed households within targeted households 
(gender-based differences). Positive effects that are more pro¬ 
nounced at the community level seem to benefit households that 
are not targeted by PSNP-PW; their autonomous adaptation 
options expand through enhanced community resources and 
improved infrastructure. The more vulnerable PSNP-PW targeted 
households, on the other hand, experience negative effects as their 
autonomous adaptation options are compromised and constrained. 
For them, a high reliance on PSNP transfers seems to create a 
vicious circle of vulnerability. 

Moreover, our study depicts an additional gender-based differ¬ 
entiation, resulting from the fact that female-headed households 
are routinely targeted by PSNP-PW. For this group, the pre¬ 
existing gender imbalances and power asymmetry in the society 
put female-headed households in the most disadvantaged position 
within PSNP-PW targeted households. In the analysis, the follow¬ 

ing three issues emerge as a response to the question of why the 
interplay between these two types of adaptation (i.e. planned 
and autonomous) unfolds in this particular way. 

6.1. Multiple interests and politics in planned adaptation 

States that engage in adaptation regimes represent different 
interests, values and goals (Adger et al., 2009). Perhaps especially 
in developing countries, these are affected by many other priorities 
that require attention (Kumamoto & Mills, 2012). Hence, planned 
adaptation regimes are embedded in the state’s daily practices 
and are thus entwined in politics (Weisser, Bollig, Doevenspeck, 
& Miiller-Mahn, 2013). Consequently, analyzing the nature and 
outcome of the interplay between planned and autonomous adap¬ 
tation regimes requires a nuanced understanding of the multiple 
interests and contexts where the two adaptations are being imple¬ 
mented. This helps to understand why some effects of the interplay 
are downplayed while others are accentuated. For instance, given 
the historical and political relevance of drought and famine in 
Ethiopia (Comenetz & Caviedes, 2002; Young, 2006), the narration 
"at least they are not starving” not only emphasizes the political 
gain of the current regime compared to its predecessors, it is also 
indicative of the political character of the state’s agenda with 
regard to climate adaptation. As the intention seems to shift from 
reduction of vulnerability to "not starving," the autonomous adap¬ 
tation regime of targeted households such as female-headed 
households, who are placed at the junction of the political and his¬ 
torical contexts, becomes compromised. 

Simultaneously, the state seems to have an interest in depicting 
PSNP-PW as successful. Hence, PSNP-PW’s contribution to the cre¬ 
ation of adaptive capacity through community asset building and 
the “homogenization" of communities may have been overstated. 
After all, the constrained autonomous adaptation options for the 
most vulnerable households seem to lead to negative effects for 
some, such as female-headed households, and to differentiation 
at the community level. Furthermore, the case of mobility mani¬ 
fests the explicit exercise of power by the state through its planned 
adaptation regime. PSNP not only disregards temporary labor 
migration as an autonomous adaptation option, but it becomes a 
tool to reinforce the state’s anti-mobility policy as well. According 
to Lavers (2013, p. 481), this restrictive nature of PSNP intends to 
ensure “social stability and state domination over the rural 

6.2. Contested nature of adaptation in PSNP 

Document review and interview results reveal that farming 
households are largely perceived as “beneficiaries” rather than as 
agents in the PSNP-PW program. This could be due to the fact that 
whereas now PSNP is framed in terms of climate adaptation, it 
originated from the social protection discourse. In this discourse, 
the notion of “beneficiaries” dominates. The concept of adaptation, 
however, could be approached as an action arena where actors 
such as individuals, community and state agents are actively 
engaged (Moser & Ekstrom, 2010). We believe that framing tar¬ 
geted households as “beneficiaries” is problematic because it 
obfuscates the ongoing autonomous adaptation practices of farm¬ 
ing households. As indicated above, when the state intervenes 
without giving due consideration to autonomous adaptation prac¬ 
tices, it ends up constraining the autonomous adaptation options 
of targeted households instead of expanding their choices. 

6.3. Gender and PSNP 

Indeed, PSNP aims to address the particular problems of women 
and female-headed households through the mechanisms identified 


A.A. Mersha, F. van Laerhoven / World Development 107 (2018) 87-97 

above, and the prioritizing of women as targets of PSNP-PW may 
very well result in general positive outcomes. However, as we have 
shown, it also means that households’ autonomous adaptation 
choices are constrained. This negative effect hits female-headed 
households the hardest due to their already disadvantaged posi¬ 
tion in relation to local gendered norms and power asymmetry. 
Moreover, as Jones et al. (2010) note in their study, our result also 
suggests that the intervention seems to deal with symptoms of the 
problems (i.e. it addresses practical gender needs) (cf. Moser 1993) 
rather than tackling the root of women’s disadvantaged positions. 

7. Conclusion 

The two study areas are recognized as important hotspots of 
major drought incidents in Ethiopia and have been repeatedly 
affected, including during the very recent drought in late 2015. 
As such, the sites are appropriate vehicles for studying the inter¬ 
play between adaptation regimes and the nature and extent of 
the differentiated effects thereof. 

The results of the study point to suggestions in designing and 
implementing planned adaptation. First, the interplay between 
planned and autonomous adaptation has both positive and nega¬ 
tive effects, but these effects were experienced differently by dif¬ 
ferent groups depending on their participation in PSNP and on 
gender lines. Thus, based on this finding we suggest that any 
planned adaptation policy intervention needs to recognize the 
heterogeneity of actors and their autonomous adaptation to mini¬ 
mize the trade-offs across members of the community and to 
ensure equity. 

Second, the uncertainty surrounding climate change and the 
multifaceted nature of vulnerability to climate impacts, especially 
in the developing world, make “no/low” regret approaches to cli¬ 
mate adaptation the dominant policy approach. Often, such 
approaches focus on reducing vulnerability and enhancing adap¬ 
tive capacity. As we observed in our case, this can lead to situations 
where already existing programs and interventions are adopted as 
part of a planned adaptation regime (see also Weisser, Bollig, 
Doevenspeck, & Muller-Mahn, 2013); however, this may become 
problematic if the original assumptions and implications of the 
adopted programs and interventions are not critically re¬ 
examined. Therefore, we suggest that while there is a growing 
interest among scholars and policymakers to link planned climate 
adaptation interventions with other policy agendas in order to cre¬ 
ate institutional effectiveness, vigilant attention should be given to 
the underlying assumptions and the potential implications. 

Third, many scholars have called for the need to consider 
gender-based differences in vulnerability assessment and adapta¬ 
tion in response to climate change (Pearse, 2016; Terry, 2009). 
However, although policies are beginning to respond to this call, 
so far little attention has been given to the root causes of their vul¬ 
nerability - such as gendered institutions and gendered barriers to 
adaptation (Mersha & Van Laerhoven, 2016). Often, policies tend to 
deal with the issue by perceiving women as a vulnerable group 
that needs to be prioritized (Pearse, 2016). Thus, we suggest that 
planned adaptation policies should go beyond this natural reflex 
to tackle the deeply rooted gendered barriers and constraints that 
put female-headed households in a vulnerable position to begin 
with, so that both male and female-headed households can adapt 
to changing climate in an effective and successful way. 

Conflict of interest 



The research for this article is funded by the NICHE/ETH/020 
Project, administered by Tilburg University and the authors are 
grateful for the support. We would like to thank Peter Driessen 
for his valuable comment on earlier drafts of the article. The 
authors also want to thank all research respondents for their par¬ 
ticipation as well as the anonymous reviewers. 

Appendix A. Supplementary data 

Supplementary data associated with this article can be found, in 
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