Interventions to reduce farmers’ vulnerability to crises rarely build on existing coping strategies. Emergency seed aid offers a unique opportunity to examine links between different types of interventions and local coping mechanisms, as such relief has been abundant and long-term. This study focuses on farmers’ use and assessment of crisis assistance within Ethiopia, where seed aid delivery dates back at least 34 years. Farmers’ abilities to strategize and negotiate inter-/intra-seasonal variability are not being addressed by current supply-driven approaches. Lessons derived from seed aid give insights toward more effective practice for programs aiming to bolster farmers’ resilience in high-stress and uncertain contexts.