Proposed Measures for Alleviating Poverty in Developing Counters
Extracted and adapted from the author's book entitled "The Puzzling Paradox of the African Food Crisis."
The concept of poverty is surrounded by puzzling intricacies and encompasses issues of a multi-facted nature. For the most
part, poverty is an economic and social phenomenon, but it also has cultural, spiritual and political dimensions. Added to this, it
fluctuates in time and space as well as in the status of the people affected. A person classified as poor in one period, for
instance, may improve his or her status in another period. The same person classified as poor at a given point in time may be
better off in relative terms. Consequently, it is virtually impossible to coin a universally acceptable definition of the poverty
Notwithstanding this, some efforts have been made in the past to define the concepts in a broader context. According to the
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), poverty is perceived as the relative absence of
income, assets, basic services, self-respect, opportunities for education and social mobility and participation in deicsion-making. In another definition, it is reckoned to be the insufficiency of income or, more generally, disposable income to prop up a minimum standard of living.
To some scholars, poverty means the state of deprivation of fundamental human needs. These include access to adequate food
and water, ample shelter, good health, long life, knowledge and the capacity to provide materially for oneself and for one's
family through productive activities. To Sen (1987), poverty is the lack of abilities to function. It is for the analyst to determine
the relevant abilities in a given society and to target those segments of the society lacking the abilities. To Ravallion (1994),
poverty exists when one or more persons in a society do not attain the minimum level of economic well-being.
From this broad conceptual framework, two major issues stand out clearly. The first of these is the fact that the needs of the
poor are exceedingly complex and multi-dimensional. The other is, given their complicity and multidimensional character, it is
beyond the realm of possibility to address all the needs of the poor within a short period of time. Granted that this is the case,
what are the most feasible and pragmatic options for addressing these needs? The first option is to synthesize the needs into
specific and practically implementable objectives. The second option is to dichotomise these objectives in terms of attainable
goals with short and long time perspectives. With this in view, the following proposals are made:-
(a) The first step to alleviate poverty is to identify or target the poor. In other words, those vulnerable people below a given
poverty line (absolute or relative) who should be a focus of a poverty alleviation programme must be determined. This may not
be a difficult exercise in a country like Ethiopia where practically half of the population is believed to be poor.
(b) Once the poor are thus identified, the next step is to unveil and analyze their immediate needs with the objective of
fashioning specific programmes or projects, employing a multi-sectoral approach and placing a particular accent on their basic
requirements such as, but not limted to, food, shelter, water supply health, sanitation and education.
(c) The measures proposed under (a) and (b) can yield tangible results if parallel efforts are made to reduce the adverse effects
of poverty-aggravating factors like population growth, armed conflicts, land-holding systems, structural adjustment
programmes and the prevalence of endemic diseases. Attempts should be made to diagnose and assess the impact of these
factors on the poverty situation.
(d) Poverty problems are largely offshoots of little or no employment opportunities for generating income-earning capacities. A
broad-based economic growth focussing on agriculture and related sectors (formal and informal including agro-industries
should be actively encouraged. In this context, both the public sector and the private sector should play a catalytic role in the
sustained generation and expansion of employment opportunities in order not to exacerbate the current poverty situation.
(e)Development plans and policies should not only be growth-oriented, but they should also be equity-oriented. Even at the
stage of formulation, development plans and policies must have built-in mechanisms for alleviating poverty through growth,
reduced gender disparities and a fair practice of resource allocation.
(f)The availability and effectiveness of support services and facilities constitute a sine qua non for the alleviation of poverty.
Priority attention should be accorded to the radical improvement of such critical services and facilities as roads, railway lines,
storage structures, transport vehicles, farm implements, inputs, weighing machines, sacks, credits, training institutes, clinics,
farmers co-operatives, research and extension. The foci of all these efforts should be the problems of the poor.
(g) Poverty is caused by environmental degradation. Ironically, environmental degradation is also caused by poverty.
Agricultural development (including food production) is stunted by deforestation and soil depletion particularly erosion
salimisation, deccication, sedimentation and water-logging. Foresighted measures to remedy this problem include efficient
land-use practices; proper utilization of inputs; conservation, expansion and rational exploitation of natural resources (forests,
soil, water etc.); and the utilization of alternative sources of energy such as biomass, bagasse, methane as well as wind and
(h) An essential condition for the successful implementation of a poverty alleviation strategy is the existence of efficient
institutions. Decisive measures must be taken to enhance the operational effectiveness of relevant institutions by adopting
improved managerial practices through among other, the provision of well-trained, properly-motivated and genuinely
(i) Strategies aimed at poverty alleviation hinge, for effectiveness as much on locally mobilized resources as on external
assistance. Since external assistance is a major component in poverty alleviation programmes, its co-ordination and
restructuring in favor of the rural poor are absolutely essential. Only 25 per cent of today's aid goes to countries where
three-quarters of the world's poor people live.
Each of these proposals may have short-term objectives. These need to be identified cautiously before embarking on the
implementation of the poverty alleviation strategy. For instance, the whole of proposal (a) and most of the proposal (b)
constitute short-term objectives. So are the proposals under (c). Part of the proposal under (d) is a short-term objective.
Providing poor people with resources for the purpose of enabling them to earn income may be a short-term objective.
Measures designed to streamline and reinforce the functioning of the informal sector are also short-term objectives.
Under proposal (g), conserving and rationally exploiting existing natural resources like forests, soil and water are largely
objectives of immidiate concern. Conversely, formulating and executing country wide programmes or projects for the expansion of forests and for developing large-scale irrigation schemes may be long-term objectives under proposal (h), the amelioration of existing institutional machineries in terms of on-the-job training and motivation may be a short-term objective. Building the requisite technical capabilities through education and training may be a long-term objective.
Assuming that the short- and long-term objectives are intelligibly spelt out, these should be embodied in national programmes
and projects. Because resources are scarce and the poor are faced with pressing problems like food, shelter and water supply,
the programmes and projects already formulated should be implemented with a particular focus on the short-term objectives.
The time frame for this may be decided on at the outset. Along with this, an efficient system of monitoring and evaluation must
be worked out to gauge the extent of achievement at all levels.
Linked to this is the apparent need for determining success indicators as part of the monitoring exercise. Some examples of
these are the declining number of the poor; the decrease in rural-urban migration; the narrowing down of gender inequalities; the expansion of employment opportunities, the slow disappearance of endemic diseases, the issuance of relevant legislations, the wanning interest of people in poverty issues; and the down ward trend in the prices of consumable commodities particularly
food. Based on these and other indicators attempts can be made to measure the success or failure of the poverty-alleviation
strategy and to introduce periodic adjustments too the short and long-term objectives.
To sum up, launching and executing a poverty-alleviation strategy postulates a mulit-sectoral approach. This is because it is
vastly complex and embraces diversified issues of immediate and long-term interest to the poor. These issues must be properly
analyzed digested and understood as a basis for formulating well-thought-out, all-encompassing poverty-alleviation
programmes and projects designed to address realistically the most urgent and pressing problems of the poor.
To carve out a multi-faceted poverty-alleviation strategy on paper is one thing. To implement it successfully in the field is quite
another. Hence the importance of strengthening country-wide monitoring and evaluation tools for measuring level of
achievement. Such tools include success indicators like improved income, reduced malnutrition, lower illiteracy rates, increased
medical care, and a drop in infant mortality, which are also employed as yardsticks for gauging the depth and severity of
poverty pari passu with other indicators similar to those referred to above. It is hoped that these few proposals, however
limited they may be, will make some contributions to the on-going poverty alleviation strategy in the country.