ANALYSIS

On poverty alleviation and eradication – Part 1

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JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

POVERTY eradication and social concerns, a preferential option for the poor, are recurring themes in the Duterte administration, and this is how it should be.

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No one can deny the serious problem of poverty in this country, Gini ratio and other poverty studies so proclaim. This poverty has been exacerbated by inflation, currency depreciation and unemployment.

Compounding the lack of jobs are the low level of wages and the disguised unemployed. Subsistence wage is characteristic of subsistence agriculture and service industries which only provide a few hours of work a day. Moreover, low levels of productivity in farms and household industries can only produce low incomes. Workers in industry produce as much as five times the output of agricultural workers which allows them naturally to earn much more than agricultural workers. In almost three decades, not enough jobs have been provided by the manufacturing sector.

Studies made by Krugman and company some years back showed that rural incomes are on average less than half those of urban incomes even as three out of every five poor households live in rural areas. It is a given that extreme poverty is concentrated in the provinces, where three-fourths of income earners in the bottom 20 percent of the population are in agriculture.

Parenthetically, among the poorest of the poor in the agricultural sector are the millions of coconut farmers who to this day are still leading a hand-to-mouth existence. That they are today a vocal and militant group can be traced to the above situation. In the past, they provided the communist New People’s Army (NPA) with cadres.

This poverty problem in the rural areas is compounded by the migration of rural poor to urban ghettos where their plight is dramatized. The unsightly barong- barongs clustered around Manila’s harbors are actually owned by migrants from the provinces hoping for a better life in the city. Many of them are bitterly disappointed at what they have found living under neon signs and bright lights where poverty can even be harsher. Some of these end up in the vice industry where they resort to such lucrative, if immoral and dangerous, occupations as prostitution and drug pushing.

While it has to be admitted that poverty levels have improved over time, the level of poverty in this country is still higher than those of neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

This administration has promised to meet the basic needs of the majority of the people who are very poor. These needs are more and better food, safe water, security of livelihood, decent shelter, and adequate transport. In addition, there are “non-material” needs such as self-confidence; self-reliance; dignity; capacity to make one’s own decisions, to participate in the decisions that affect one’s life and work, and to develop fully one’s talents, all of which interact in a variety of ways with “material” needs.

Meeting the basic needs of the million-poor people requires changes not only in income distribution, but also in the structure of production (including distribution and foreign trade). It calls for increases in the basic goods in the market, as well as in the power to buy them, and for an expansion and redesign of public services. To ensure that these actually reach the poor, there should be a restructuring of public services, greater participation at the local level, better access to these services, and an appropriate delivery system.

Since the majority of the poor live (and will continue to live for some time) by agriculture in the countryside, priority has been given to growing food for domestic consumption. Agriculture has been the lagging sector; it has been holding up development and its produce has been unevenly spread.

In order to meet the needs of the rural population, credit, extension services, fertilizer, water, power, and seeds must be made available to the small farmer. He must also be given security of tenure or secure ownership of his land. He needs inputs, including information, appropriate institutions, and incentives.

The small farmer must also be provided with access to markets in market towns and regional cities through feeder roads and marketing facilities.

A group of smallholdings should be serviced by modern centers of processing, marketing, financial services and extension services, but this must be done in a way which does not call excessively for managerial resources, which are scarce.

Efforts should be made to develop efficient labor-intensive technologies that economize in the use of capital and sophisticated skills and management and are appropriate for the social, cultural and climatic conditions of developing countries.

The rural towns should provide middle-level social services such as health and family clinics, secondary schools and technical colleges.

This new development approach, called the “bottom up” approach as distinguished from the trickle-down, will reduce the rush to the large cities and the heavy costs of public services, and increase regional and local participation.

“Empowerment for Sustained Development” (edited by Naresh Sigh and Vangile Titi of Fernwood Publishing Ltd.) outlines courses of action to take in pursuit of people empowerment as a precondition to poverty alleviation. This is relevant inasmuch as this administration reportedly would like to bring down poverty levels by as much as 20 percent—a herculean task indeed.

Implied in this administration’s development model is the concept of empowerment. Actually, this is the flavor of the month, with the evolution of the “bottom up” approach to development put forward by theorists and practitioners as they grapple with the challenge of articulating an alternative vision to modernization within a new framework of development which is people-oriented.

According to our source, this empowerment growth model has been used to imply the following:

• Good governance, legitimacy and creativity for a flourishing private sector with a social market economic framework;

• Transformation of economies to self-reliant, indigenous, human-centered development–a capitalist model with a human face;

• Promotion of community development through self-help with an emphasis on the process rather than on the completion of particular projects, that is, applying the principle of subsidiarity;

• A process enabling collective decision-making and collective action which leads us to the last item below;

• Popular participation, a concept that has gained popularity within the development community.

The above action program to promote empowerment also implies the need to build the capacity of communities to respond to a changing environment by inducing appropriate change internally as well as externally and through innovation.

This principle of decentralization and devolution is enshrined in the Constitution.

(Part 2 will appear tomorrow)

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