Lutte contre la pauvreté: le rôle des institutions rurales et de la participation
La plupart des méthodes de lutte contre la pauvreté sont centrées sur les revenus et les subventions, mais de plus en plus on prend conscience du fait que ces mesures seules ne sont pas suffisantes. L'ample littérature sur le rôle important que «l'infrastructure sociale» et les institutions jouent dans le processus de développement montre qu'il existe aussi une dimension socio-institutionnelle. Le présent document est axé sur la dimension institutionnelle de la lutte contre la pauvreté rurale. On expliquera pourquoi le renforcement des capacités institutionnelles doit devenir un élément fondamental de toute stratégie de lutte contre la pauvreté rurale. Analysant quelques-unes des principales faiblesses des stratégies passées, ce document met en lumière le rôle et les fonctions potentiels que les institutions rurales et les organisations communautaires de base peuvent tenir. Ce document repose sur une analyse normative et sur l'expérience de terrain de la mise en oeuvre des programmes de lutte au sein des institutions rurales et des services participatifs de la FAO.
Mitigación de la pobreza: función de las instituciones rurales y de la participación
Aunque la mayor parte de los enfoques de reducción de la pobreza se basan en medidas de aumento de los ingresos y concesión de subvenciones, va creciendo la conciencia de que estas medidas, por sí solas, no son suficientes. Existe una literatura cada vez más abundante sobre la importante función que desempeñan en el proceso de desarrollo el «capital social» y las instituciones, y esta literatura indica que el problema tiene también una importante dimensión social e institucional. Este artículo examina los aspectos institucionales de la reducción de la pobreza rural, e indica por qué el fortalecimiento de las instituciones y la creación de capacidad deben transformarse en elementos fundamentales de toda estrategia que pretenda aliviar este problema. Analizando algunas de las principales deficiencias de las estrategias aplicadas en el pasado, se ponen de relieve el papel y las funciones que podrían desempeñar las instituciones y organizaciones de base rurales en los esfuerzos destinados a aliviar la pobreza. El texto del artículo se basa en el análisis normativo y en la experiencia sobre el terreno adquirida por el Servicio de Instituciones Rurales y Participación de la FAO en la ejecución de programas para luchar contra la pobreza.
Rural Poverty Alleviation Officer and
Rural Institutions and Participation Service, FAO
Most approaches to poverty alleviation focus on income and subsidy measures; however, there is a growing realization that these measures alone are not sufficient. The growing amount of literature on the important role that "social capital" and institutions play in the development process indicates that there is a social-institutional dimension as well. This article focuses on the institutional dimension of rural poverty alleviation and outlines why institution- and capacity-building should be fundamental elements of any strategy aiming at alleviating rural poverty. Analysing some of the main weaknesses of past poverty alleviation strategies, it highlights the potential role and function that rural institutions and grassroots organizations can play in poverty alleviation efforts. The article is based on normative analysis and field experiences in implementing anti-poverty programmes collected by the Rural Institutions and Participation Service of FAO.
There is a growing interest in poverty alleviation among leading UN agencies, and poverty alleviation is given high priority in current development assistance programmes. The recent World Food Summit, held in Rome in November 1996, is the latest testimony of a strong international commitment to poverty alleviation (World Food Summit Plan of Action, Commitments One and Two). The UN has also declared 1997-2006 as the first UN decade for the eradication of poverty. Yet, in spite of this new commitment, the performance of poverty alleviation efforts is often disappointing.
The latest estimates on world poverty indicate that 1.3 billion people had incomes below the poverty line in 1993 (World Bank, 1996a, p. 4). If trends continue, this number is expected to rise to more than 1.4 billion by the year 2000.
About 80 percent of the poor live in rural areas in developing countries, half of them in less favoured rural areas (World Bank, 1996b). Numerically, the most important subgroups of the "rural poor" are smallholder farmers and the landless. Other subgroups include: artisanal fishermen; nomadic pastoralists; indigenous ethnic tribals; refugees fleeing from civil strife, war or droughts; and disabled persons and their families. Women are disproportionally affected; it is estimated that 70 percent of the world's poor are women.
Although the majority live in rural areas, an increasing number of the poor are migrating to urban centres in search of better opportunities, thus adding a growing urban dimension to the problem. Too frequently the latter end up joining the growing ranks of the urban poor. The mushrooming slums of Bombay; Sâo Paulo, Cairo, Manila, Johannesburg and many other cities provide alarming evidence of this.
Poverty has various dimensions. The food dimension is the most fundamental, since food accounts for 80 percent of all basic human needs. People who are chronically lacking access to sufficient food are considered to be poor. Malnutrition negatively affects people's working and learning capacity, thus leading to decreased productivity and incomes. Food shortages caused by natural disasters and civil strife also may affect "vulnerable" groups living just above the poverty threshold, thus causing them to enter the ranks of the poor. Malnutrition is mostly measured on the basis of daily nutrient requirements. The number of poor is defined in terms of those people with an income level which does not allow them to access sufficient food. For the eradication of poverty, eliminating hunger and malnutrition is therefore a precondition; however, poverty and hunger, although closely associated, are not synonymous.
Poverty cannot be defined simply in terms of lacking access to sufficient food. It is also closely associated with a person's lack of access to productive assets, services and markets. Without access to these, it is unlikely that production and income-earning capacities can be improved on a sustainable basis. Low incomes and purchasing power limit the poor's ability to produce and/or purchase food and other domestically produced products and services. This in turn keeps internal markets from growing, which limits potentials for agricultural and economic growth, thus stimulating outmigration.
There are also socio-psychological and institutional dimensions of poverty. Living so close to the margin, the poor give highest priority to day-to-day survival. Most do not have enough time, energy or security to think about the future or plan on a long-term basis. Moreover, owing to their limited resource base and small scale of production, they have little economic bargaining power and consequently are often pushed aside into marginal and low-production areas - which further weakens their access to markets, social services and income-earning capacities. Partly because of the above factors, the poor's level of socio-political organization tends to be low and their capacity to make their voice heard in the corridors of power weak, meaning they are often excluded from political participation and rural decision-making processes.
What was wrong with previous approaches to alleviating poverty?
Some of the reasons for failures in the past were:
HUMAN DEVELOPMENT AND WORLD POVERTY
Note: This map is based on the Human Development Index (HDI)
1994, established by UNDP. The HDI introduces a new way of measuring development
by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income
into a composite index. The HDI sets a minimum and a maximum for each dimension
and then shows where each country stands in relation to these scales - expressed
as a value between 0 and 1. The scores of the three dimensions are then averaged
in one overall index (UNDP, 1997). The HDI is the only comprehensive source
which allows a poverty-related country comparison for 175 countries based on the
Although the HDI per se is an index for development and not primarily for poverty, it appears to be closely correlated to poverty. The ranking order of HDI shows much similarity to the Human Poverty Index (HPI) (UNDP, 1997, p. 125-127). Comparing the countries grouped by UNDP as countries with a level of low human development (44 countries with a HDI below 0.5) with the 44 countries with the highest Human Poverty Index (more than 30 percent of the total population living in poverty), there is a coincidence of more than 80 percent. If countries such as Chad, Eritrea, the Gambia, Nepal and Angola, which rank among the lowest according to the HDI, were included into the HPI database the percentage of coincidence would even increase.
The highest increases in poverty during 1987-1993 occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, with increases of 21 percent each, whereas a decline of 9 percent actually took place in the rapidly industrializing Southeast Asia region. These trends are expected to continue.
As we see, rural poverty is a very complex issue. It is related to food insecurity, access to assets, services and markets; income-earning opportunities; and the organizational and institutional means for achieving those ends. It has an urban as well as a rural dimension and impacts on a large variety of different groups in different ways. In view of this complexity, there are no global blueprints or solutions to eradicate poverty. It logically follows that strategies to reduce poverty should be specifically tailored to reach each desired group, yet at the same time be comprehensive and flexible. New strategies will have to be more cost effective in view of the constant decline in development assistance. Approaches must therefore be found that reduce costs at both ends: the service delivery costs of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector, and the access costs faced by the poor for obtaining these services.
Although some progress has been made in poverty reduction in the post-war decades, through investments in the fields of education and health and labour-intensive working programmes, overall progress has been disappointing. A 1990 study of the sustainability of a representative sample of World Bank-financed poverty alleviation projects seemed to confirm this point - noting a success rate of no more than 52 percent. Similar evaluations of other multilateral agencies and donor country-funded projects show success rates that are not much better. What was wrong with previous approaches to alleviating poverty? The Box on p. 79 summarizes some of the main shortcomings of past attempts. The lessons learned from these studies include the following:
Some basic requirements that should be considered in any poverty alleviation strategy are added in the Box.
Basic requirements for poverty alleviation
Poverty alleviation is facilitated by:
Much emphasis has been given in development literature to the importance of capital: natural, human-induced and human capital. Yet until recently, little attention was given to its fourth dimension: social capital.1 Social capital refers to the social cohesion, common identification with the forms of governance, cultural expression and social behaviour that makes society be more cohesive and more than a sum of individuals. In short, it refers to the social order that promotes a conducive environment development and solidarity. Social capital plays an important role in encouraging solidarity in overcoming market failures through collective action and common pooling of resources. It is therefore seen as a sine qua non for promoting community participation and self-reliant development. Social capital manifests itself in a location-specific set of institutions and organizations,2 with both horizontal and vertical mechanisms of interaction, collaboration and networking.
In planning any poverty alleviation action, it is therefore of fundamental importance to assess the endowment, functioning and interaction of institutional and organizational mechanisms existing in each society. Since these mechanisms facilitate and determine collaboration between individuals at the local level, it is essential to have a clear understanding of how they function and how they might contribute to the implementation of locally adapted poverty alleviation efforts before undertaking action.
If we agree that social capital is important for poverty alleviation, where do we start? An institutional approach to poverty alleviation should ideally start with an examination of the mechanisms that govern the poor's access to assets, services and markets, since improved access to assets and services is fundamental for the creation of wealth. Assets include productive resources such as land, water, finances, farm equipment and inputs, off-farm employment opportunities, whereas access to services includes: education and health, extension and markets.3 Without access to such assets and services, participation and empowerment of the poor is meaningless. The ultimate aim of such an assessment is to identify a subset of these interaction mechanisms which, when taken together, can help improve the poor's access to assets and services, increase their negotiation capacity and lead to their economic and political empowerment.
Example. Assessing the poverty alleviation potential of these interaction mechanisms is no easy task. We shall confine our analysis for the moment to one asset, the land, which is certainly one of the most fundamental assets in agriculture.
Access to land is regarded as a key element in any poverty alleviation effort. Yet, while 60 percent of all households in developing countries work on the land, some 100 million of them do not own the land they work on (IFAD, 1996). Moreover, there is little likelihood that this situation will change in the short term in most least-developed countries (LDCs), except in the few where new land is still being colonized (Brazil, Bolivia, the Sudan, Indonesia, etc.); nevertheless, substantial evidence shows that when there is a commitment by policy-makers to reform land tenure relations and when the poor are well organized, they can increase their access to land.
It therefore follows that any institutional approach to poverty alleviation aimed at improving the poor's access to land would first have to focus on: an assessment of existing land tenure institutions and organizations that regulate their access to land as well as their strengths and weaknesses.4 The ultimate aim of this assessment would be to identify which institutional and organizational setups currently regulate or govern access to agricultural land and the extent to which they facilitate or hinder the poor's access to land. Further steps would then be to:
However, the relationship between access to assets and services, local institutions and organizations, and poverty alleviation does not just concern land. An institutional analysis also has to examine many other factors, since access to land is influenced by access to other productive resources and services, which may in turn influence the value of the land in absolute and relative terms, such as the availability of technology, irrigation infrastructure and inputs, access to credit and markets, opportunities for non-farm or off-farm income. For instance:
Many other factors such as rural-urban migration or infrastructural development also impact on the access to land but are not examined in this paper. Nevertheless, the few points raised here should be sufficient to illustrate that the easing of one constraint facing the poor, i.e. access to land, may be facilitated by institutional interventions in other areas as well. In view of these institutional interactions, no doubt exists about the key role that local institutions and local organizations have to play in order to facilitate communication, to ensure information flow and to coordinate different functions, interests and players. An institutional analysis aiming at poverty alleviation has to examine the location-specific access of the poor to various assets as well as the complexity and interaction that exists among those institutions and organizations governing that access.
Since the poor generally lack economic and physical capital, focusing on strengthening their social capital makes sense, as it is a prerequisite for achieving sustainable collective action and useful for acquiring all other forms of capital. The focus of actions therefore aims at overcoming identified institutional and organizational gaps or weaknesses in order to empower the rural poor.5 It would imply the strengthening of collective self-help capacities at the local level to enable the poor to plan, manage and monitor their access to assets more in line with their needs and views. Yet, since local-level self-help initiatives often require support from higher decision-making levels, the establishment of a two-way communication system connecting the bottom with the top and the top with the bottom is essential. In this sense, institutional empowerment goes beyond beneficiary participation at the grassroots level, as it has been practised in so many recent externally funded projects.
It is important to emphasize that great care must be taken to ensure that these measures add or modify locally existing institutions and organizations rather than replace them. Problems of acceptance are likely to occur when introducing completely new forms of organizations. It is also problematic simply to transform or modernize "traditional organizations".
The use of group-based participatory learning methods (see Box on p. 83) for strengthening the collective learning, problem-solving and enterprise management skills of the poor have proved quite successful, and a number of practical tools for doing this are already available. FAO's experience in small group development spans almost two decades and is now being recorded and disseminated. Practical handbooks and manuals such as The group promoter's resource book and The group enterprise resource book (FAO, 1994b; 1995) proved to be very useful and popular sources for this kind of learning.
Principal elements of a small group approach
Participatory learning describes an
interactive learning process that enhances the cooperation and
problem-solving capacities of the poor. It requires two-way communication,
from top-to-bottom and from bottom-to-top and it addresses participants at
all levels, from local to national.
Recognizing the importance of civil society and grassroots organizations, however, does not mean ignoring the role of the state and the private sector. Governments have mandates and capacities to combat poverty and hunger. They set some of the rules of the game by determining legal frameworks, agricultural and macroeconomic policies, developing infrastructure, funding research and education and creating the enabling environments for local action. The private sector also acts as a crucial contributor to economic growth and innovation.
Achieving empowerment of the poor at the local level obviously requires the existence of favourable social and political environments for improving structures related to local governance. Institutional reform is often needed. This ultimately means bringing the supply and management of public services closer to the people. Such reforms need to go beyond the pure act of decentralizing decision-making authority. There must also be a greater degree of devolution of development functions to locally representative bodies, whether elected or traditional. These bodies must be given a larger say in the planning of local development activities, the use of public resources, the delivery of public services and the management of common property resources such as land and water.
The World Food Summit Plan of Action provides FAO with a most suitable policy framework for action in the field of poverty alleviation. While the main focus of the plan is on food security, it also states that it aims at "Ensuring a favourable enabling political, social and economic environment, based on the full participation of men and women for the eradication of poverty, for the promotion of durable peace ...." and that it seeks to:
"Strengthen local government institutions in rural
areas and provide them with adequate resources, decision-making authority and
mechanisms for grassroots participation" (Objective 3.5b); and
"Encourage and enable farmers ... as well as their organizations ... by strengthening institutional structures to define their responsibilities and protect their rights ..." (Objective 3.5c).
It is therefore most likely that FAO's future activities in this field will be undertaken within the context of the World Food Summit Plan of Action. Currently, FAO contributes to poverty alleviation through:
The Poverty Alleviation Group of the Rural Development Division of FAO is the main focal point in FAO on poverty alleviation issues, while various FAO Technical Departments contribute to poverty alleviation efforts in the fields of: an enabling macroeconomic environment, the provision of access to assets and basic services, increased production and income-earning opportunities, institutional reform and local empowerment, all of which are closely interlinked.
FAO's Poverty Alleviation Group gives primary attention to the institutional and organizational dimension of poverty alleviation. The group builds on its experience derived from a comparative analysis of a variety of recent rural development projects and from FAO's Peoples Participation Programme which is located in the group. The group investigates ways and means of further increasing the resource mobilization and negotiation capacities of the poor - mainly at the local level.
The main units of current analysis and action are: the intrahousehold and interhousehold levels. The major research focus at intrahousehold level is on income generation and asset accumulation. The main objective is to gain a sound understanding of the:
At the interhousehold level, the major focus is on cooperation mechanisms that facilitate the poor's access to assets. The current objective on that level is, on the basis of a sound understanding of the mechanisms of cooperation, to develop models of organizational development and to identify demand-driven ways and means for increasing collective self-help capacities of the rural poor at the local level. During the current biennium, the focus of normative analysis is on:
On the basis of the outlined analyses, the working group will contribute to the development of strategies and policy recommendations related to the institutional dimension of poverty alleviation. The main output will be targeted policy advice to Member Governments on poverty reduction.
1 The term "social capital" was coined by J.S. Coleman in his article: Social capital in the creation of human capital (Coleman, 1988).
2 Institutions and organizations are not identical. In institutional literature, D. North's clarification is widely used, according to which institutions are the rules of the game of a society or, more formally, are the humanly devised constraints that structure human interaction. They are composed of formal rules (statute law, common law, regulations), informal constraints (conventions, norms of behaviour and self-imposed modes of conduct), and the enforcement characteristics of both. Organizations are the players: groups of individuals bound by a common purpose to achieve objectives. They include political bodies; economic bodies; social bodies (churches, clubs, associations) and educational bodies (North, 1995, p. 23).
Institutions, then, are the formal and informal ties that bind collectives. Formal institutions are the explicit rules that govern social behaviour (established in written law, created by conscious, recorded decisions with established precedents (Swift, 1994, p. 154). As such, they have come to depend on recognition from the modern state. Informal institutions, by contrast, imply the habitual ways in which a society manages its everyday affairs. Examples include customs relating to kinship and marriage and the way these institutions affect access to land and labour in a specific cultural setting (Johnson, 1996).
3 It is important to recall that the poor potentially have two productive resources: their own labour and their own knowledge and creativity. These, however, may be restricted by a lack of other assets, local institutional constraints and undernutrition or sickness.
4 An investigation into the availability and distribution of land is a precondition to but not part of the institutional assessment per se.
5 Concrete measures might aim at training in group problem solving, priority setting, long-term self-sufficiency analysis and financial management, to give just some examples.
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