Production Based Strategy for Making Poverty Reduction Programs More Effective
The Kenya Poverty alleviation strategy paper 2011 identifies three pillars for poverty eradication in Kenya. These pillars are economic growth rate, political stability and social cohesion. Considering the three pillars and the specifics under each pillar, it seems poverty reduction in Kenya is tied to economic growth rate. It does appear that making poverty reduction effective has to start with how poverty has been conceptualized and theoretical frameworks underpinning the conceptualization. It is difficult to come up with a poverty reduction strategy because of the difficulty in defining poverty.
The poverty reduction strategy by government seems to be neo-liberal leaning whereby aggregate economic growth is assumed to provide all required for poverty alleviation. For theorists and development practitioners, Kenya faces structural challenges as well as cultural challenges in the fight against poverty; therefore, there is need for a structural as well as cultural pronged strategy to poverty alleviation.
There have been efforts to tackle both structural and cultural issues that perpetuate deprivation for a majority of Kenyans. Such efforts have been championed by international development actors as well as national actors. Have the efforts or programs implemented so far been effective? The jury is out there and there are huge contestations on how effective given programs have been. Just as there are contestations about the definition of poverty, contestations on outcomes from poverty reduction projects only persist when we are guided by ideal-type thinking. There is an assumption that there are ideal conditions that must persist everywhere. While this line of thinking is valid; there are basic livelihood and survival minimums that we all need to survive, the issue is those survival minimums are context specific. Therefore, we can contest outcomes of poverty reduction strategies to the extent they do not contribute to transformation towards the ideal type conditions. Modernization provided a Motif around which poverty reduction strategies have been curved. Macro considerations notwithstanding, decisively, when one considers individuals and household livelihoods in given settings, one may then more justifiably declare whether interventions have been effective or not.
When is a poverty reduction strategy or program effective? Such a question can only be answered by considering the outcomes of programs. However, Even as we consider outcomes of given programs, the question of effective from whose perspective has to be considered. Contestations on outcomes from past or current programs lead further questioning the approaches or methods. Some programs have been tailored to address challenges faced by people in a humanitarian crisis. Seasonal poverty due to famines has been a recurrent humanitarian crisis. Consequently, many programs targeting the poor and poor regions have had to do with cash transfers and food distribution. On the other hand, we have had more structural programs like infrastructure development and capacity building aimed at structural transformation in given sectors of the economy.
One criticism of the programs by the different actors engaged in poverty alleviation is that they are not linked or tied to a holistic social transformation agenda. We have reactive programs that are more crisis tackling oriented than proactive and production based. It is my considered opinion that unless it is a humanitarian crisis, the only way of dealing poverty and effective blow is through activating production. What would a production-based agenda entail? Ultimately, such a production strategy has to tie possible production processes in a context to the gratification of needs of the poor. For this to happen, first, the government needs to come up with a social policy that puts basic needs at the centre of the national development agenda. The national development agenda is about allocation of scarce resources to processes by which people in a country satisfy their interests. Unfortunately, in most nations, it is assumed that wealth and power accumulation interests of the ruling class suffices and supersedes interests of the poor as interests of the nation.
A social transformation agenda must necessarily be holistic and multi-pronged but integrated. Such a social policy should consider social context, social networks, cultural logics and the aspirations of the people. In such consideration, ideal type motifs like the modernization dream ought to be substituted by context informed development path. How does it relate to making poverty reduction strategies effective? First, it means that focus is on how to turn each a people, in their context into production agents and ensures sustained production of what facilitates them meeting basic needs. Secondly, it means that even when responding to presenting needs, development actors have to roll out programs tied to a holistic long-term socio-economic transformation agenda. This means that for every a people in Kenya, with respect to their context, actors should facilitate production and marketing of produce both locally and internationally. A production-based strategy to poverty reduction would shift focus to production capacity of the poor hence their empowerment.