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Jane Mariara
Director, School of Economics University of Nairobi
Kenya, 02-03-2015

Pro-Poor Growth Policies

In many poor countries, growth does not always translate to poverty reduction. Evidence from Kenya for instance suggests a growth-poverty paradox, with falling poverty incidence accompanied by growth in the number of poor persons. At the same time, considerable economic growth between 1994 and 2006 was realized without corresponding improvements in socioeconomic outcomes such as child mortality and nutritional status. Research findings and best practices suggest that to address poverty, inequality and enhance growth, a number of policies are critical. Such policies ensure affordability and access to the following services:

(i) Water: A significant proportion of households in poor countries lack access to safe drinking water. Managing water scarcity in developing countries is a challenge due to high population growth, unstructured urban development, the need for irrigation and livestock water due to frequent droughts and falling surface water levels, and high costs of acquiring new water supplies such as boreholes. Policies that ensure access, management and utilization of water by the poor are important.

(ii) Education: Education remains unaffordable to the poorest of the poor in many low income countries: Policies should include:

  1.       Free primary education – this should go beyond tuition waiver to ensure that basic learning infrastructure is available so that quality is not compromised.
  2.      Subsidized tertiary education.
  3.       Support for early childhood education (ECE) – in many low income countries, ECE is not supported by the government, yet, good quality ECE is the foundation for quality education in later years.
  4.      Informal schooling, targeting mostly informal settlements and children with special needs. Informal schooling should be combined with empowerment programmes for the households in which the poor children live.

(iii) Health: Access to basic preventive and curative care is essential in low income countries. Many health services are outside the reach of the poor due to cost of care, while distance to care facilities remains a hindrance to utilization. Such countries continue to witness low child immunization rates, high child morbidity and mortality rates as well as high maternal mortality ratios. These can be addressed if health care services are made more accessible and affordable.

(iv) Fuel: The poor rely on fuels which are unclean and environmentally unfriendly. Fuelwood, charcoal and kerosene are not only a health hazard, often associated with pollution and upper respiratory infections, but wood based fuels also lead to deforestation and environmental degradation. Policies to ensure access to and affordability of fuel include market-based instruments such as subsidies, and control policies. Subsidies and zero-rating of cleaner fuels such as cooking gas could help reduce the environmental impact of using wood and charcoal. Afforestation and agro-forestry in rural areas that facilitate easier access to fuels would free women’s time for fuel search and thus release labour for productive activities.

(v) Markets: Many poor farmers lack proper marketing channels for their produce, while poor roads make it impossible to get fresh produce to the market on time. Improving market access would have important implications for the livelihood of poor farmers. Investment in infrastructure is a must in many low income countries if households are to escape from poverty traps.

(vi) Safety and security: Safety and security are necessary for socioeconomic development. High levels of crime, civil strife and global threat from terrorism have negative consequences for productivity, growth and poverty reduction. Policies should include scaling up community policing and core interventions to increase security and reduce chronic crime. Cooperation of governments globally in the fight against terrorism is a must.

A combination of all these policies together with others can ensure that growth translates into poverty reduction.

All the above policies can help reach the most excluded and disadvantaged groups. In addition, social protection policies are particularly important as they can ensure that the most vulnerable groups access basic social services and also support their livelihoods.


*Part of this discussion is drawn from Kabubo-Mariara J., D. Mwabu and G. Ndenge (2013). Inequality, Poverty, Growth and Institutions: Understanding the Linkages in Kenya. Report for the AERC Collaborative Research Project on Understanding the Links between Growth and Poverty in Africa.

Jane Mariara is Director of the School of Economics University of Nairobi

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Mohammed Bashir Umar

2019-06-16 22:06

As a matter of fact, these should be pursued but, the will and sincerity of purpose from both within and without is our major problem. What we need is complete orientation, sensitisation and education especially in countries like Nigeria. Also, poverty is like the proverbial beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, because right from the definition and measurement of the concept there are a lot of ambiguities. For instance the $1 dollar/day earning as a measure is not only erroneous but, misleading. I stand to be corrected. Thanks


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This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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