Skip to content

Who Owns Poverty – Comments

The article on “Who Owns Poverty” is an interesting article. I am not sure I fully agree with the approach, but I do agree that most development efforts, particularly those aimed at poverty alleviation for smallholders are a total failure. I also agree that most of the “innovations” to assist smallholders are imposed by donors and you need to involve the beneficiaries in the process, but how that fits in is a question. I think the expectations of beneficiary input is at the beginning in determining what an innovation should be. I am not certain that is most appropriate, as it most likely will result in continuation of current practices. Thus, I don’t strongly object to donor-imposed solutions, but they need to be clearly understood they are impositions and thus need to be carefully and objectively monitored including discussions with the beneficiaries and field observation when possible. For agronomic innovations field observations are usually very possible. Unfortunately, as previously noted in Next Billion, the reporting is more designed to appease the donors, and this can be essential for contract extensions and future projects. However, such appeasement only more deeply entrenches the innovations, and limits the potential for future projects to evolve to better serve the beneficiaries.

I have two primary concerns. The first is most agronomic innovations are more labor intensive than what the farmers are doing, and labor is assumed to readily available when it is severely limited, as well as the calorie energy to fuel that labor, which is often only 50% of what is needed for a full day of agronomic field work. This is what I provocatively refer to as the genocide oversight, since expecting people to work well in excess of their available calories is promoting starvation. This can easily be picked up by simply observing the timing of field work, both of any project managed demonstration plots and the remainder of the fields in the community. It is highly visible, but no one conceptualizes on the operational limits of agronomic production let alone the rational compromises farmers make when operationally restricted. At the ground level you get some beautiful demonstrations of what is physically possible but very little actual acceptance. ;

The second concern is the overreliance on producer organizations or cooperatives to provide support services. This is done by slanderous decreeing that private service providers are exploiting the smallholders, and they can get more favorable financial benefits, but without ever mentioning the overhead costs to receive the benefits. Overlooked is the overall economic conditions that put massive downward pressure on consumer prices, so the envisioned financial benefits are fully consumed by the overhead costs resulting in, if smallholder farmers actually relied in the cooperative model, they would be forced deeper into poverty. No joke!! Fortunately, the farmers are not that gullible so only a small percent (10%) of the potential farmers actually participate and then side-sell most of their marketed production to the vilified private service providers, consigning to the cooperative only what is needed for in-kind repayment of any production loans.

The bottom line is that most donors are not sincerely interested in assisting smallholder farmers out of poverty but are more interested in what can be easily publicized to show good intentions, and only accepting reporting that supports this. This is easily demonstrated in the USAID MEL (monitoring, evaluation, & learning) program. A careful analysis of this will show that it is more interested in propagandizing the work by creating highly impressive but totally meaningless numbers (bean counting) and deceive the American public into thinking what my any normal business standards would be complete failure are highly successful projects.

Leave a Comment

Contact CSU Equal Opportunity Privacy Statement Disclaimer

2018 Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523 USA