Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Poverty Eradication Cabinet Committee in India

This past week three members of the Cabinet Sub-Committee for Poverty Eradication, namely its Chairperson Mokgweetsi Masisi accompanied by Keletso Rakhudu and Botlogile Tshireletso, were in India to expand and explore partnerships and share experiences.

Besides extended briefings with their Government counterparts at the Federal Planning Commission and the Indian Ministries of Rural Development and Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, the delegation benefited from its exchanges with the parastatal National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC), National Institute of Rural Development (NIRD) and the non-government Indian Development Foundation.

Members of the delegation were also confronted with the human face of poverty first hand during all day site visits to the rural village of Janampet in Hydrabad State and the Dharavi neighbourhood in Mumbai.

With a population of nearly one million cramped into an area of just 175 hectares or 1.7 kilometres, Dharavi was until recently known as “Asia’s largest slum”. Its infamous circumstance has otherwise been popularized in such films as Salaam Bombay and Slumdog Millionaire, which do not fully capture its desperate reality.┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á

Why dialogue with India? No other country has more impoverished people. As of 2010 about 450 million Indians, some 37.5% of the total population of 1.2 billion, were reported to be living in poverty. 

Yet, with the notable exception of China, it is also true that no nation has pulled more people out of poverty in recent years. It has been conservatively estimated that not less than 100 million Indians have graduated from poverty to middle class status during the past decade.

When it comes to potential lessons for Botswana such macro-statistics are, however, less relevant than gaining an understanding of both the relative success and limits of various targeted interventions that have been undertaken by both the state and various non-government bodies.

From such micro-analysis it is clear that many poverty alleviation programmes are having a positive impact on the lives of those still living in poverty as well as those who have managed to escape it.

For example, in the face of widespread malnutrition, the Indian Development Foundation along with other civil society partners sponsors a national feeding programme that reaches just over 1% of the population. While as a percentage this may appear to be a modest achievement, in terms of total numbers it daily translates into some 130 million direct beneficiaries.

Across the country, the provision of micro-finance, technology transfers and training on the part of organizations such as NCIS and NIRD have launched and sustained tens of thousands of small businesses and rural coops. If adapted to address the growth potential of a country of only 2 million, a small fraction of such successes would go a long way towards ensuring economic diversification, as well as poverty eradication, in our own country. 

It is generally recognized that relatively small amount of money can make a big difference within an impoverished community when it is invested in sustainable small scale enterprises. In this respect Botswana can also learn from India.

Here private sector micro-finance is generally associated with high interest loans that more often than not are directed towards personal consumption, a pattern that can easily throw people into debt ridden poverty.

By way of contrast, in India as indeed elsewhere in South Asia, state and privately supported micro-financing has in recent years extended low interest loans to an ever increasing number of small entrepreneurs and rural development groups, the latter being almost exclusively driven by women.

The relative success of small enterprises in India, firms averaging three employees account for about 40% of the country’s manufacturing output and a third of all exports, can be further attributed a combination of financial discipline and productive commitment that are reinforced by internal and external monitoring systems. Currently these longstanding attributes are being strengthened and transformed through the steady rollout of dedicated software applications and high speed internet connectivity.

While the Botswana delegation was impressed by┬áIndia’s experience in developing diverse strategies to confront urban and rural poverty, as well as women and youth empowerment┬áthrough SMMEs, coupled with training, self-help housing and public works initiatives, there are clearly areas where we have done better, notably including our overall delivery of public health and education services.
A shared challenge is bringing mainstream development to remote area communities. In India such communities are larely made up of over 750 “scheduled tribes” consisting of culturally distinct mountain and forest dwellers, many of whom have subsisted on hunting and gathering.

Like Botswana and other African countries, India has firmly resisted the application of the Euro-American indigenous framework in its national development. In this respect there is little tolerance for the likes of Survival International.

Along with the Dhalits (traditional social lower caste) recognised tribespersons in India do, however, benefit from a range of affirmative action measures. Here, as elsewhere, it was agreed that both parties would further exchange information and perspectives on their ongoing policies and programmes.

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.