Monday, June 5, 2023

Poverty Eradication: the journey thus far…

Following the inaugural poverty eradication workshop in Mahalapye in October 2010 that set the tone for this Flagship Programme, much progress has been made in terms of the overall coordination and implementation of the Programme, which includes community mobilization, needs profiling, identification of the projects, training, resource mobilization, marketing and of course monitoring and evaluation.

The policy shift from poverty alleviation and reduction to a more robust approach of poverty eradication could perhaps be directly linked to Government’s response to global efforts to eradicating absolute poverty, which is of course in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on extreme hunger and poverty.

There is no iota of doubt that there has been some measure of success in previous programmes, which were aimed at alleviating or reducing poverty.

The fact is Botswana has done relatively well in terms of poverty level from 59 per cent of the Mid 1980s to the current 19.6 per cent, which is fairly or relatively good for a middle income country. This is indicative of Government’s commitment to surpass the MDG on extreme hunger and poverty, hence concerted efforts to focus on eradicating absolute poverty.

Government has taken note of some of the feedback from members of the public. Some people may call this policy shift utopian or haphazard! Utopian as it may appear to some, this programme is a deliberate effort to shift people from places where they are less productive or not productive at all to places where they are more productive by creating an opportunity for them to graduate from abject poverty and eventually lead a productive and prosperous life.

However, as Government, we take this assessment in kind gesture and will attempt to provide as much information and updates as possible so that, in the end, the public is fully informed about this Programme and ultimately be in a position to participate fully in its implementation and of course other processes.

The poverty eradication programme was introduced at a time when Government had put in place other safety net programmes, which catered for specific groups such as orphans and destitute persons, people with disabilities and the elderly.

As we have noted before, during interaction with some members of the media and public, the concern for the abject poor and the design of the programmes to cater for them has become core.

Directly linking the objectives of the poverty eradication programme with those of Ipelegeng could be viewed as misrepresentation of facts. The objectives of Ipelegeng, which is a relief programme are clear.

On the other hand, poverty eradication programme is aimed at improving the livelihoods of Batswana by addressing all aspects of poverty including the policy environment, the institutional framework and the establishment of sustainable economic empowerment projects.

The poverty eradication programme is geared towards assisting Batswana to attain food and economic security, and at a minimum, sustainable livelihood among the disadvantaged individuals and families.

Subsequent workshops held in Diphuduhudu, Struizendam, Dikhukhung, Sehunou/Motshegaletau, Chanoga, Damchujeenaa and Jamataka have greatly assisted in engaging key stakeholders, Batswana, in defining poverty; in consolidation of projects and programmes aimed at eradication of abject poverty; and of course in mapping out the steps out of poverty.

Government has also come up with the poverty eradication guidelines, which assist stakeholders to understand the underlying principles of the programme and also ensure that there is a common platform for implementers across the country. The poverty eradication guidelines also provide information to the beneficiaries to make informed decisions in selection and management of the projects.

The guidelines also provide information on issues related to eligibility criteria, skills transfer, programme implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Government has come up with a list of packages including home based laundry, leatherworks, fashion design, tent hire, landscaping, hair salon, glass recycling, backyard tree nursery, fire beaters, conservation farming, jam and pickles, phane, food catering, backyard garden, bakery, small stock, poultry, bee-keeping, tswana chickens and fish farming. Lately, new packages have been added to cover wheel chair repairs, goat dairy products and music.

These packages have been divided among implementing Ministries for coordination at sectoral level, while the Ministry of State President is responsible for overall coordination of the programme.

Out of 15494 beneficiaries that have been mobilized for enrolment in the Poverty Eradication Programme, about 7789 beneficiaries have been assisted thus far. This translates into over 31156 family members benefiting from the programme in all constituencies.

Over 997 projects have been identified as excelling as they are performing beyond what would be classified as normal profits. By end of this year, we anticipate that the remaining 7705 beneficiaries will have received their packages and add value to our growing, yet vibrant small, medium and micro enterprises (SMME) sector.

As we have noted in the past, the policy shift from poverty alleviation and reduction to eradication, however, required changes in objectives, structures and processes of current government programmes to ensure alignment to the goal of eradication.

Of great importance has been our commitment to addressing head-on, the issue of mindset change, which has always been a development hindrance to some of our people to aspire for and achieve wealth.

Once the beneficiaries have set up their businesses, efforts are made to mentor them so that they adjust to their new enterprises, and ultimately feel and become part of Botswana’s economic growth.
In some ways, the principle of ultimately moving beyond growth as the paramount economic ideal and pursuing prosperity in a more localized direction, with localities producing more of their own, generating more of their resources and of course supporting more of their own has found its footing under the poverty eradication programme.

The more these businesses are nurtured, the more they will grow to become huge enterprises and make meaningful contribution to this economy. Thus, it is no secret that Government intends to use the country’s purchasing power, estimated at over P 20 billion per annum, to support the growth of small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

In this regard, Government has directed all Ministries and Parastatals to support and enhance the competitiveness of SMMEs in the provision of goods and services. The private sector, as the winner from the economic system, is also encouraged to support these small businesses to grow.

To ensure their competitiveness, a robust strategy has been put in place to improve quality of products and services of local companies. This is a partnership between Anglo American and Government of Botswana, represented by the Ministry of State President and Ministry of Trade and Industry. The strategy will address issues related to value chain development, effective monitoring and evaluation of the programme, market access, among other issues.

Similarly, Government is working with some of our development partners to develop a robust monitoring and evaluation tool to keep track of the programme and eventually evaluate whether progress is on or off the track. This system is expected to assist Government to track results as benchmarks of success of the poverty eradication programme.

Government is also on the verge of adopting Rapid Incubation model, a three month programme that entails training, mentoring and preparation of beneficiaries to establish small and micro enterprises (SMEs).

This model is popular in entrepreneur-led Indian economy where SMEs contribute 40 per cent of the workforce, 40 per cent of total exports, 47 per cent of manufacturing output and about 17 per cent of GDP.

As part of our broader mandate to give this programme global perspective and in line with global efforts to eradicate poverty, Government of Botswana has participated in various international meetings and forums that discuss poverty issues such as the 2012 Rio Plus 20 in Brazil. Government also takes advantage of opportunities available through various cooperation frameworks at bilateral and multilateral levels to rigorously pursue our fight against poverty.

We believe that there is so much goodwill around this programme as many diplomatic missions in Botswana and other stakeholders that have participated in the poverty eradication workshops seem to appreciate how Government is coordinating this Flagship Programme.

In this respect, Government will continue to engage all stakeholders, both within and beyond our borders to ensure the successful and effective implementation of this programme through wider citizen participation and national ownership as well as fostering and sustaining global networks and partnerships.

Previous benchmarking trips to Brazil, China, India and South Africa have provided opportunities for Botswana’s sustained war on abject poverty. During such trips, Government has been able to appreciate some of the programmes put in place by those economies in their fight against poverty, including ensuring market access for their citizens and also how they leverage technology in the fight against poverty.

As Government, we have always believed that macroeconomic and structural policies that encourage economic growth, employment creation and market development are essential for the poverty eradication strategy.

In a nutshell, critical review and improvement of the previous and current programmes have been our guiding principle and we are very optimistic about the success of the poverty eradication programme.
We acknowledge the fact in the past there were some challenges, which include multiple programmes with same objective and attempting to reach the same vulnerable groups.

Therefore, Government’s efforts to ensure poverty eradication and sustainable development will not be enough without attention to eliminating barriers that constrain any able bodied citizen to benefit from a growing economy and to contribute to that growth.

Measures have been put in place to ensure greater efficiency by reducing both exclusive errors (excluding eligible individuals and households in the programme) and inclusive errors (including non eligible individuals and households in the programme).

Against this backdrop, we should not look at poverty eradication as consequences of development, but rather as an essential component of any viable development strategy.

Our development strategy cannot be focused solely on growth. We should take into account likely distributional implications and be grounded in a solid understanding of who the poor are and why so many have difficulties in escaping from poverty. We believe that entrepreneurship and multiple sources of income contribute to the movement out of poverty.
As Government, we are conscious of some of the challenges faced by many Batswana who have no means to survive as a result of economic vulnerability, which contributes to poverty trap situations and persistent chronic poverty.

In the overall assessment of the beneficiaries under the poverty eradication programme, we do recognise the fact that there are two groups being the transient poor (those people hit by an adverse shock and fell into poverty temporarily because they are unable to cope with the downside risk) and chronic poor (those that happen to be always poor for structural reasons).
At the moment, the programme has focused on the latter group, the abject poor and plans are underway to move into the other groups once Government has covered Batswana who are hardest hit by poverty.

In conclusion, this programme is part of Government’s intervention to cater for some members of our community who have been left in the throes of abject poverty. This is a genuine commitment and deliberate effort to transform this nation into one of shared responsibilities, shared opportunities, and of course a shared sense of community!

*The author is a spokesperson of the Poverty Eradication Programme within the Office of the President of the Republic of Botswana


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