We owe the poor something


…our market, our direction, or our money?

‘The poor will always be among us’, so says the good Old Book.

Are the poor idle? Are they not working? So why are they poor? The poor are categorised using different characteristics, but the World Bank and the UN agencies describe people who cannot have an amount of money equivalent to US$1.90 to spend in a day as being extremely poor. In Ghana, US$1.90 is just about 20 cedis per day, but don’t make a mistake, many people, especially in the rural areas, do not earn that much. But these are the descriptions ascribed to the poor by the experts who are elite and non-poor. In some communities, the people categorised as poor do not see themselves as poor by the non- poor’s’ definitions. In some rural communities in Ghana, for instance, people are only referred to as poor when they have no children of their own to help them in the farms; or poor when you have no God or gods. So, who are the poor? Where are they? And why are they poor?

There is, however, much evidence in the society of millions of people who go without adequate nutritious food, are malnourished, sickly and illiterate. There ample evidence of people experiencing gnawing hunger, lack of clean water and sanitation, limited healthcare and rampant diseases, crowded and inadequate housing, limited education, and even more limited opportunities.

Such people suffer high rates of infant mortality, earlier adulthood mortality and mental disorders. If such are the characteristics of the poor, then many of them reel under stress and frustration and commit crimes, theft, robbery, drugs, and gang violence; and they fall victims to criminal behaviours as well. Studies have shown that many of such poor people die annually – what a pity!

If such is the lot of the people we call the poor, then we from academia, the professionals, policy-makers, industry captains, and the non-poor as a whole owe the poor something. If the poor are idle, then what are we occupying them with? If they are not lazy, but are the people in our rural areas producing the food, or they are the potters carrying our baggage in the markets, or they run the informal shops selling foodstuffs, shinning our shoes, cleaning our gutters, or running our errands in our homes, then we indeed owe the poor something for which we must pay.

Some NGOs offer the welfare approach to help the poor by giving them free food, clothing and sometimes, shelter. Is that enough? Can it help reduce poverty in our society? Maybe such welfarist approach can help the child poor, or the aged poor? But the youthful and energetic poor need to be taught how to fish, and not just being given fish. We need to adopt the market approach to reduce poverty.

The poor need access to financial resources, they need access to our socio-economic infrastructure and institutions, they need access to our educational resources, and they need access to our markets and marketing systems. Where are our non-poor from academia? The poor need practical education on basic financial literacy; they need hands-on training on investments, record-keeping, savings and modern marketing. Where are our agronomists? We are aware that the poor are mostly in the rural areas, practising peasant agriculture. The poor need basic training on modern appropriate technological agro-practices. Unfortunately, the poor are still doing hoe and cutlass agric. They may not be planting the crop varieties needed in modern markets.

They lack the organic manure the modern world so desires, they are laying waste a lot of by-products from the farms which they can transform to animal feed and bio-products. The rural poor lack the processing knowledge to process cassava, for instance, into the cassava flour, ethanol, cassava flakes, cassava butter, etc. that our homes and pharmacies need so much. Cassava is still getting rotten in our African villages while we import tonnes of cassava annually from abroad. Can our biological scientists go down to the farms and introduce the poor farmer to simple preservation techniques? What about the engineers? Can we design some simple sun-based driers for preservation? We owe the poor something!

Our value chain professionals, supply chain experts and marketers can we introduce the poor to online marketing and marketing sites? Can we put the poor into cooperatives so they can produce on large scale, and brand the products in a hygienic manner to be sold in our malls in and abroad, instead of the importation of similar products from elsewhere?

Are the poor financially included? Are there availability and usage of financial services at a lower cost to the poor. How is microfinancing doing? The policy-makers also owe the poor the proper institutional structures and facilities to propel the poor to leverage their skills and talents into entrepreneurship. The tax regime becomes regressive to the extreme poor. Sometimes, the poor informal producer who needs just five hundred cedis may have to go through several discouraging formal procedures, giving way to the informal cut-throat money lenders to prey on such poor entrepreneur.

So, the poor need our help. We can collectively help to reduce poverty from among us. We can remove institutional voids and make our socio-cultural, financial and market institutions available to the poor without delay and hindrances. The educated high and middle level income people can offer their support in knowledge, skill and technology transfer to help the poor.

The policy-makers can provide direction in the form of proper legal and socio-political framework that will allow the poor to patronise the market and apply their skills and talents into entrepreneurship that could improve their welfare. Not helping the poor collectively is itself a danger to global sustenance. Our environment will be polluted, and crime will exacerbate; so we cannot live in peace. That is why poverty alleviation occupies the number one of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) – Zero poverty by the year 2030. Meanwhile, according to the World Bank (2022), in 2020 alone, the number of people living below the extreme poverty line rose by over 70 million. Given current trends, 574 million people—nearly 7 percent of the world’s population—will still be living on less than US$2.15 a day in 2030, with most in Africa. We owe the poor our support. Let’s all help to take our people out of poverty.


The writer is a Senior Lecturer, Accra Technical University and Executive Director at African Centre For Poverty Alleviation Strategy (ACPAS)

Contact:              0277452640 (WhatsApp); 0241656979.

Email.                    [email protected]

Website:              www.acpasaf.org.

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