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close this bookSustaining the Future: Economic, Social, and Environmental Change in Sub-Saharan Africa (UNU, 1996, 365 pages)
close this folderPart 1: Economy and society: development issues
close this folderPoverty, vulnerability, and rural development
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentThe nature of poverty
View the documentRural poverty and development in Sub-Saharan Africa
View the documentAspects of economy and society in SS Africa
View the documentVulnerability
View the documentPoverty and economic reform
View the documentConclusion
View the documentReferences


" Poverty, vulnerability, inequality and threats to the social fabric in Africa are not a product of the 1970s or 1980s, much less of Fund and Bank prescriptions for stabilization and adjustment. Nor are they purely imported colonial phenomena" (Green 1989b: 32). SS Africa, in common with the rest of the world, has a history of poverty, war, and famine extending over millennia. However, it is evident that the SS African economic and financial problems were made very much worse in the 1970s and the 1980s by a combination of:

1. an investment in growth and development that failed to earn the expected rewards;

2. the international debt crisis, oil price hikes, and rising interest rates, plus the inadequacy of the aid programmes that were meant to provide relief;

3. repeated drought, crop failure, and widespread famine;

4. the failure of agricultural production to contribute significantly to growth and the increased dependence on imported food;

5. widespread warfare and civil unrest;

6. the fact that SAPs have been only partially successful and that that success has been in terms of system rather than people, who somehow have to survive in the hope that decisions linked to short- or medium-term deterioration based on theories that are unknown or unappreciated could solve their problems in the future.

Price incentives have been held up as one of the most important means of promoting agricultural production and reducing rural poverty, but they will not solve the problems of extremely poor people dependent wholly or at least in part on the market. They and the urban poor need cheaper food, which only a more efficient use of inputs in agriculture can provide, and they need employment.

The evidence of the general review of the nature of poverty, the statistical examination, and the study of vulnerability has shown the existence in SS Africa of a mass of rural people who are on or below margins regarded as the minimum for the avoidance of malnutrition and whose condition has been severely worsened by the combination of economic crises and droughts and then further impoverished by some aspects of the economic reforms attempted. The evidence suggests that their condition can be relieved only in the long term, not just by economic reform but by appropriate investment and trade in a world in which the major powers are concerned to promote growth rather than restrict it and to encourage open access to world markets. Perhaps "don't do as I do, do as I say" may be said to express a great deal about some of the major development problems of today's poor countries and poor rural people, which are as much a problem of double standards in the world trading system and in the politics of international finance as they are the product of their own development problems.