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What developing countries can learn from the poverty alleviation program in China

By ONDIEK ANDREW OTIENO | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated : 2022-10-09


Nationality: Kenya

University: Peking University

Location: Beijing

I am a medical student and I surely do love medical science and all its possibilities. However, ever since I landed in Shanghai Pudong close to 3 years ago, there is an aspect of Chinese society that has caught my attention; and that is an unrivalled commitment by the government to provide efficient services to its citizens and improve their welfare. From transport system to waste management it is all done with the common citizen in mind.

This is better exemplified in how the country has devised a way to uplift millions of her citizens out of poverty. The success of the poverty eradication program has driven me to read more and attend public lectures just to understand how the Chinese got it right. Besides, I have spent time to try and figure out how the same could be implemented in other developing countries in Sub Saharan African where I come from.

Let’s deal with some numbers to know how China, the world’s largest developing country is winning the war against poverty. Since initiating economic reforms in the late 1970s, over 770 million Chinese people have been lifted from extreme poverty. This accounts for more than seventy percent of the global poverty reduction population.

According to the World Bank, the Chinese poverty ratio has remarkably dropped from 66% in 1990 to 0.5% in 2016. Globally, extreme poverty has been on a downward trend, however, rural populations remain the most affected especially in Sub-Saharan Africa which is home to 87% of the worlds poor. The interplay of political, economic, environmental factors and recently, COVID-19 pandemic has made tackling poverty in developing countries complex, further derailing the UN set Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030.

As we deal with the challenges of 2022 and get closer to 2030, governments seem to still grapple with how to end poverty. What lessons can we learn from the remarkable achievements in China and how can we reshape our policies? China’s rapid poverty eradication is primarily based on sustained economic growth spurred by pro-market reforms, revitalization of agricultural productivity as well as a stable political environment.

What stood out during China’s poverty alleviation program is the targeted approach in identifying the poor, determining the cause of their poverty and their needs. Hardship areas were determined by considering the net per capita income of the residents before being classified “poor” under the national poverty alleviation docket.

The initial stage of the program involved a change from relief-type poverty alleviation to development-oriented poverty alleviation. Development is a fundamental way to fight poverty as it builds poor people’s capacity to help themselves. Special policies on transferring payments, tax concessions and interest subsidies were also put in place to trigger development in the poverty-stricken areas.

After declaring the end of absolute poverty in 2020, China entered a new era of what it termed as “common prosperity”. This is meant to offer an equal opportunity for all to realize their individual goals and to achieve full human potential. The ultimate aim is to develop a human capital for high-value jobs as the country moves toward an innovation-driven economy and loses its competitive advantage for labor-intensive jobs to lower-income countries. The program also involves modernization of infrastructure and equalization of public services in urban and rural areas as a countermeasure against the rising rural-urban migration.

Learning from China involves looking at both the successes and failure of the poverty eradication methods and modifying them to suit the target population. Being pragmatic and understanding both sides is critical in determining which programs can be adopted and adapted elsewhere. Government policies play a pivotal role in targeted poverty reduction and providing a favorable environment for businesses and markets. The policies ought to be geared toward assisting the unemployed, without access to quality healthcare, as well as those performing jobs in precarious and informal sectors of the economy.

Supporting small and middle-income enterprises (SMEs) is a good starting point for low income countries. Connecting SMEs to the global market through exports is a way to catapult a country’s economy.

The story of China gives hope and inspiration to other developing countries. Eradicating extreme poverty is not rocket science and the tools for doing so are readily available. The basics are deliberate efforts from the government and commitment to growth and development. There is no secret to the Chinese success rather, it’s identification of good policy, implementation and scaling up.

Every day that I see the prosperity of the Chinese nation, I continue to get inspired and convicted that I can do the same for my country. For me, it is an unending story of planning and commitment.