The failure of many laudable agricultural projects in the past had often been the absence of effective organization/governance which constituted a “missing link” between national anti-poverty policy and the poverty reduction effort.
Moreover, the poverty targets set are based on monetary measures, while most development practitioners now agree that poverty is not about income alone, but is multi-dimensional. Thus Ghana should begin incorporating explicit human poverty targets – such as reducing malnutrition, expanding literacy and increasing life expectancy into poverty programmes.
Another shortcoming is that many anti-poverty plans are no more than vaguely formulated strategies. Only a few have genuine action plans with explicit targets, adequate budgets and effective organisation. This writer believes that Ghana does not have explicit poverty plans but incorporate poverty reduction into national planning.
Anti-poverty plans should help focus and coordinate national activities and build support. A plan is evidence of a national commitment and of an explicit allocation of resources to the task. It is also a means to build a constituency for change. Without such organised public action, market-driven economies rarely promote social justice.
But for such programmes to be effective, they must be comprehensive and much more than a few projects “targeted” at the poor. They also need adequate funding and effective coordination by government department or an authority with wide ranging influence. Most critically, they should be nationally owned and determined, not donor driven.
One reason many poverty reduction programmes become disjointed is that external donors provide much of the funding for individual projects, and the funds are not allocated through regular government channels. National control and coordination get elbowed aside, and the need to build government's long term capacity to administer poverty programmes is neglected.
Many national programmes lack good management structures, and are located within the government rather than outside it. Multidimensional poverty problems should be addressed by a multi-sectoral approach, cutting across government ministries and departments. But most of such programmes hand the responsibility for poverty reduction over to the Ministry of Agriculture which generally lacks authority over other ministries.
Governments have difficulty in reporting how much funding goes to poverty reduction – unable to distinguish between activities that are related to poverty and those that are not. They often confuse social spending with poverty related spending but much government spending could be considered pro-poor if it disproportionably benefits the poor.
Under these conditions, it is probably best to set up a “Special Poverty Reduction Fund” to give a better financial accounting and to allow government departments and ministries to apply to the Fund for financing to their poverty focused programmes.
Shifting decision making power closer to poor communities by devolving authority to local government structures like the District Assembly or Town/Area Council can help promote poverty reduction as long as the new responsibilities are accompanied by resources and capacity building.
Helping poor communities to organise themselves to advance their interests is key to successfully getting poverty reduced. A major source of poverty is people's powerlessness – not just that distance from government.