How research-based interventions can reduce poverty

Friday, July 30th, 2021 00:00 | By
Image used for illustration. PHOTO/Print

Collaborations between researchers on the one hand and public agencies on the other have can impact positively on the lives and livelihoods of Kenyans. 

As such, these ought to be scaled up to raise quality of life given the adverse effects of Covid-19 restrictions on incomes. 

Covid’s effects on economic activities have increased the number of the middle class who are becoming poor.

That is why it is important to embrace tried and tested economic tools that can arrest the upsurge in poverty. Unless this is done, there is a risk of reversing gains made in raising living standards since 2003.

A good place to start would be by scaling up the work done by researchers like Prof Michael Kremer, the 2019 joint winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics.

In his most recent research, he found that adding lime to degraded soils increased grain productivity by four per cent per acre per year.

This is a significant finding given that food production has been declining largely because farmers no longer find agriculture profitable.

As a result, some have converted arable land into real estate or recreation parks, thus diminishing the land available for food production.

As a short term measure, increasing crop yields is critical to ensuring that poor families are shielded from extreme hunger and malnutrition, both of which have adverse long-term effects on the health and wealth of individuals and communities.

And since Kenyan is walking gingerly towards next year’s General Election, ensuring there is sufficient food at affordable prices will be critical over the next two years because prices of grains and flour have a direct influence on political consciousness.

In the long-term, it will be prudent for State agencies to popularise and make budgetary provisions for interventions whose results will not be immediately evident but will bear worthy fruit decades down the line.

For instance, some of the other studies that Prof Kremer has conducted in western Kenya have shown that children who have been dewormed remain in school longer and their performance improves compared to those who have not. In the case of girls, there was a 24 per cent improvement in school attendance.

When he saw the impact of such a simple intervention – which has both health and educational impacts – he approached education and health officials to carry out deworming programmes in that part of the country.

About 20 years after the programme started, another group of researchers studied its impact on incomes and the results were equally startling.

When the children who had been dewormed became adults and started working, their incomes were higher than those of their counterparts who had missed out.

In poor countries, the longer children stay in school, the better their chances of overcoming poverty and the higher their incomes will be when they start working and become heads of households.

This is borne out unequivocally in all the Economic Surveys that government has published over the years.

As a rule, poor households are headed by men or women with low levels of education.

In the worst cases, as research by World Bank has shown, poorly educated mothers are unlikely to give their children balanced diets.

This, in turn, disadvantages those children physically and mentally, making their quest to escape poverty even more difficult.

So, we know we can help farmers increase production – so their children have enough to eat and farmers have surplus to sell.

We also know once these children are dewormed and given supplementary diets in school, their chances of concentrating in class and remaining in school longer increase.

We also know that these two factors – one short-term, one long-term - can help us to fight poverty.

What we need to know, as citizens, is why these things are not being done proactively yet the tools have been tried and tested. 

The answer could be that policy makers are not aware of the benefits of such interventions.

Or, if they are, they have not convinced the leadership to allocate money to such interventions, yet for as little as Sh50 per child, it is possible to deworm all the 15 million children who re-opened schools this week.

What is needed most is the political will to ensure that such evidence-based interventions are prioritised and that we hold those responsible for implementation accountable. — The writer is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford — [email protected]

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