Poverty reduction through group approach

I read this morning at the “Development Gateway” on poverty the following abstract :
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1. NEW HIGHLIGHT: Group approach to poverty reduction
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The poor (destitute, isolated, risk averters with low-income and poor infrastructure) can grow out of poverty provided their basic rights are re-stored and other civil society opportunities are made available to them. One successful approach to grow out of poverty is to organize poor into small groups, then organizations and finally federations or networks.

Why group approach to poverty reduction has been successful?
– Groups bring solidarity, strength, mutual help, pooling their resources, empowerment, emergency help, remove being helpless and takes them out of isolation
– Like minded people to share experiences, problems and successes
– Poor can learn from and adapt to their piers
– Seeing progress made by their piers make them progressive

The group approach also provides several benefits to the poverty reduction worker such as bring the poor together, pooling of learning resources, higher efficiency of training, more accessible, etc. So much so all successful poverty reduction initiatives are based on group principles.”

I couldn’t help thinking at our multiple initiatives with the Belgian TC-Dialogue Foundation, with which we organized humanitarian projects within the framework of combating desertification and alleviating poverty. First of all, it should be clear that desertification is strongly linked to poverty. Indeed, it are generally the poorest rural people in the drylands suffering the most of drought and desertification. That is why we have mostly been setting up community gardens for women and school gardens.

In both cases our main objectives correspond completely with the point of view expressed in the abstract above : “One successful approach to grow out of poverty is to organize poor into small groups“.

The general impression is that groups are formed by one or more people outside the village community, e.g. non-governmental organizations. However, small groups should be formed by the local women themselves to meet their needs and expectations. Nevertheless, outsiders can facilitate the group formation process without influencing to much the actual formation, which is the exclusive responsibility of the local women.

When setting up a community garden for women, the organization of the village community into small groups takes place almost automatically. Instead of growing food crops (vegetables) in traditional, small individual gardens, scattered over the area around the villages, all women of the small group (20-40 women) can now work together in the same community garden, constructed around one or two wells. See the advantages ? Women organized in a small group will have more opportunities to embark on diverse efficient situations and income generating activities : availability of water for each women, daily social contacts in the garden, motivation to produce a maximum of food, possibility to set up a cooperative system for purchases of equipment, seeds, fertilizer etc., for marketing their products (cash income) and other income earning activities.

Formation of small groups provides more access to different rural services, such as knowledge sharing, training in agricultural practices, health care etc. It will be very interesting to assess later on the advantages and the sustainability of women’s associations constructed around community gardens.

Women in a small group can save more money than those working as individuals. Working in a cooperative system, group savings can help to overcome urgent needs, e.g. through provision of microcredits. In a cooperative, women can make their work more efficient and improve their daily living standards. Many organizations agree that the formation of small groups of rural women is vital to alleviate global poverty. At a later stage, linking of smaller groups into larger organizations or federations (networking) will offer the women more bargaining power.

Moreover, we are taking into consideration that regrouping individual areas for cultivation into one single community garden is also a very positive measure taken to limit the destruction of natural habitats. Traditionally, individual gardens are installed at the “best” places (availability of water, fertility of the soil, limited distance to the house, etc.). In most cases, this results in a gradual destruction of the “best parts” of the environment around the village. Therefore, a community garden is also protecting the environment in many ways.

The end result of having rural women working in smaller groups in community gardens will be that they are able to move out of poverty much quicker than as an individual and all this in a sustainable way. Therefore, community gardens are an excellent tool for sustainable rural development and poverty reduction. The same goes for school gardens, where youngsters can practice working in small teams (e.g. classes) for better achievements and a better future.

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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