Research - Poverty Project
Pervasive and worsening poverty in sub-Saharan Africa
convinced AERC to establish a theme and corresponding
research group within the nexus of interrelated components
consisting of poverty, employment, labour markets, human
capital and the fiscal role of government with reference
to human resources. The thematic group was complemented
by a collaborative research project with similar aims.
While it can be taken for granted that faster and more
stable economic growth will eventually contribute to
poverty reduction, immediate adjustment and complementary
measures are nonetheless necessary if sustainable long-term
growth with poverty reduction is to be achieved.
To design and implement such measures, policy makers
need information about key aspects of poverty. They
need to know which subgroups of the population are most
afflicted by poverty, the determinants of poverty and
how poverty has changed over time. They also need help
with determining costs and feasibility of implementing
Phase I of the AERC Poverty Project explored some of
these issues, concentrating on poverty measurement,
construction of poverty profiles and the operations
of labour markets. Phase II of the project extended
the scope of research activities to better meet the
needs of policy making and research capacity building
in sub-Saharan Africa.
Accomplishments of Poverty I
The Poverty Project began with three main components:
research, training and policy advising. In the research
area, the project examined and analysed a number of
crosscutting issues at the Africa-wide level as well
as several other more specific questions within the
context of particular country-level circumstances.
The research had two distinct but closely interrelated
elements. The first consisted of research that was broadly
analytical and empirical in nature but region-wide in
scope and focus. Twelve papers written by the most respected
scholars in this field provided the broad conceptual
framework and the state of the art assessment of the
various dimensions of poverty in Africa. A volume consisting
of these papers is being processed for publication.
The second research component comprised country case
studies. Each study was conducted by a team of African
researchers, assisted in some cases by non-African researchers
from collaborating institutions. The studies focused
on poverty assessment, profiles, and analyses of macroeconomic
and sectoral policies to alleviate poverty within the
context of economic growth. The case studies emphasized
the money-metric dimensions of poverty.
There were 12 country case studies in Phase I: Benin,
Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique,
Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Although the studies used different methodologies to
construct poverty lines, they all arrived at similar
findings. For example, they uniformly report that poverty
is concentrated in rural areas, and in many countries
it is more pronounced among female-headed households.
The poverty profiles show poverty declining sharply
as education levels increase, particularly beyond the
primary school level, although the mechanisms underlying
this pattern are not articulated in any of the studies.
Interestingly, the same finding and the same lack of
interpretation occur in studies from outside the Africa
All the case studies were completed in December 2001.
Abridged versions are undergoing review for possible
publication in a special issue of an international journal.
Several mechanisms and activities supported the training
component. The most successful of these was the twinning
of African researchers with training institutions in
North America and Europe. Twinning provided African
teams with the opportunity to improve their skills during
the implementation of their research through closer
contacts with renowned scholars and institutions in
the field of poverty analysis.
For many of the research teams, poverty analysis required
new types of data, many of which needed a lot of processing
before they could be used. During visits to the twinning
institutions, the teams were able to work through the
details of their analyses from the theoretical base
to data management and analysis, benefiting from the
superior research facilities of the host institutions.
The universities of Cornell (USA), Laval (Canada),
Copenhagen (Denmark) and Gothenburg (Sweden) collaborated
closely on this project. The principal role of the collaborating
institutions, in addition to establishing the twinning
relationships, was to organize and conduct training
workshops to enhance the capacity of the researchers.
All teams benefited greatly from institutional visits
and the various forms of twinning arrangements.
The applications of the research results from case studies
and training obtained via workshops and twinning arrangements
to policy making in Africa are the most satisfying aspects
of the Poverty Project to date. Because of their training
and hands-on experience in conducting poverty studies,
members of country research teams were prominently involved
in the preparation of poverty reduction strategy papers
(PRSPs) in their respective countries. The PRSPs have
come to be considered as governments blueprints
for reducing poverty.
The PRSPs are also used for three key purposes: as
tools for negotiating development loans with the international
development agencies, principally the World Bank and
the International Monetary Fund; as mechanisms for attracting
development assistance from bilateral donors; and as
guidelines for setting national development priorities.
It is no exaggeration to state that without the Collaborative
Poverty Project, African countries could not have been
in a position to prepare the PRSPs on their own. The
project built an indigenous capacity to prepare these
plans. This specific benefit was an unintended outcome
of the project, as the aim was to build general analytical
capacity in poverty analysis in Africa without targeting
it to a particular policy need.
Accomplishments under Phase II
The second phase, launched in 2000, continues the two
broad goals of Phase I: Case studies to build capacity
for poverty analysis and the use of the project to generate
information to assist in the design and implementation
of poverty reduction policies.
The specific objectives of Phase II are:
- To enhance the understanding of poverty trends and
poverty dynamics in specific countries in sub-Saharan
- To diversify poverty measurement to include non-money
metric measures such as nutrition- and asset-based
- To study the relationships among poverty, malnutrition,
disease epidemics (especially HIV/AIDS and malaria)
and human capital in general.
- To assess the responsiveness of poverty to economic
growth and income distribution.
- To examine various dimensions of poverty in the
context of economic policy reforms, including labour
- To study linkages among poverty, social capital,
agricultural development, rural institutions and globalization.
- To inform policy makers, donors, the corporate private
sector and the civil society of the status of poverty
As in Phase I, the modalities of twinning and hands-on
training via case studies and workshops are the principal
modalities for accomplishing the project objectives.
Fifteen case studies from 13 countries are in progress:
Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana,
Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, South
Africa and Uganda. In addition to merit-based formal
reviews, the criteria for selection of case study countries
were regional representation and availability of data
and researchers in countries, as well as balanced
composition of study teams. In this last respect,
research teams with members from both universities and
government departments, and involving both men and women,
were particularly encouraged.
The project, whose life is about four years, is in
its fourth year of operation and its activities are
generally on course. Twinning arrangements have been
finalized with Cornell and Laval universities. The first
drafts of the research reports from the case studies
were due in December 2003, after which a workshop will
be organized to discuss and finalize the reports.
Since 2000 AERC has collaborated with the World Bank
on a project on malaria and poverty under the general
umbrella of the Poverty Project. (Malaria is second
only to HIV/AIDS as a killer of Africans, and may be
number one in terms of direct morbidity, especially
among children.) The purpose of this subproject has
been to examine the implications of malaria for poverty,
and the converse, given the very high prevalence of
the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. Four country case
studies from Eastern Africa (Kenya), Central Africa
(Cameroon), Southern Africa (Zambia) and West Africa
(Nigeria) have been completed. The papers are being
processed for publication.
The Collaborative Project on Poverty in Africa added
a number of features to the AERC network. First and
foremost, it introduced a microeconomic perspective
into AERCs policy research agenda that was conspicuously
lacking, thus adding completeness to the overall design
of the research programme (and indeed the training work)
of the network. In particular, poverty, income
distribution and labour market issues became a
full group under the thematic research mode.
The project has, moreover, rightly directed attention
to the exceptionally low standards of living in Africa.
It has thus enhanced the policy relevance of the work
of AERC because it is dealing with the most visible
policy problem of the day how to overcome extreme
Another feature, the twinning mechanism, has helped
African researchers study and conduct research in some
of the best research universities in the world. And
in mentoring younger researchers, experienced scholars
in Africa and in the twinning institutions have had
to rethink their models and theories of poverty, thus
advancing the understanding of the development process
generally. For example, measures of poverty have been
expanded to include non-income metrics, in recognition
of the importance of other dimensions of welfare.
Finally, the project has produced a new cadre of policy
analysts in Africa: economists and statisticians capable
of analysing large household data sets and drawing relevant
policy conclusions from their analyses. This point is
evidenced by the prominent participation of project
team members in the preparation of PRSPs in Africa.
Indeed, one of the most serious factors constraining
policy research in Africa is the lack of capacity to
conduct rigorous and timely analysis of large survey
data sets. In helping alleviate this constraint, the
collaborative Poverty Project has made a major contribution
to policy making in Africa.