Poverty alleviation by the people or “for the People”

In a ceremony held on March 4, 2010 at Economic Affair Division Islamabad, the U.S. Coordinator for Civilian Assistance Ambassador Robin L. Raphel joined the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) Chairperson Farzana Raja to announce Rs. 7.25 billion ($85 million) in assistance from the United States to low-income Pakistani families through the BISP program. BISP is supposed to hand out Rs. 1000 to each poor family per month to “alleviate” poverty. What the U.S. and Pakistan governments understand by poverty, how it is going to be measured and how distribution of Rs. 1000 will alleviate it is not yet clear. How these $85 million will be paid back, by whom and on what terms is another set of questions not considered worth examining by the leading brains of poverty alleviation strategy team. The core question to be raised here is whether government and politicians can alleviate poverty for the people or it has to be alleviated by the people with their own efforts. It boils down to choosing between a patronage paradigm and entrepreneurial paradigm. While $85 million might evaporate in thin air after disbursement, it would be interesting to narrate here the story of a social entrepreneur who started a programme to help poor help themselves with remarkable success.

Rafik , a young MBA from rural Sindh pondered over the idea of lending money for goat raising to poor rural men and women to help them rise above the poverty line. It took him some effort to turn his idea into a successful business plan. His efforts paid off and the results were amazing. Rafik discovered that Kamori goat is an ideal breed to significantly raise the income of rural poor on sustainable basis. Kamori goat has unusual size, milk yield and market price. A male Kamori weighs 74.5 kg and a female Kamori 40 kg. A female Kamori yields 2.5-3.5 kg milk twice a day. Price of goat milk being Rs. 50 brings a continuous stream of R. 250 per day, 7,500 per month and 90,000 per year to a poor household; much above the $2 a day poverty line. Without any assistance from friends of Pakistan. Kamori gives birth to 2 calves every year. Due to high market value even the calves sell at the same price as that of a regular Kamori. By returning one calf to the lender borrowing family can pay off the debt, add to its income generating asset and generate a continuous stream of income.  Dry period for a Kamori is only 45 days per year. Rafik arranges for the vaccination of the goats, keeps account of the transactions and has established a Kamori goat farm to keep raising goats for lending to the poor.

There are similar programmes run by numerous other organizations in poverty stricken Seraiki, Balochi and Sindhi villages. Lending out ordinary male goats for selling after a year has also yielded similar results. Success of these programmes depends on the existence of a local support organization to provide loan, arrange for vaccination, monitor prices and keep account of transaction. This is also known as investment in social capital which has depleted due to collapse of traditional support systems. We need fertile minds not barren hand out programmes to alleviate poverty.