MANBAR S. KHADKA
With the vision of alleviating poverty from the country, the Government of Nepal has set up a Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF) under Poverty Alleviation Fund Act 2063. The PAF is supported by the World Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). After nearly seven years of its establishment, PAF now works in 65 districts of Nepal. It focuses on poverty alleviation by working on four fronts: Income Generation, Capacity Building, Social Mobilization, and Rural Community Infrastructure.Given the fact that PAF has been in operation for several years with substantial resources, it is time to have an impact evaluation study of PAF. Has there been any positive and significant improvement on rural livelihoods of program districts?
As a development practitioner, I happened to visit one of the program districts of PAF. While interacting with farmers in the district, I found mixed reactions from them regarding the project. In general, farmers expressed that PAF related activities have helped improve their livelihoods. Well, they have received training and financial support for starting small-scale enterprises such as poultry and livestock rearing.
The program identifies the poor and very poor farmers and motivates them to form a group consisting of 20-25 members. It then creates the group’s revolving fund. Members of the group also contribute to this fund. The revolving fund is used to provide loans to members of the group for income generating activities. Besides making investments, the group members are also urged to make savings in their respective saving accounts maintained with the group’s revolving fund.
But, the majority of farmers opined that PAF has not addressed their main priorities. They are in need of rural infrastructural support such as culverts and embankments to protect their farming lands and dwellings from nearby rivers and rivulets. While fund has been allotted for income generating activities, the sector that needed much attention has been overlooked.
Those villages that I visited are in desperate need of rural infrastructure and irrigation facilities. Had the poor farmers been provided with irrigation facilities, their income would have increased significantly. But dishearteningly, those priorities have been ignored. While sidelining their most important priorities, the less important ones have been put into practice. This is really a sad aspect. PAF, therefore, needs to sort out the most important sectors of program villages where it can provide both technical and financial assistance for uplifting the rural livelihoods. The most important ones must be supported by PAF for graduating the poor out of poverty. Especially in Terai districts of Nepal where PAF has massive interventions, providing year-round irrigation facilities to small and marginal farmers top the priority list. And so, the program must focus on providing these facilities. Farmers earn their livelihoods via crop production. If they are provided with irrigation facilities, then this will ensure better crop yield, ultimately improving their livelihoods.
Furthermore, small and marginal farmers lamented over the loss of their fresh vegetables before hitting the market. Since they did not have storage facilities, their vegetables got rotten. So, the program must ensure that storage facilities are set up as per the farmers’ requirements. These and other pertinent issues must be addressed if poverty is to be eliminated. There is a need to motivate them towards commercial farming practices. An overall focus must be on enhancing their income by improving input-output supply mechanisms in agriculture.
Similarly, PAF’s idea of supporting micro-enterprise activities is great, but such activities must be supported as per the farmers’ priorities and needs. Not all individuals will be interested in micro-enterprise activities. Instead, providing support for year-round irrigation facilities will ensure better crop yield for the entire village. This will increase their household incomes, which will eventually raise their living standards.
On the other hand, PAF’s idea of bringing the poor and marginalized communities together via formation of small groups is indeed a praiseworthy act. This has cultivated the practice of social engagement among villagers for the betterment of the village. This has developed their leadership skills as well. Further, it has instilled the notion of working together in a group and sharing experiences.
While there are some visible and positive benefits emanating from program villages, much can be expected from such poverty alleviation programs. What I have argued here is for an independent impact evaluation study of PAF. This is required because most often our plans and programs have issues in governance and implementation. Moreover, the on-going and implemented ones are barely evaluated to assess their impacts upon rural economy. Evaluation of PAF is, therefore, essential to find out whether the intended outcomes/benefits of the project have been achieved or not. It forms a basis for further continuation of similar projects in future. It will clearly identify areas where PAF has succeeded and areas where it has failed. And accordingly, future course of action for PAF can be mapped out. Khadka is an economist