The Ultra Poor are defined as those people who live on less than 50 cents a day.
On 9 December 2015 the Ultra Poor preoccupied the UK media. This is because of a report launched that day by the charity BRAC at a lecture hosted London School of Economics (LSE) . The lecture discussed BRAC’s approaches to tackling extreme poverty through programmes that target the Ultra Poor.
At the time of this lecture, we had just completed a home assessment exercise in Ruhanga SW Uganda. This involved visiting twenty-nine households in the community. Amongst our findings, was that some of those households earn as little as seven pence (7p) a day.
As I followed discussions about the Ultra Poor in the media, my thoughts turned to those households in Ruhanga. I wondered how they fitted into the narrative about ultra poverty. I asked whether labels such as “Ultra poor” are useful in helping us understand the causes and solutions to poverty?
I will probably never know the answers to these questions, but I agree with some of the findings;
- The Ultra poor have no assets to generate their own income
- Tend to be women
- Engage in casual labour
- And are poorly paid
Sustainable Development Goals and the Ultra Poor
This leads to another question. Will the new Global goals or Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that came into effect this month reduce the incidence of ultra poverty?
I cannot answer this question with any certainty but I am pleased to note that there is there is a specific SDG on women and girls, Goal number 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
But how do you resolve complex and intractable issues that exclude women socially, economically as well as politically?
As we have seen, failure to address deficiencies that create a large number of ultra poor people can lead to poor outcomes for women and children. A pertinent question to ask is whether we truly understand why structural deficiencies persist and what action if any is being taken. Action for action’s sakes can lead to poor outcomes for women too.
For instance, in order to tackle high unemployment, workleness and poverty amongst young people in Uganda, the government there has sought to take advantage of skills gaps in third countries.
In one such example, Uganda signed an agreement with Saudi Arabia with respect to domestic workers. The outcome of this policy is that, whilst it solved one problem it created another, the enslavement of Ugandan women in a foreign land.
It is my understanding that, this agreement has now come to an end, however that those desperate for a better life are still willing to take their chances without the government’s assistance. Naturally this exposes women and girls up to unscrupulous operates who exploit them for money.
Our challenge is therefore to prevent girls and women getting to situations where they will do whatever it takes to get out of poverty.
What are we doing about the Ultra Poor in Ruhanga?
Ruhanga is a rural community in SW Uganda. The incidence of poverty is high yet most lack assets and or the skills to increase their income. The question that faces us, is what sort of interventions are appropriate in addressing such poverty.
In order to address this question, we have teamed up with a local women’s group to with a view to addressing those challenges.
We have undertaken to work with the women to increase their income by £1.75 a week. We will achieve this by enabling participants to set up a poultry rearing business as well as acquire skills in Semi Intensive poultry rearing.
We have called this initiative SEND A CHICKEN TO AN AFRICAN WOMAN and work got under way after christmas with the women signing up to the terms of the project.
A visit to Ruth’s farm
A key aspect of this initiative is, the women being accountable to each other through their leadership committee. Our role is to facilitate that process.
Shortly after members signed up to the project conditions, the committee visited Ruth to sign a supply agreement.
Ruth breeds chicks and sells them on. On this visit, the women placed their order and learned about what poultry rearing.