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Measuring Poverty and Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa: Knowledge Gaps and Ways to Address them

Stephan Klasen's picture
Local children sit on a boulder overlooking the Kenyan slum of Kibera @Gates Foundation
Local children sit on a boulder overlooking the Kenyan slum of Kibera
​@Gates Foundation 



Despite hundreds of millions spent on more and better household surveys across Africa in recent decades, we only have a very rough idea about the levels and trends in income poverty and inequality in sub-Saharan Africa.  Many reasons contribute to this unfortunate state of affairs.

Africa's McTipping Point?

Borko Handjiski's picture
Three quarters of a century since the opening of the first McDonald’s, the fast food chain operates around 34,000 outfits in around 120 countries and territories across all continents. In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), however, – a region of 48 countries and almost a billion people - only South Africa and Mauritius have been able to attract this global food chain.
 

This peculiarity cannot be explained only by the fact that the region is poor. The company has found a market in about 30 countries with GDP per capita of less than US$ 3,000 (in constant 2005 US$) at the time of their first McDonald’s opening. Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, and Big Macs are also on offer in a dozen of low-income countries as well. When the first McDonald’s opened in Shenzhen in 1990, China’s GDP per capita was less than US$ 500 per person. Of course, Shenzhen’s per capita income was several times higher, but the company has also found a market in Moldova since 1998 when the GDP per capita of the 3 million person country was less than US$ 600 per capita. There are many cities in SSA today that have higher income, population concentration, and tourists than what Chisinau had in 1998; yet they do not have a McDonald’s. As a matter of fact, 22 SSA countries today have higher income per capita than what Moldova or Pakistan had when the first McDonald’s opened there, and 15 of them have higher income per capita even than what Indonesia or Egypt had at their McDonald’s openings (see chart).

Africa Impact Evaluation Podcast: Economic Empowerment of Young Women in Africa #AfricaBigIdeas


When it comes to helping young women in Africa with both economic and social opportunity, what does the evidence tell us?  Broadcaster Georges Collinet sat down with researchers and policymakers to discuss the hard evidence behind two programs that have succeeded in giving girls a better chance at getting started in their adult lives.

Africa’s big gender gap in agriculture #AfricaBigIdeas

Michael O’Sullivan's picture
Also available in: Français


Women are less productive farmers than men in Sub-Saharan Africa. A new evidence-based policy report from the World Bank and the ONE Campaign, Leveling the Field: Improving Opportunities for Women Farmers in Africa, shows just how large these gender gaps are. In Ethiopia, for example, women produce 23% less per hectare than men. While this finding might not be a “big” counter-intuitive idea (or a particularly new one), it’s a costly reality that has big implications for women and their children, households, and national economies.

The policy prescription for Africa’s gender gap has seemed straightforward: help women access the same amounts of productive resources (including farm inputs) as men and they will achieve similar farm yields. Numerous flagship reports and academic papers have made this very argument.

Back from Dakar: An update on CIWA’s expanding and deepening program

Gustavo Saltiel's picture
After a successful set of consultations around Africa’s pre-eminent gathering of water experts, policy makers, and civil society, the Cooperation in International Waters (CIWA) program is back from the 5th Annual Water Week (AWW) convened by the African Ministers’ Council on Water in Dakar in late May.

Learning from your peers: A lesson from Uganda and Senegal

Joseph Oryokot's picture

 Sarah Farhat, World Bank Group
















Despite Africa’s great diversity of cultures and climates, countries on the continent often speak the same language when it comes to tackling common development challenges. Senegal and Uganda recently did just that, teaming up to exchange best practices to boost agricultural productivity and employment on both sides of the continent.

I witnessed this knowledge exchange firsthand as I accompanied a Ugandan delegation led by Hon. Maria Kiwanuka, Uganda’s minister of finance, planning, and economic development, on its visit to Senegal. Their core mission was to seek out innovative ways to boost economic growth and create job opportunities for the country’s burgeoning youth, a challenge faced by Uganda and Senegal alike. As both countries continue to experience an increase in urbanization and population growth, and currently have economies that are predominantly based on agriculture, one common answer to this rising challenge is the enhancement of agricultural productivity and the development of agricultural value chains.

Five Big and Controversial Ideas that Can Transform Africa

Steven Kapoloma's picture
Also available in: Français



A big idea can be rejected. It might be illegal. It might mean political suicide. In the words of Marcelo Giugale, the World Bank’s director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programs for Africa, challenging conventional wisdom isn’t always easy. But in the realm of big ideas, the risk is part of the reward.

Big vs. small firms: one size does not fit all

Jacques Morisset's picture



Is bigger always better? Economists have long debated what size firms are more likely to drive business expansion and job creation. In industrial countries like the United States, small (young) firms contribute up to two-thirds of all net job creation and account for a predominant share of innovation. (Source: McKinsey, Restarting the US small-business growth engine, November 2012). In developing countries, evidence from Ethiopia, Ghana and Madagascar shows that the vast majority of small operators remain small, and so are unlikely to create many decent jobs over time [Source: World Bank, Youth Employment, 2014]. By contrast, ‘big’ enterprises are seen as the best providers of employment opportunities and new technologies.

The difference in role and performance of small firms in developing and industrial countries reflects to a large extent their owners’ characteristics. In the US, small firm owners are generally more educated and wealthier than the average worker, while the opposite is true in most developing countries. This point was emphasized by E. Duflo and A. Banerjee in their famous book ‘Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty’ (Penguin, 2011). Most business owners in developing countries are considered to be ‘reluctant’ entrepreneurs; essentially unskilled workers that are pushed into entrepreneurship for lack of other feasible options for employment.

This is also very much a reality in Tanzania where small business owners have few skills and limited financial and physical assets. Of the three million non-farm businesses operating in the country, almost 90% of business owners are confined in self-employment. Only 3% of business owners possess post-secondary level education. As a result, their businesses are generally small, informal, unspecialized, young and unproductive. They also tend to be extremely fragile with high exit rates, and operate sporadically during the year. Put simply, most small businesses are not well equipped to expand and become competitive.

Using Knowledge to Fight Poverty in Africa

Kathleen Beegle's picture
Also available in: Français

Photo Credit: @Gates Foundation. A girl plays with a bicycle tire in the slum of Korogocho, one of the largest slum neighborhoods of Nairobi, Kenya
 
Although sub-Saharan Africa has had sustained economic growth for almost two decades, the incidence of extreme poverty in the region remains staggeringly high. Our best estimate is that in 2010 almost one in every two (49%) Africans lived on less than U$1.25 per day (at 2005 prices).

This is an impressive decrease from 58% in 1999, but at the same time there is a general sense that progress has been too slow. Africa is rising, with GDP growth rates upwards of 6% between 2003 and 2013 (if one excludes richer and less dynamic South Africa) but the poor’s living standards are not rising as fast as GDP.

Putting poverty on the map

Kathleen Beegle's picture

The expansion of household surveys in Africa can now show us the number of poor people in most countries in the region. This data is a powerful tool for understanding the challenges of poverty reduction. Due to the costs and complexity of these surveys, the data usually does not show us estimates of poverty at “local” levels. That is, they provide limited sub-national poverty estimates.
For example, maybe we can measure district or regional poverty in Malawi and Tanzania from the surveys, but what is more challenging is estimating poverty across areas within the districts or regions (known as “traditional authorities” in Malawi and “wards” in Tanzania).
 
To address this shortfall, several years ago a research team from the World Bank developed a technique for combining household surveys with population census data, and poverty maps were born.  Poverty maps can be used to help governments and development partners not only monitor progress, but also plan how resources are allocated. These maps depend on having access to census data that is somewhat close in time to the household survey data.  But what if there is no recent census (they are usually done every 10 years) or the census data cannot be obtained? (I will resist naming and shaming any specific country): we are left with no map.  Can we fill in the knowledge gaps in our maps?

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