Expanding the coverage of safety net programs in Africa represents a serious fiscal challenge. While there is substantial variation across countries, on average governments in Africa spend about 1.3% of gross domestic product (GDP) on social safety nets (see figure). This is lower than the spending on other sectors such as energy, health care, education, and, in some cases, the military. Crucially, this level of spending is inadequate to face the high chronic poverty rates and vulnerability to shocks households face in Africa.
The design of the safety net program is perfect; it is based on the latest data and evidence; it enjoys political support at the highest levels, and it has sufficient financing.
So why can this safety net program not even get started after a year?
Maybe the answer has something to do with institutions. Accounting for the formal and informal “rules of the game” for social safety nets is key to the success of any program or system. In our chapter “Anchoring in Strong Institutions to Expand and Sustain Social Safety Nets” in the recently-released regional study on safety nets, we discuss some critical aspects of institutions that can make (or break) a social safety net program and how these evolve as programs grow in Africa.
Non-farm household enterprises provide an important opportunity for employment in Tanzania. Agriculture is still the primary economic activity of the country, but the economy is shifting away from it and the number of people employed in this sector has been declining since 2006. At the same time, nearly 850,000 individuals a year enter the labor market seeking gainful employment and non-farm household enterprises are growing rapidly. Across the country, 65.9% of households reported household enterprises as a primary or secondary employment.
Due to the growing importance of non-farm household enterprises, our team conducted a study to understand why household enterprises are not growing and what their major constraints are to productivity gains.
Ghana was the first country in Sub-Saharan Africa to meet the Millennium Development Goal (MDG1) target of halving extreme poverty by 2015. A share of the population living in poverty decreased from 52% in 1991 to 24% in 2012. Ghana is eager to lead the way in Africa again, but this time to graduate extreme poor households, out of poverty. The current policy debates are around graduating in about three to four years some 8.4 % of households living in extreme poverty. But to what occupations?
Creating jobs is not cheap —as I discussed in this post— and it can also be a slow process. It takes time for an idea to become a business plan and eventually a new or larger business. At the same time, in many developing countries, macro and regulatory policies often discourage entrepreneurship and investments. Reforming these policies takes time and having results on the ground even longer.
In the meantime, in many countries, there is a sense of urgency to address important labor challenges. It is not only youth unemployment or inactivity but also the fact that many of those who have a job are in very low productivity, very low-quality jobs. Citizens are becoming frustrated and impatient. What can be done in the short-run?
Crisis is becoming a new normal in the world today. In 2017 alone, adverse natural events resulted in global losses of about $330 billion, making last year the costliest ever in terms of global weather-related disasters. Climate change, demographic shifts, and other global trends may also create fragility risks.
- Human Capital
- Adaptive Social Protection
- Economic Crises
- Climate Change
- safety nets
- social protection
- South South Learning Forum
- Climate Change
- Labor and Social Protection
- South Asia
- Europe and Central Asia
- Middle East and North Africa
- Sierra Leone
- Yemen, Republic of
- South Sudan
- Sustainable Communities
On my first project visit since joining the World Bank, I had a chance to accompany the Productive Social Safety Nets project team across the country to the Fouta Djallon region, in the northern part of Guinea, for the launch of their Labor Intensive Public Works (THIMO) activities. This trip allowed me to see firsthand what extreme poverty is. You hear and read about it, but I had the opportunity to meet people who experience it every day. I say opportunity, because going through this further humbled me, gave me more determination, and added purpose to the need to tell their stories—stories of their struggles and their achievements.
Poverty affected about 55% of Guinea’s population in 2012, but this percentage is likely to have increased as a result of the Ebola crisis and economic stagnation in 2014 and 2015. Poverty in Guinea is highly concentrated in the rural areas, where the poverty headcount rate remains far higher (65% in 2012) than in urban centers (35%). The lack of infrastructure, and limited economic opportunities and access to education all create a major development issue for these areas.
India’s state of Chhattisgarh faced a daunting challenge in the mid-2000s. About half of its public food distribution was leaked, meaning that it never reached the intended beneficiaries. By 2012, however, Chhattisgarh had nearly eliminated leakages, doubled the coverage of the scheme, and reduced exclusion errors to low single digits.
How did they do it?
I have been working on assessing social protection mechanisms in Somalia for more than a year now. In 2011, some 260,000 people died from famine. Given that 51.8 percentage of the population is poor with average daily consumption below $1.9 and 9 percent are internally displaced, it is only fair to despair over Somalia’s development, or lack thereof.
Social safety nets – predictable cash grants to poor households often in exchange for children going to school or going for regular health check-ups – have become one of the most effective poverty reduction strategies, helping the poor and vulnerable cope with crises and shocks. Each year, safety net programs in developing countries lift an estimated 69 million people living in absolute poverty and uplifting some 97 million people from the bottom 20 percent – a substantial contribution in the global fight against poverty.