India’s poverty levels continue to be alarmingly high despite 20 years of economic reforms? Is it a case of wrong policy prescription or faulty implementation? Why is it that agriculture continues to be a laggard? There are no easy answers available here. But for Kanayo F Nwanze, president, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN nodal agency for rural poverty alleviation, it is a case of poor execution rather than poor policy. In India for a high level exchange with senior cabinet ministers, Nwanze tells Zee Research Group’s Rakesh Khar in an interview that the other big challenge in India is to bring political stability in the Naxal belt to ensure development takes place there as well.
Do you see poverty goals under the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of 2015 being met?
A: We have made some progress. But even then, one out of every seven people on earth is poor. China has made some tremendous strides and India too has made some progress alongside Brazil and a few others, but for the rest it is a dismal picture. Frankly, I do not see the MDG target of reducing the global poverty by half being met by 2015.
According to World Food Program (WFP) hunger index, India’s levels are moderately high @ 20 to 34 per cent level with it being bracketed with countries like Rawanda, Uganda and Kenya.
A: Frankly, I am not happy with this level. There is a lot of anxiety. The challenge in India is the vast rural areas, the tribal belt and the SC/ST people. These are areas where you have huge shortages and high malnutrition levels. The ongoing political instability like the Naxal issue has added to the problem. Development is not possible in face of political instability.
There are varying estimates on poverty benchmarking and poverty levels in India. Are we scientific enough in getting closer to the truth?
A: Each country has its own benchmark. It is a fallacy, to my mind, to have one single benchmark for any country, more so for countries like China and India, which represent diverse socio-economic realities. My own benchmark is that each citizen is entitled to two proper meals, access to education, sanitation, medicine, transportation, technology and information. The levels might vary.
India’s reform program started in 1991 is now under attack for failing to achieve inclusive growth and reduce poverty significantly.
A: India is one of the few countries where improvement is huge. The policy prescription is right but there are issues of management, which can improve. India has some of the finest social welfare and rural development schemes which the world is trying to replicate.
India’s two decades of economic reforms, so to say, bypassed the agriculture sector.
A: Yes, the reforms have failed to address agriculture as a priority since these had an outward focus on industrialization. This is not the case only in India. I trust the policy makers here too have realized the gap. I respect their strong intent to correct it.
India views small land holding patterns as an impediment. But you put premium on these.
A: Small land holding is a global phenomenon and my own estimate is that 80 per cent of food is produced there while about 80 per cent of land holding globally is average less than two hectares. It is a question of what you do with the land you have. You need innovation, technology and above all organisational and institutional support to make a difference. Government has to offer the organizational support. That might be the gap area in India.
How is your rural poverty project functioning in Vidharba, Maharashtra, which witnessed a rash of farmer suicides?
A: The project has now been on for two years and the review is likely soon. It would be premature to conclude anything now. We have generally made a difference wherever we have been in India.
What is your IFAD 9th replenishment wish list for India?
A: India has the rare distinction of being both the biggest donor from the developing countries, as also the biggest aid recipient from us. We have been assured that we would get nothing short of what we got last round ($ 25 million) and we hope it is a little better than that.
What is the aid outlook for India projects?
A: We are firming this up and let me assure that we would definitely meet the last level of $ 141 million and I am hopeful we would push for a suitable increase. This should get finalized next month.