"China is bringing this strategy to developing countries."
Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping officially claimed his country’ victory over poverty, claiming to have lifted the final 98.99 million impoverished rural residents out of destitution.
According to Xi, the 90 million-strong Communist Party of China was mobilized for the gargantuan task of eradicating poverty with Party chiefs at all levels being required to assume the primary responsibility for achieving the campaign's ambitious targets.
Aside from the over three million public officials sent from cities and towns to villages to fight poverty “on the front lines,” nearly 1.6 trillion yuan (about 246 billion U.S. dollars) of fiscal funds have been invested into poverty alleviation in the last eight years.
China also leveraged the political advantage of its socialist system, which can bring together the needed resources to accomplish great tasks. This enabled massive programs, such as those pairing up better-off provinces with others in need to tackle poverty.
With victory finally achieved, Xi said China is now moving on to push for higher-level development in its rural areas.
“Shaking off poverty is not the finish line, but the starting point of a new life and new endeavor, Xi said in the speech, demanding efforts to consolidate poverty alleviation achievements and initiate a dovetailing drive of “rural vitalization.”
So, how did China flush out poverty?
By transforming their resource endowment into development advantages – identifying assets per area and exploiting them to their advantage.
An example of this is the Shibadong Village Huayuan County in central China's Hunan Province which was one of the poorest areas in the Wuling Mountains before with an estimated two-thirds of its villages considered impoverished. After building a high-standard kiwi plantation, the village shook off poverty in February 2017.
Now, China is bringing this strategy to developing countries.
In 2000, Xi, then governor of southeast China's Fujian Province, helped launch the pilot Juncao project to help improve the livelihood of the Papua New Guinea people.
Juncao, known as “magic grass” and discovered by Chinese scientists, is an economical and environmentally friendly substitute for timber, which can be used as a substrate for growing mushrooms.
Eighteen years later, during Xi's visit to the Oceania country, the two countries signed another aid project using the grass technology.
By 2023, the aid program is expected to lift 30,000 local people out of poverty.
Here in the Philippines, we also have products we can utilize to propel the economic conditions of those living in the rural areas. We have coconut-based products, abaca, seafood, fruits like bananas, pineapples, etc.
Unfortunately, it’s quite different here in the Philippines as here, we promote poverty by institutionalizing the culture of mendicancy through conditional cash transfer.
The conditional cash transfer or CCT, has been implemented in at least 18 countries including the Philippines for about three decades now, with Brazil having started the program in the early 1990s.
CCT, which even acknowledged the richest economy in the world, the United States had adopted in 2010, aims to reduce poverty by providing welfare programs conditional upon the beneficiaries' actions. Simply put, the government only transfers the money to persons who meet certain criteria, which might include enrolling children into public schools, getting regular check-ups at the doctor's office, receiving immunizations and other similar programs.
In short, CCTs seek to help the current generation in poverty, by uplifting the lives of the beneficiaries thereby breaking the so-called cycle of poverty.
In the Philippines, the CCT had been around for more than a decade now, the program being started during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal – Arroyo. The administration of former President Noynoy Aquino continued the program, renaming it to Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or simply 4Ps, wherein conditional cash grants are extended to extremely poor households to improve their health, nutrition and education particularly of children age 0-14.
But unlike other countries, the Philippine CCT has failed drastically to alleviate poverty.
In 2010, when the Aquino government assumed power, it inherited a few hundred thousand impoverished families who were beneficiaries of the CCT. At that time, families living below the poverty line stood at 4.5 million families.
And in the 2016 election, then presidential candidate Mar Roxas bragged that the Aquino administration had lifted two million families out of poverty. However, that same year, the Aquino administration had targeted 5.4 million families as beneficiaries of the CCT, 900,000 more families when it assumed power six years earlier.
I have no idea of the present statistics but during the height of the pandemic, we have witnessed CCT beneficiaries squealing on their fellow beneficiaries of merely using hard-earned taxpayers’ money just for gambling and to support their vices, as they abandon their opportunities to earn by simply working.
And I have personally witnessed some of these. When people in the rural areas refused to work in the field or go out in the sea to fish as they were more content waiting for their monthly dole outs. Aside from promoting a culture of mendicancy, this CCT is also encouraging indolence.
If we are really serious in eradicating poverty, maybe we can start by scrapping this CCT program and instead encourage people particularly in the rural areas to harness the fruits of land and the seas, teaching them to engage in marketing their own produce subsidizing them if needed.
Former Candaba Mayor Jerry Pelayo, now national coordinator of the Department of Agriculture’s Bantay Presyo, is proposing that beneficiaries of these programs be clustered and taught to form cooperatives.
The Department of Trade and Industry, Pelayo said, should focus on teaching financial literacy and management to said beneficiaries with the help of the barangay and private sector.
According to Pelayo, expanding micro small medium enterprises is the only real and sustainable long-term solution in feeding the poorest of the poor, and not through a program which promotes mendicancy.
Another novel idea is to introduce an Adopt-a-Family program wherein those who are able to sponsor the needs of cash-strapped families to do so during this most crucial time.
This scheme, according to Pelayo, can also be applied to big businesses helping micro enterprises which do not have the liquidity and capacity to reopen after the lockdown.
Lastly, Pelayo wants the Buy Lokal campaign to be promoted as this would increase the competitiveness of local enterprises, he says.
With the billions of pesos being spent on the CCT, maybe it’s about time we try on other routes, just like what Pelayo is proposing. Maybe then we can follow China’s footsteps in ending poverty.