Tar­geted Poverty Re­lief: China’s New Anti-poverty Strat­egy

China cut the num­ber of the poor by more than 700 mil­lion in the past 40 years. Its con­tri­bu­tion rate to global poverty re­duc­tion ex­ceeded 70 per­cent.

China Pictorial (English) - - Contents - Text by Wang San­gui

Since the late 1970s, China has made great progress in large-scale poverty re­duc­tion in the process of its re­form and open­ing up, mak­ing con­sid­er­able con­tri­bu­tion to the re­al­iza­tion of the UN Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment Goals (MDGS). How­ever, the na­tion is still fac­ing prob­lems such as in­come in­equal­ity, com­par­a­tively lower poverty line, huge poor pop­u­la­tion, and lack of tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion mea­sures. In this con­text, the strat­egy of “tar­geted poverty re­lief ” needs to be taken fur­ther for has­ten­ing large-scale poverty re­duc­tion.

Progress in Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion

Over nearly four decades since it be­gan the re­form and openingup pol­icy, China has greatly re­duced poverty while main­tain­ing rapid eco­nomic growth. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank’s poverty line of US$ 1 a day, the coun­try cut the num­ber of the poor by more than 700 mil­lion in the past 40 years. In 2000, the UN Mil­len­nium Sum­mit passed the MDGS, set­ting a goal to halve the num­ber of the poor from the 1990 fig­ure. China was the first coun­try to reach the goal. By 2002, it had

re­duced the per­cent­age of the poor in ru­ral ar­eas to 30 per­cent, which was 60 per­cent in 1990. Dur­ing the pe­riod, China’s con­tri­bu­tion rate to global poverty re­duc­tion ex­ceeded 70 per­cent. China has made fur­ther ef­forts to re­duce poverty since the 18th Na­tional Congress of the Com­mu­nist Party of China in 2012. By the end of 2017, the pop­u­la­tion of the poor in the coun­try’s ru­ral ar­eas had de­creased to 30.26 mil­lion from 98.99 mil­lion at the end of 2012, and the poverty head­count ra­tio had dropped from 10.2 per­cent to 3.1 per­cent.

Rapid eco­nomic growth over decades has sub­stan­tially in­creased in­comes and con­sump­tion, be­ing de­ci­sive in large-scale poverty re­duc­tion. This large-scale poverty re­duc­tion is at­trib­uted to a com­bi­na­tion of many fac­tors. Firstly, growth in agriculture is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­search re­port re­leased by the World Bank, growth in China’s agri­cul­tural sec­tor is four times as ef­fec­tive in re­duc­ing poverty as growth in the se­condary and ter­tiary in­dus­tries. Se­condly, tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion ef­fort has helped nar­row the gap be­tween dif­fer­ent re­gions and ac­cel­er­ate eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment of poverty-stricken ar­eas. Thirdly, China be­gan to es­tab­lish a so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem for ru­ral ar­eas in 2007. Mea­sures such as guar­an­teed min­i­mum in­come, the new-type ru­ral co­op­er­a­tive med­i­cal care sys­tem and the ru­ral pen­sion in­sur­ance sys­tem have en­sured pro­vi­sion of ba­sic liv­ing and pub­lic ser­vices. Fourthly, in­clu­sive ru­ral poli­cies have ben­e­fited vast sec­tions of the im­pov­er­ished in ru­ral ar­eas. In 2003, the coun­try launched the “grain for green” cam­paign in poverty-stricken ar­eas, and farm­ers who re­turned their farm­land to forests and grass­lands were paid with al­lowances. In 2006, agri­cul­tural tax was abol­ished, and a pol­icy to pro­vide gen­eral sub­si­dies for agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment was im­ple­mented. From 2008, nine-year free com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion be­gan to be avail­able na­tion­wide for all chil­dren. And fi­nally, the ba­sic land sys­tem and land op­er­a­tion pat­tern en­sure that the poor ben­e­fit from agri­cul­tural growth. The house­hold con­tract re­spon­si­bil­ity sys­tem was adopted as the ba­sic land sys­tem in ru­ral ar­eas, ac­cord­ing to which ru­ral lands are col­lec­tively owned, but farm­ers en­joy long-term use and man­age­ment rights of the land con­tracted. In the early 1980s, farm­lands were dis­trib­uted to farm­ers in a ba­si­cally equal man­ner, so that im­pov­er­ished house­holds could also ben­e­fit from their farm­land and agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment.

Chal­lenges in Poverty Re­duc­tion

De­spite great progress in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and poverty re­duc­tion, it is un­de­ni­able that the in­come gap be­tween the rich and the poor con­tin­ues to ex­pand. China’s Gini co­ef­fi­cient grew from 0.288 in 1981 to 0.4 in 2017. As re­lief mea­sures ac­cel­er­ated eco­nomic growth of poverty-stricken re­gions, in­come in­equal­ity in those re­gions con­tin­ued to in­crease. Dur­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Out­line for De­vel­op­ment-ori­ented poverty Re­duc­tion for china’ s ru­ral ar­eas (2001-2010) , the ra­tio of the av­er­age in­come of the poor­est house­holds to that of the rich­est house­holds in key coun­ties for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion dropped from 21.59 per­cent in 2002 to 17.38 per­cent in 2010. The more in­come a ru­ral house­hold earns, the faster its net in­come grows. From 2002 to 2010, the per-head net in­come of farm­ers with the low­est in­comes in­creased at an an­nual rate of 11.1 per­cent, while that of farm­ers with the high­est in­comes in­creased at an an­nual rate of 14.1 per­cent, re­sult­ing in a fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the in­come gap. From 2002 to 2009, the an­nual in­come growth rates for

poor ru­ral house­holds and av­er­age ru­ral house­holds in key coun­ties for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion were 2.75 per­cent and 11.76 per­cent, re­spec­tively— the for­mer is 9 per­cent lower than the lat­ter, while the na­tional av­er­age stayed at 11.04 per­cent. The ra­tio of the in­come of poor house­holds to that of the av­er­age house­holds na­tion­wide con­tin­ued to fall—from one third in 2002 to one fifth in 2009.

The in­crease in in­come in­equal­ity is at­trib­uted to var­i­ous rea­sons. First, the main­stay of China’s eco­nomic struc­ture has shifted from agriculture that is la­bor-in­ten­sive to man­u­fac­tur­ing and ser­vice in­dus­tries, re­sult­ing in fur­ther ex­pan­sion of the in­come gap. Due to the fact that the coun­try adopts a land sys­tem fea­tur­ing equal dis­tri­bu­tion, the in­come dis­tri­bu­tion in its agri­cul­tural sec­tor is com­par­a­tively equal. How­ever, in­come in­equal­ity grows in the se­condary and ter­tiary in­dus­tries that are cap­i­tal- and tech­nol­ogy-in­ten­sive. Sec­ond, the pop­u­la­tion and la­bor mi­gra­tion be­tween ru­ral ar­eas and ur­ban ar­eas also causes in­come in­equal­ity. Due to their com­par­a­tively lower ed­u­ca­tional level and com­pre­hen­sive ca­pac­ity and the short­age of cap­i­tal and in­for­ma­tion, mi­grant work­ers from pover­tys­tricken ru­ral ar­eas are less likely to find jobs in cities than those from com­par­a­tively richer ru­ral ar­eas. This fur­ther wi­dens the in­come gap. Third, although de­vel­op­ment-ori­ented re­lief ef­fort has greatly im­proved in­fra­struc­ture, pro­duc­tion, and liv­ing con­di­tions in poverty-stricken ar­eas, it re­mains hard for poor house­holds to sub­stan­tially in­crease their in­comes by uti­liz­ing im­proved in­fra­struc­ture as rich house­holds did. Fi­nally, it is dif­fi­cult for the poor to en­joy ef­fec­tive fi­nan­cial ser­vices, which im­pedes a rise in their in­comes.

Against the back­drop of grow­ing in­come in­equal­ity, it has be­come harder to re­duce the num­ber of the poor through eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and re­gional poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. There­fore, it is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to di­rectly help the poor through more tar­geted re­lief poli­cies.

Tar­geted Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion Strat­egy

In No­vem­ber 2013, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping first put for­ward the strat­egy of “tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion” dur­ing his visit to Xiangxi Tu­jia and Miao Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture in Hu­nan Prov­ince. So far, the strat­egy has re­mained a sig­nif­i­cant part of China’s fight against poverty.

The strat­egy aims to en­hance the rel­e­vance and ef­fi­cacy of re­lief ef­fort, so as to off­set the drop in the ef­fect of eco­nomic growth on poverty re­duc­tion. The key con­tent of tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion is elim­i­na­tion of all the fac­tors and ob­sta­cles that cause poverty through tar­geted as­sis­tance for the poor and en­abling their self­de­vel­op­ment to­wards the goal of sus­tain­able poverty re­duc­tion. Tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion in­cludes pre­cise iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, as­sis­tance, man­age­ment, and as­sess­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted by the Na­tional Bu­reau of Sta­tis­tics of China, the coun­try had 70.17 mil­lion be­low the poverty line at the end of 2014. (It was es­ti­mated that the fig­ure would be re­duced to 60 mil­lion in early 2016). The govern­ment has taken a se­ries of mea­sures to fur­ther in­no­vate its poverty re­lief mech­a­nism, so as to fa­cil­i­tate the im­ple­men­ta­tion of its tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion strat­egy and en­sure erad­i­ca­tion of

poverty by 2020. In terms of pre­cise iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, China has iden­ti­fied 29.48 mil­lion poor house­holds with a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 89.62 mil­lion since 2013. (Cur­rently, the sec­ond round of poor iden­ti­fi­ca­tion is un­der­way, and although the find­ings are yet to be re­vealed, it is believed that the iden­ti­fied poor would be less in num­bers). More­over, the coun­try has reg­is­tered all poor house­holds and pop­u­la­tion and de­tails about the fam­i­lies, as well as their avail­able re­sources, in­come sources, and rea­sons of poverty, in the na­tional poverty al­le­vi­a­tion in­for­ma­tion sys­tem.

The govern­ment has taken a se­ries of mea­sures to push for­ward tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. First, sup­port­ing a batch of poor house­holds through in­dus­trial de­vel­op­ment and em­ploy­ment and solv­ing their dif­fi­cul­ties in re­la­tion to tech­nol­ogy, cap­i­tal, and mar­ket­ing. Sec­ond, re­lo­cat­ing 10 mil­lion of the poor in re­mote ar­eas with harsh nat­u­ral con­di­tions to com­par­a­tively more hos­pitable vil­lages or small towns with a view to im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and con­di­tions for their de­vel­op­ment. Third, help­ing a batch of poor house­holds re­duce poverty through eco­log­i­cal com­pen­sa­tion poli­cies such as sub­si­dies for those who re­turned their farm­land to forests. Fourth, help­ing a batch of poor house­holds re­duce poverty through strength­en­ing ed­u­ca­tion. The mea­sures in­clude de­vel­op­ing preschool ed­u­ca­tion in pover­tys­tricken ar­eas, pro­vid­ing free high school or oc­cu­pa­tional school ed­u­ca­tion and liv­ing al­lowances for stu­dents from im­pov­er­ished fam­i­lies. This will not only re­duce the ed­u­ca­tion ex­pen­di­ture of poor house­holds, but also help end in­ter- gen­er­a­tional poverty. Fi­nally, help­ing a batch of poor house­holds through so­cial se­cu­rity mea­sures such as ex­pand­ing the cov­er­age of min­i­mum liv­ing al­lowances, launch­ing ru­ral co­op­er­a­tive med­i­cal care sys­tem, and pro­vid­ing se­vere-dis­ease med­i­cal in­sur­ance and as­sis­tance, and pen­sion in­sur­ance. By 2020, China’s min­i­mum liv­ing se­cu­rity sys­tem will lift all its cit­i­zens above the poverty line.

To strengthen com­mu­nity-level poverty al­le­vi­a­tion ca­pac­ity, gov­ern­ments at var­i­ous lev­els have dis­patched of­fi­cials to act as first sec­re­taries and poverty re­lief team lead­ers in 128,000 poverty-stricken vil­lages. Aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions (NGOS), and or­di­nary cit­i­zens are also en­cour­aged to par­tic­i­pate in poverty re­lief ef­forts by var­i­ous means, such as es­tab­lish­ing independent third-party poverty re­duc­tion ap­praisal mech­a­nism.

Chi­nese Ex­pe­ri­ence in Poverty Re­lief

China’s suc­cess in large-scale poverty re­duc­tion over the past four decades, as well as its on­go­ing ef­fort in tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, is use­ful ex­pe­ri­ence for de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. China’s suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ence can be sum­ma­rized as fol­lows:

First, sus­tained eco­nomic growth has been com­bined with de­vel­op­ment-cen­tered re­lief ef­fort. For any coun­try, eco­nomic growth is a nec­es­sary pre­req­ui­site for largescale poverty re­duc­tion. Against a back­drop of in­creas­ing in­come in­equal­ity, tar­geted poverty re­lief is in­dis­pens­able to end poverty.

Sec­ond, the coun­try has re­al­ized an or­ganic in­te­gra­tion of poverty al­le­vi­a­tion and so­cial se­cu­rity. Es­sen­tially, in or­der to achieve sus­tain­able poverty re­duc­tion, a coun­try needs to en­hance the self­de­vel­op­ment abil­ity of pover­tys­tricken ar­eas and pop­u­la­tion through de­vel­op­ment-ori­ented re­lief ef­fort. More­over, pro­vid­ing nec­es­sary so­cial se­cu­rity poli­cies will not only guar­an­tee the poor’s ba­sic liveli­hood, but also lay the foun­da­tion for de­vel­op­ment-ori­ented poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. If the poor lack ba­sic liv­ing guar­an­tee, it is im­pos­si­ble to achieve sus­tain­able poverty re­duc­tion.

Third, govern­ment-led re­lief ef­fort should be made along­side so­cial mo­bi­liza­tion. With pri­mary li­a­bil­ity for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, gov­ern­ments at var­i­ous lev­els are re­spon­si­ble for for­mu­lat­ing re­lief strate­gies, pro­vid­ing and mo­bi­liz­ing rel­e­vant re­sources, and draft­ing and im­ple­ment­ing rel­e­vant plans and poli­cies. Poverty al­le­vi­a­tion is a com­pre­hen­sive, sys­temic project that in­volves var­i­ous sec­tors and re­quires spe­cial­ized knowl­edge and ex­per­tise. There­fore, broad par­tic­i­pa­tion of mar­ket en­ti­ties, NGOS and cit­i­zens is vi­tal to en­hanc­ing the ef­fec­tive­ness of poverty re­lief ef­forts.

Fi­nally, ra­tio­nal in­sti­tu­tional ar­range­ments are help­ful for poverty re­duc­tion. China’s fair land dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem has con­sid­er­ably mag­ni­fied agriculture’s role in poverty re­duc­tion. More­over, the pop­u­lar­iza­tion of free com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion and co­op­er­a­tive med­i­cal care helps the poor in­crease their hu­man cap­i­tal and en­hance their ca­pac­ity for de­vel­op­ment.

The au­thor is a pro­fes­sor at the School of Agri­cul­tural Eco­nom­ics and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment un­der Ren­min Univer­sity of China, and di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s Anti-poverty Re­search Cen­ter. He is ded­i­cated to re­search on ru­ral poverty.

A bird’s-eye view of Shibadong Vil­lage in the Xiangxi Tu­jia and Miao Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture, Hu­nan Prov­ince. In early spring, when wild cherry trees blos­som in the nearby moun­tains, the vil­lage wel­comes flocks of tourists. Ru­ral tourism has be­come a pil­lar in­dus­try that lifts vil­lagers out of poverty. Xin­hua

Yu Maoyun, di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for Rare Medic­i­nal Plants Cul­ti­va­tion and In­dus­tri­al­iza­tion at West An­hui Univer­sity in An­hui Prov­ince, works in a ster­ile lab­o­ra­tory. Lo­cal vil­lagers in moun­tain­ous ar­eas in the prov­ince’s Jinzhai County and Jin’an District have shaken off poverty and be­come wealthy through plant­ing medic­i­nal herbs such as Den­dro­bium hu­osha­nense and Bletillastri­ata. Xin­hua

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