Poverty reduction: A process that requires time and patience

Poverty reduction: A process that requires time and patience

Written by:  Meike van Ginneken, SNV Chief Executive Officer. This article is translated from the news item published in the Dutch Newspaper -  the Volkrant.  Please view the original here.

Minister Kaag presented her policy brief on Foreign Trade and Development, but the stacking of so many different goals is risky for development. That is what Meike van Ginneken, CEO of the Dutch Development Organisation SNV, says.

Last Monday, the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation - Minister Kaag presented a Policy Document on Development Cooperation to companies and organisations in the forum "Investing in Perspective".

With integrity, and as an old hand in government the cabinet, the Minister spoke about how reducing the ‘pressure of migration’ is high on the political development agenda. This is where it pinches.

Poverty reduction is central to the Dutch Foreign Trade & Development Policy and uses the international Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as its guideline. We are pleased that The Netherlands is holding on to this existing policy by continuing its focus on areas such as food security and agriculture, water and climate. Development cooperation takes time and patience, and in recent years these sectors have established foundations for sustainable and scalable results globally. We also welcome the increased attention on youth employment in the development sector, precisely because this can be done efficiently within the existing areas of interest. The Minister also strongly focused on gender equality, a topic that has always been important in Dutch policy.

Nevertheless, the focus on poverty reduction is under pressure. The attention on the SDGs will be diluted by adding other 'pillars' to the development agenda. These include the prevention of conflict and migration, and improving the international position of entrepreneurs from the Netherlands. The future will show how this accumulation of goals is put into practice. Even for a passionate politician, it will be extremely difficult to keep the central focus on poverty reduction in a four-party coalition.

In 1990, there were still 1850 million people living in extreme poverty, now there are only 700 million. In the poorest countries, development cooperation has played a crucial role to achieve this reduction. The policy brief rightly states that further poverty reduction is under pressure. Most of the available additional resources are not spent on this, but go to the reception of refugees in their own region. Even existing development budgets are partially shifting to middle-income countries in a ring around Europe, to tackle the root causes of migration. As a result, countries with the highest levels of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia will become the victims of this.

Poverty reduction can contribute to a more stable world in the long term as part of a coherent policy in the area of peace and security, climate and development. Although poverty is one of the underlying causes of instability and forced migration, the relationship between poverty, stability and migration is not at all clear. Therefore, in our view, it is neither desirable nor possible to make the reduction of 'migration' to Europe the goal of development programmes.

Minister Kaag tells the Dutch business community that the SDG’s are a “sensible revenue model”, and that business can play a pioneering role in the economic growth of poor countries. But research suggests that inclusive growth is mainly driven by local businesses. Removing trade barriers in Africa and Asia is certainly as important for poverty reduction as trade from Europe to Africa and Asia. The policy brief gives some vague terms about the sustainability of trade and the importance of an international level playing field. Financing however seems to focus primarily on export promotion, including the establishment of an export promotion agency called Invest-NL. Employers' organisation VNO-NCW is therefore very pleased with the new memorandum and sees the new policy as a means to “gain a foothold outside of Europe".

The Netherlands can be proud of the contribution it makes to the social and economic development of people living in poverty. Dutch taxpayers not only help millions of direct beneficiaries, but will importantly help the kick-starting of markets, stronger local authorities, and hundreds of thousands of better trained professionals worldwide. The effectiveness of the Dutch contribution is at risk especially when policy aimed at helping the poorest people is interlaced with Dutch trade and migration goals. Development requires a consistent policy that takes time and patience.

Read the Volksrant Article here, or the SNV version here.