3. Anti-Poverty Targets and Policies: An Overview
One finds practically no specific poverty-related targets in Nepalese plans and programmes, and this could be on account of the political convenience of vague and general targets. There has never been a history of governments accountable to the people in Nepal. Targets relating to poverty eradication in the plans and policies have to be found in the general goals and objectives regarding development. This is because Nepalese plans have focussed more on growth in terms of target setting, and these have never been met. And the absence of anti-poverty targets means the lack of preparedness on the part of the planning body to provide more effective policy inputs based upon a comprehensive analysis and understanding of rural poverty.
The first anti-poverty policies can be said to have begun after 1950. Prior to this period, Nepal was under the rule of the century-old Rana autocrats and during that period Nepal remained closed with practically negligible development projects. It was only after 1950 when this autocratic oligarchy was finally overthrown and the seat of power transferred to the Shah kings, the hereditary rulers of Nepal since the past 200 years, that Nepal started the task of development of the country and her people.
The Village Development Programme, launched in 1952 was a multi-sectoral programme incorporating the important elements of the village community development. “The government attaches great significance and accords high priority to the Village Development Programme. Because it is through this programme that the nation will prosper with rapid improvement in the economic conditions of the majority of the population.”1 The programme was divided into three stages: the lowest level focussing on local infrastructure, the middle level focussing on increasing production and other socio-economic activities and finally the intensive level focussing on the propagation of improved technology, extension and cooperative. According to the Second Plan, 3800 villages and about 2.25 million people were benefitted.2 One evaluation study of the programme has commented as follows:
The obvious question here would be why was the programme stopped at the end of the plan (i.e., in 1960) if it had been so successful? As with many similar programmes they tend to become easy victims of political changes. An elected government came to power in 1958 and there was a royal take over in 1960. Both of these events were responsible for the closing of the programme.
This was the first major rural development programme in Nepal. Although it lacked any direct attack on the problems of poverty and inequality, it represented a multi-dimensional approach towards overcoming some of the problems created by rampant poverty in the Nepalese villages. It was significant in its message that for the first time a government did not exist just for collecting taxes, but was willing and to some extent capable of acting for the well-being of its people. Thereafter village development suffered a major setback. Funds were cut back, planning capability was weakened and it became a medium of political mobilisation and patronage. It was not until the Fifth Plan that focus on village development was to see a major revival.
The next major programme that recognised the need for explicit action for the poorer groups was the Remote Area Development Programme. This adopted the approach of identifying or relating extreme poverty with remoteness from the centre or from some point accessible through modern transport. The basic package of development activities was similar to the village development programme but of a vastly smaller nature. Often one area received only a few programmes. No comprehensive evaluation has been made of its activities to date and today it is functioning as part of the local development activities.
Another major programme that was meant to reduce inequality in the ownership of land holdings and thereby reduce the extent of rural deprivation through more equitable distribution of economically viable operational land holdings was the Land Reform Programme of 1963. Without going into the details of the nature and implementation of the land reform one could quote from a study which has made the following observations:
This virtually tantamounts to saying that the programme had failed to a large extent.
During the period of the Fourth Plan (1970-75), there was a new thrust toward regional planning, based on the arguments that on account of the different levels of development of the regions, special effort was necessary to improve the levels of living of the people in the poorer regions.
Regional development efforts were reflected initially in the allocation of developmental funds. As this alone was insufficient, a programme was developed under the name of the Small Area Development Programme, where the thrust was multi-sectoral and instead of using the village, it used as its base a group of villages. The Small Area Development Programme was followed by different rechristened versions and today its most extensive version is the Integrated Rural Development Programmes.
Today, there are a number of programmes that are focussing on the problems of the poorer groups. First is the Integrated Rural Development Programme (IRDP) which has finally succeeded once again in increasing the central level commitment to rural development in terms of more funds, manpower and institutions. Today there are seven IRDPs covering 27 districts with substantial levels of investments.2
The next major programme is the Small Farmer Development Programme launched by the Agricultural Development Bank; and the details of this programme are discussed in the next section.
Other small programmes launched under the auspices of the World Food Programme include the Food For Works Activities for different types of rural infrastructure. The problem with most of these activities is that their temporary nature precludes any further work in terms of maintenance, repair and further development. The villagers are too poor to provide any of their resources; and programmes like this do not want a permanent burden.
With this brief survey of the major anti-poverty policies, we now move on to discuss the specific case of the Small Farmer Development Programme in Nepal.
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