How to Ensure the Sustainability of Poverty Alleviation?

南都观察

中文 English

Editor’s note

This article was written by 荀丽丽 (Xun Lili), an associate research fellow in the Sociology Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and originally appeared in 南都观察. Below is CDB’s translation. The article has been abridged in a few points. 

 

“Looking at the standards for poverty alleviation, we can see that the state’s logic and the rural logic do not match. The state’s logic requires that poverty be identified down to the individual, in a way that is clear and easy to control, for instance with the establishment of household information cards. The rural logic is not the same however, because in order to avoid conflict village cadres want to equalize benefits.

In the face of uncertainties such as climate change, natural disasters, energy and water crises, diseases and the systemic risks of market economy, how to create and rebuild social support networks and improve different groups’ adaptability and resilience become the key issues in poverty alleviation.”

 

After the concept of “targeted measures of poverty alleviation” was put forward in 2013, the issues of rural development and poverty again became a hot topic in social research. Some people raised new questions: has poverty ended? What is the “new poverty era”?

The current targeted measures approach has brought a sense of accomplishment but also a certain sense of doubt. On the one hand, China’s performance on poverty alleviation is world renowned; on the other hand, some might wonder how so many villages and people have been able to get out of poverty within such a short period of time, and if there will really be no poverty by 2020.

 

What are the fundamental problems of poverty alleviation in the new era?

First of all, the long-term existence of poverty definitely has an objective basis. Uncertainty and risks objectively exist for the family, community, nation and on the global scale, for instance there are climate change, natural disasters, energy and water crises, diseases and the systemic risks of the market economy, and all of these are important factors that cause poverty. Even in the United States, where modern agriculture is highly developed, owners of large farms in Colorado still worry about getting caught unprepared by calamities like drought, disease or market volatility.

So, what are the basic problems of poverty alleviation? I do not think the problem should be understood plainly as “income poverty”, or that simply raising incomes can solve the problem. A focus of sociological research is how to build and rebuild social support networks in the face of risks, and how to improve the adaptability and resilience of individual groups. This is also a key question for poverty alleviation.

Secondly economic growth, which has income growth as its core, is not able to cover all the challenges we face. We must also face up to the issue of ecologically, economically and socially sustainable development. For example, rural non-point source pollution has led to the deterioration of natural resources like soil and underground water, and therefore caused risks to plant production and food safety for the developing rural economy. This is also a large factor in the creation of poverty.

 

Addressing the “locality” blind spot in the “Who should we support? How to support them? Who will help?” questions.

The locality blindspot within targeted poverty alleviation has two faces. First of all, we have to understand the meaning of “locality” in this context. After that, we can understand the issue from the point of view of the core questions in poverty alleviation: “Who should we support? How to support them? Who will help?”.

The so-called “locality” consists, first of all, of a place’s geographic conditions and social customs. Any form of social intervention should recognize this basic background as much as the local practitioners do.

Secondly, in the locality one needs to fully understand the local people’s “local scope”, including how they solve matters, how they understand good and evil, public and private, success and failure, diligence and other concepts. Poverty alleviation cannot be imposed only by external forces, but rather should try to achieve communication with the outside, transformation and renewal through an understanding of the local scope in these impoverished villages.

Thirdly, in the locality one also needs to understand the local traditions of managing public affairs, and local customs of public participation. It is worth wondering whether poverty alleviation as a public affair can achieve self-governance for rural communities.

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A village meeting in Heyuan Laojun Mountain Village, Lijiang, Yunnan Province. The villagers’ representatives and the village committee formed a review group to grade each proposed project. Sansheng (an assisting NGO), county officials and experts formed a discussion group, and while they did not participate in the voting, they had the right to ask questions.

 

Who should we help? Is the impoverished population difficult to frame?

First of all, the question of who we should help is actually the problem of targeted poverty alleviation. The locality blindspot here is precisely the difficulty in targeting the resources of poverty alleviation. It is very hard to match them with the genuinely impoverished demographic. The top-down “indicator control” and “indicator distributions” of the targeted poverty alleviation policy determine its systemic bias. Although the government has invested unprecedented human and financial resources in poverty alleviation, the resources are in fact still limited.

The current poverty alleviation data is not collected and summarized from the bottom-up, which means the resources are not distributed according to how many people in poverty are identified at the local level. That could lead to a situation in which the local government blindly expands the size of the (reported) poor population to get more resources.

Looking at the standards for poverty alleviation, we can see that the state’s logic and the rural logic do not match. The state’s logic requires that poverty be identified down to the individual, in a way that is clear and easy to control, for instance with the establishment of special files and cards for impoverished household. The rural logic is not the same however, because in order to avoid conflict village cadres want to equalize benefits. They can normally choose the share of benefits for each group within the village, and very often groups with a lot of poor within them will be unable to receive a larger proportion of the resources marked for poverty alleviation, while groups with less poor among them will continue to receive their share of such resources.

The rigidity of the household information cards has caused a headache for many village officials. For example, one village party secretary said that in the past people would take turns in receiving funds from the top. This year it goes to your family, and next year it goes to another. However, under the targeted poverty alleviation policy, the cards are fixed, which means centralized support and centralized alleviation. This entails a great controversy within the rural communities over who to include on the list of the impoverished.

 

How to help? How to truly empower the impoverished population?

Secondly, we need to think about the “locality” blindspot. First of all, the local government’s targeted poverty alleviation practices show the typical characteristics of a form of governance based upon “campaigns” and subjected to a pressurizing national system. Under a lot of pressure from the top to alleviate poverty, local officials consider poverty alleviation to be closely related with their performance evaluations and promotions, and it is a highly politicized task. In these conditions, poverty alleviation resources are likely to be invested in exemplary sites where targets can be met more easily. Therefore, some remote villages may be ignored.

Second of all, the abstractness of the poor within the poverty alleviation industry is also a problem. Local governments generally prefer quick and wide-ranging projects. In the project designs, the funds and authority are concentrated in the rural cooperatives and leading enterprises through “capitalization” channels. The poor seem to enjoy easy benefits from these projects, but in fact it is difficult for them to participate effectively both in the production and distribution phases. What we see more of is “mobilized participation” and “nominal participation”, while it is hard to raise the poor people’s self-development capabilities. Without an “empowerment” mechanism, it is difficult to achieve the sustainability of poverty alleviation projects.

Besides, in some remote areas, genuine technological innovation faces big challenges and difficulties. For example, in a Yunnan village, the local agricultural research institutions provided a technology for free-range mushroom cultivation which was very helpful for the poor people in this remote mountainous area to achieve low-cost development. But it was very hard to get the local government’s approval, because this kind of dispersed industry is impossible to control, the scale is too small and the political achievements aren’t great enough. Even though this project was based upon genuine local needs, it still faced limitations under the present system.

I conducted a poverty alleviation field investigation in the Xiji-Haiyuan-Guyuan region. It is undeniable that poverty alleviation has made outstanding achievements in this area, especially in infrastructure construction. In some remote villages, however, is still hard to see an effective mechanism of endogenous development, or an empowerment mechanism.

In addition, with the development of the “new-type urbanization”, some poor people have moved to the surroundings of industrial zones or “modern agricultural-industrial parks”, since their original land has been transferred. Seemingly, both employment opportunities and incomes increase accordingly, but the safety network in poor families is weakened, because the elderly who were making a living in traditional agriculture now turn into “unemployed”. Their livelihood then comes to depend on their children, and family conflicts are thus inevitable.

I know of a primary school in a mountainous area where only 12 students are enrolled, and 9 of these children are not living with their mothers. Following the process of urbanization and industrialization, the high divorce rate and broken homes in the countryside are also a cause of increasing poverty, and significantly affect the sustainability of poverty alleviation. Clearly, these problems cannot be addressed by higher incomes.

Furthermore, the children in poor families easily get ignored. There is a little girl whose family has received support from the local poverty alleviation project, and is considered to have overcome poverty in this year. But because of recurring abdominal pains, she cannot go to school like normal children, and her family is unable to treat her. In the eyes of the locals, since she is almost 12 years old after a few years she will be able to get married. In practice it will be hard for her to enjoy any further education.

By revealing these “locality” blindspots, we find that it is impossible to understand the problem of poverty and its reproduction by simply increasing incomes.

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In January 2017, a training session on the establishment of information files and cards for poor households was held at Wujiepu Town in Luxi County, Yunnan Province. © ynlxkx.com

 

Who should provide help? Why can’t poverty alleviation rely solely on the government?

Thirdly, on the issue of “who should provide help”, the government’s dominance has always been the characteristic and advantage of China’s anti-poverty interventions when compared to the international community. However, it is apparent that having the government as the only dynamic subject in huge targeted measures of poverty alleviation also has its disadvantages.

For villages, the “poverty alleviation resources delivery system” is actually an external and hierarchical administrative structure, and its internal mobilization mechanism and the efficiency of its transfer both affect the results of poverty alleviation. We need to think deeply and explore extensively to answer the question of how to return to a vision of rural endogenous development and achieve the empowerment of villages based on the local needs. If multiple social forces get involved in poverty alleviation, the possibilities and spaces for development are huge. For instance, Prof. Li Xiaoyun is not only a sociologist but also an actor in anti-poverty programs, which is very meaningful.

To sum up, in the “new poverty” era poverty alleviation inevitably has to go beyond the government system, and has to involve more social forces. Meanwhile, breaking through the “locality” blindspot, poverty alleviation must be combined with a systematic design for a rural renaissance. The rural renaissance should not simply be seen from the perspective of an opposition between cities and the countryside, but from the new perspective of urban and rural integrated development. Poverty alleviation which intends to eliminate “locality” blindspots requires the participation of the government and multiple subjects within society, and more importantly, anti-poverty efforts should be brought into the scope of rural public governance, therefore stimulating the endogenous energy of rural communities.

When we carried out research in Inner Mongolia we learnt that the herdsmen often suffer from natural disasters, and even a severe drought can cause them to return to poverty. In the 1990s, the rapid development under the contract system helped all the families of herdsmen generate income, but at the same time it weakened the collective force and the ability to protect against risks. Thus, the herdsmen restored the “collective sheep” system — known as Tie Tang (铁羊). This system is used to provide support when poverty suddenly arises within the community. If any family suffers a natural disaster or serious illness, the Tie Yang is the source of community help. The Yi Tian (义田) system in traditional villages also has the same function.

At present, since the rural collective economy tends to be made up of empty shells, rural communities are severely lacking in their internal capability to face a crisis. In future development, rural areas should have their own autonomy and flexibility to adapt to risks. Researchers also need to think about the problem of how to reconstruct the mechanism and ability of rural areas to manage their public affairs.

荀丽丽:如何保障扶贫效果的可持续性?

 2017-07-20 荀丽丽 南都观察

荀丽丽,中国社会科学院社会学研究所副研究员

全文3300余字,读完约需6分钟


在扶贫标准中,会发现国家逻辑和乡村逻辑的不匹配。国家逻辑下,要求贫困识别精确到人,清晰可控,比如要对贫困人口建档立卡;乡村逻辑则不一样,村干部首先要平衡利益、避免冲突。

在气候变化、自然灾害、能源与水危机、疾病、市场经济的系统性风险等不确定性因素面前,如何建立和重建社会支持网络,如何提高各个群体的适应性和弹性,是贫困治理的关键问题。

“精准扶贫”概念在2013年提出后,乡村发展问题、贫困问题重新成为社会研究的热点,也有人提出新的问题——贫困是否终结?新贫困时代究竟是什么状态?

目前的精准扶贫既带来了成就感,也伴随着焦虑感。一方面,中国的减贫成果举世瞩目;另一方面,也可能有人会觉得,这么短的时间里,就有很多贫困村、贫困人口脱贫,是不是太快了,到2020年真的没有贫困了吗?

▌新时代下,贫困治理的基本问题是什么?

首先,贫困的长期存在有一定的客观基础。在家庭、社区、国家、全球的各个尺度上,不确定性和风险都是长期客观存在的,比如气候变化、自然灾害、能源与水危机、疾病、市场经济的系统性风险等等,这些不确定性和风险都是引发贫困的重要因素。即使是现代化农业高度发达的美国,科罗拉多州的大型农场主依然担心干旱、疫病或市场波动,担心由此而来的“灭顶之灾”。

那么,在新贫困时代,贫困治理的基本问题是什么?我认为不应该简单地用“收入贫困”来理解问题,也不能简单地用“提高收入”来解决问题。社会学研究的一个重点是在不确定性风险面前,如何建立和重建社会支持网络,如何提高各个群体的适应性和弹性。这也是贫困治理的关键问题。

▲ 科罗拉多州的农场。

其次,在新贫困治理时代,以收入增长为核心的经济增长无法涵盖我们面临的所有问题。我们还必须直面生态、经济和社会可持续发展等问题。比如,现在乡村的面源污染[1]导致土壤、地下水等自然资源恶化,给乡村经济发展带来种植生产、食品安全等风险,也是诱发贫困的极大要素。

[1]农业面源污染主要包括农用化学品污染(化肥、农药等)、集约化养殖场污染、农村生活污水污染等方面。农田径流、畜禽场径流以及城乡结合部污水排放和垃圾堆放是造成面源污染的主要原因。

▌“帮扶谁、怎么帮、谁来帮”,精准扶贫中的“在地性”盲点

精准扶贫中的“在地性”盲点可以分为两个部分。首先,需要理解“在地性”概念。其次,可以从精准扶贫的核心问题——帮扶谁、怎么帮、谁来帮——来逐一解读其面临的“在地性”盲点。

所谓“在地性”(locality),首先是一个地域的天气物候和自然风土,任何形式的社会干预都要像当地的实践者一样,去认知这一基础性的背景。

第二,在地性需要充分理解当地人的“在地范畴”,包括他们如何为人处事,如何理解善恶、公私、成败、勤懒等概念,以他们为主位的观点是怎样的。贫困治理不能只是外在范畴的强加,而应该试图通过理解贫困乡村的在地范畴来实现内外的沟通、转化与更新。

第三,在地性还需要关注乡村公共事务治理的传统、当地社区公共参与的惯习。值得思考的是,作为一种公共事务,“反贫困”能否在乡村社区内部实现自主治理。

云南丽江老君山河源村,村民召集的会议。各组村民代表加村委会干部组成评委,现场给每个提议的项目打分,不靠谱的废掉。三生(参与帮扶的NGO)、县乡官员和专家组成的论证团不投票,但有质疑权,由此影响拥有投票权的各组代表们。

▌帮扶谁。贫困人口难以瞄准?

第一,“帮扶谁”的问题。其实就是扶贫瞄准的问题。这里的“在地性”盲点就在于很难实现扶贫资源的瞄准,很难对接真正的贫困者。精准扶贫时自上而下的“指标控制”和“指标分配”决定了扶贫瞄准是存在系统性偏误的。尽管政府投入了空前规模的人力财力,扶贫资源依然是有限的。

现在的扶贫指标并不是自下而上汇总的,不是地方上识别出多少贫困人口,就分配多少扶贫资源。这样可能会出现地方政府为争取资源而盲目扩大(所汇报的)贫困人口规模的情况。

在扶贫标准中,会发现国家逻辑和乡村逻辑的不匹配。国家逻辑下,要求贫困识别精确到人,清晰可控,比如要对贫困人口建档立卡;乡村逻辑则不一样,村干部首先要平衡利益、避免冲突。村干部通常会选择让各个小组利益均沾的方式,贫困人口多的组不能获得多的指标,贫困人口少的组也还是要将指标分下去。

建档立卡的固定化也使很多村干部头疼,比如一个村书记说,因为村庄内部很多贫困家庭的情况相似,以前上面派下的指标都是大家轮流受益,今年你家进、明年他家进。但精准扶贫中,建档立卡户是固定的,集中扶持、集中脱贫,乡村社区内部会对贫困名单产生很大争议。

▲ 2017年1月,云南泸西县午街铺镇在绿峨村委会开展建档立卡贫困户培训,共有建档立卡贫困户60人参加。 © ynlxkx.com

▌怎么帮。如何真正给贫困人口“赋能”?

第二,在“怎么帮”问题上的“在地性”盲点。首先在于地方政府的精准扶贫实践,表现出压力型体制下运动式治理的特点。在扶贫军令状的高压之下,对地方干部来说,扶贫是与其绩效和晋升密切相关的高度政治化的“任务”。在这样的条件下,扶贫资源更容易流入能突显政绩的示范点。因此,非示范点较少受到关注,一些偏远村庄更是难以顾及。

其次,在产业扶贫时,贫困者主体性的虚化问题较为突出。地方政府普遍偏好一些见效快、带动面广的大项目。在产业设计上,针对贫困户的扶贫资金、权益会通过“资本化”的途径集中到合作社或龙头公司,贫困户看似坐享红利,事实上无论在生产还是分配阶段,他们都很难有效参与。我们看到更多是“动员性参与”或“名额化参与”,贫困人口的自我发展能力难以提高。缺乏“赋能”机制,也就难以保障扶贫效果的可持续性。

再者,在一些偏远地区,真正的技术创新却面临着较大困境。比如在云南的一个村子,当地农业科研机构驻村帮扶,提供了一种散养蘑菇的技术,非常有利于深山区贫困户的低成本发展。但是这样的产业分散不可控、规模不够大、政绩效果不够好,很难得到基层政府的支持。即使真正从在地需求出发,在当下体制也会遇到一些限制。

我在西海固地区做过精准扶贫的实地调查。无可否认,扶贫取得了非常突出的成绩,特别是在基础设施改善方面。但在一些偏远村庄,依然难以看到有效的内生发展的机制,或者说为当地人赋能的机制。

此外,随着新型城镇化的发展,有的贫困户搬迁到了工业园或现代农业产业园周边,原有的土地实现土地流转。看似就业机会增大收入增多,但贫困家庭的社会安全网却相对弱化了,因为原来从事传统农业生计的老年人基本处于“被下岗”状态,生计上依靠儿女,家庭矛盾突显。

在一个只有12个孩子的山村小学,9个孩子没有妈妈。伴随着城镇化和工业化的进程,乡村地区的高离婚率和家庭解组是加剧贫困的重要原因,明显影响了扶贫效果的可持续性。但显然,这个问题无法通过提高收入来解决。

还有,贫困家庭中的儿童特别容易被忽视。有一个农村小学的贫困户女孩,她家也得到了一些扶贫项目的支持,并被认定在今年即将脱贫。但她因为慢性病经常腹痛,无法正常上学,家庭也无力投入更多来为她治病。在当地人看来,她快12岁了,再几年就可以出嫁了。事实上,她很难再享受教育了。

通过揭示这些“在地性”盲点,我们发现,表面收入的提高无法理解贫困本身和贫困再生产的问题。

▌谁来帮。为什么扶贫不能单靠政府?

第三,在“谁来帮”的问题上,与国际社会相比较,政府主导一直是我国反贫困干预的特色和优势。但在声势浩大的精准扶贫治理中,政府作为唯一能动主体,也暴露出了一些弊端。

我们说的“扶贫资源传递系统”,对于乡村来说,其实是具有外在性的科层系统,这一体系内部的动员机制和传递效率都会影响扶贫效果。如何回归乡村内生发展的视野,从在地需求出发,实现乡村赋能,还需要静下来慢慢思考和摸索。多元社会力量参与贫困治理的可能性和空间是巨大的。比如李小云老师他不只是社会学家,更承担了反贫困社会行动者的角色,非常有意义。

▲ 李小云在云南边疆的一个少数民族贫困村发起成立了小云助贫中心,对村落开展了一系列的综合治理规划。 © 南风窗

今年六月,我们在美国科罗拉多州的学术访问有一些收获,他们的农业推广体系以农业大学为主体,在以需求为导向的自下而上的乡村可持续发展中,发挥了非常积极的作用,而且非常系统化和制度化。这是值得借鉴的经验。

总结起来,在“新贫困”时代,贫困治理必然是超越政府扶贫体系的,一定需要融入更多社会能动的新主体。同时,超越“在地性”盲点的贫困治理,必须要和乡村复兴的制度化设计联系在一起。这并不是简单的城乡二元对立视野下的乡村复兴,而是城乡统筹视野下新的乡村复兴。超越“在地性”盲点的贫困治理,需要政府和多元社会主体的参与,更需要将反贫困纳入乡村公共事务治理的范畴,激发乡村社区的内生动力。

我们曾在内蒙古调研,传统上牧民经常遭灾,一次严重的旱灾就会令其返贫。到了1990年代,承包制下各家各户飞速发展,但集体力却弱化了,应对风险能力下降,牧民又恢复了集体的羊群——铁羊。铁羊用于支持社区中不时出现的贫困问题,如果你们家遭了灾、遭了大病,这个铁羊就是社区支持的来源。传统乡村的义田也有这样的功能。

现在,由于乡村集体经济的普遍空壳化,乡村社区内部扶危济困的能力严重缺失。在未来发展中,乡村应该有自己的自主性和适应风险的弹性,如何重构乡村公共事务治理的能力与机制也是研究者需要关注的问题。

原标题《超越在地性盲点:贫困治理的可持续性》

*本文为荀丽丽在南都观察和文化纵横杂志社联合主办的“如何应对‘新贫困’时代?”沙龙上的分享,由南都观察整理,经荀丽丽确认。

**李小云(中国农业大学教授,小云助贫中心发起人)的分享内容将于7月21日推送。

Translated by Mei Qiqi and Shen Duojia

Edited by Gabriel Corsetti

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