Growing out of Spatial Poverty: Growth, Sub-National Equity and Poverty Reduction. A Five Country Comparison

This paper considers the spatial poverty inheritance and processes of poverty creation and maintenance in Vietnam, India, Ghana, Bolivia and Zambia during the 1990s. Reviewing data and analysis generated by a World Bank (2005) study, the paper focuses on: 1) key trends in national and sub-national economic growth performance in relation to unfolding sectoral development patterns and resource endowments: 2) the patterns and causes of spatial poverty concentrations; 3) government policies to address spatial inequalities; and 4) the role of donors in spatial poverty reduction.

Remarkably, in the 1960s, Bolivia with a per capita GDP of $896 and Zambia ($528) were considerably more affluent than the now better-performing Ghana ($281), India ($175) and war-torn Vietnam. Since then Bolivia has barely improved its GDP per capita and Zambia’s has declined by 30 per cent in real terms. Ghana, despite its recent revived performance, has fared hardly better: its GDP in 2004 was a mere US$4 more than in 1960. It is India and Vietnam that have achieved the most consistent growth in GDP over the last two decades.

The poverty reduction focus of donors’ development policies has placed a great deal of emphasis on improving poverty indicators and methods of measurement. Processes of impoverishment have received less attention. This paper cites four processes: 1) sectoral/locational transformation towards post-agrarian modernity; 2) reinforcement of physical isolation; 3) ethnic marginalisation; and 4) crisis-inflicted economic levelling.

Most of current spatial policy discourse stresses the importance of governance. However, without sufficient attention to effective sectoral development policies sparking or revitalising regional economies, there is scant possibility of economic growth or poverty reduction. To address spatial poverty, the paper recommends: industrialisation strategies in large national markets, balanced multi-sectoralism, retention of an agrarian fallback for smallholder farmers, and well-planned country-charted development paths.