The USAID Center for Resilience commissioned the Overseas Development Institute, in conjunction with the Chronic Poverty Advisory Network (CPAN), to conduct research on resilience and poverty escapes in Niger and six other countries of interest to better understand the sources of resilience that enable people to sustainably escape poverty given the complex risk environments in which they live.
Specifically, this research examined why some households escape and remain out of poverty (sustainable poverty escape), while other households escape it only to fall back into poverty (transitory poverty escape) and still others descend into poverty for the first time (impoverishment). Building on research conducted through the Leveraging Economic Opportunity activity in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Uganda in 2016, the current body of research was aimed at expanding understanding of the drivers of sustained and transitory poverty escapes and teasing out policy and programming implications for USAID and other development actors.
The latest in the series of resulting research reports, Resilience and Sustainable Poverty Escapes in Niger, combines analysis from two rounds of the Living Standards Measurements Survey - National Survey on Household Living Conditions and Agriculture with qualitative research approaches, namely key informant interviews, life histories and participatory wealth ranking in Niger’s Zinder region.
The report investigates the resources, attributes and activities that enable households to escape poverty sustainably. The research found that households with increased land and developed a nonfarm enterprise, or received remittances from domestic sources, were associated with significantly higher monetary welfare measured by per capita expenditures, according to the quantitative data. The qualitative data indicated that households with these characteristics and who diversified their assets were more likely to experience sustained rather than transitory escapes from poverty. In the life history interviews, most increases in landholdings were through inheritance.
Combining domestic or international migration with farm activities was a common strategy in rural areas and was likely to lead to escapes from poverty. Most rural men interviewed during the qualitative research practiced a mix of agriculture and migration, with migrants often returning during the wet season to plant, tend to their crops and harvest. However, these escapes from poverty were often transitory with many experiencing job insecurity and shocks which resulted in a fall back into poverty. The difference between sustained escapers and transitory escapers who combined migration with agriculture is that sustained escapers had a network that linked them to more lucrative trades such as masonry, security or the fuel trade.
Insecurity in Nigeria and Libya was a clear factor influencing life history respondents’ decision to change to domestic migration, especially over the last five years. The devaluation of the Naiara was another factor influencing people’s decision to migrate within Niger.
The risk environment is extremely challenging for poor and near-poor people in Niger. Environmental and agriculture-related shocks were the most common in the quantitative data; ill health figured prominently in the qualitative research data. Price shocks were associated with significantly reduced monetary welfare in the quantitative results. Coping strategies in the quantitative dataset included the use of savings, engaging in spiritual activities and seeking help from relatives and friends.
The changing characteristics of households were also particularly important in impoverishment processes. Having more children and teenage marriage, especially for women just above the poverty line, were associated with an increased likelihood of a descent into poverty in the qualitative research data.
Strategies for sustained poverty escapes evidenced in the qualitative data included investing in livestock, agricultural land, vegetable gardening and urban property. Livestock investments were the riskiest investment; livestock often succumbed to disease or starvation. Spreading the risks through diversifying investments was more common among sustained escapers. Sustained escapers were also able to use family connections to help them recover from shocks; for example, to secure jobs in Nigeria. Several female interviewees were able to achieve a sustained escape through investing in livelihood assets, such as push carts for transporting water and peanut oil extraction equipment, from formal savings groups and money contributed at baptism ceremonies.