Alleviating poverty is a worthy endeavor pursued by many organizations. However, studies show that in some cases there are unintended negative impacts upon the environment. The goal to alleviate poverty without environmental damage can be challenging.
For example, an organization might teach improved farming techniques and assume that if followed the effects will be positive. However, if the farmers are not knowledgeable on how to maintain measured control of the resources, there can be a short-term gain in economic prosperity and a long-term loss due to exploited and exhausted natural resources. Ignoring the environmental soundness of economic growth — even if this leads to short-run economic gains — can hurt the poor by undermining long-run growth and its effectiveness in reducing poverty.
Reduction of poverty and environmental protection can go hand in hand. There is a clear link between poverty and environmental degradation, which has been described as a self-perpetuating negative spiral in which poverty accelerates environmental degradation and degradation exacerbates poverty. In Pakistan, as in many other countries, environmental degradation is both a cause and a consequence of poverty.
Though that is a rather discouraging statement, this close relationship between poverty alleviation and the environment can also be leveraged in a positive way. Poverty alleviation programs are more efficient and sustainable when they include measures to protect the environment. Through careful planning and increased environmental consideration, this damaging negative spiral can be altered into a virtuous one.
Fortunately, there are many organizations that seek to assuage poverty in an environmentally sensitive way. Three groups that do this effectively are Winrock International, International Development Enterprises India, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.
Winrock International supports a variety of projects and services that address multiple sectors that seek to reduce poverty while supporting innovative solutions in environmental protection. Their mission statement declares, “Winrock works with people in the United States and around the world to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity and sustain natural resources.”
Some of their current poverty and environment focused projects include the Vietnam Clean Energy Program, the Knowledge-based Integrated Sustainable Agriculture and Nutrition (KISAN) project, and the Tibetan Sustainable Environmental Resources for Increased Economic Growth (TSERING) program, to name a few. These projects, among others, are advancing economic growth as well as developing maintainable environmental practices. For example, the TSERING project focuses on helping Tibetan communities generate more income through traditional and new skills training and creating environmentally sustainable small businesses.
Making small-plot agriculture more remunerative and thereby reducing poverty, hunger and deprivation is International Development Enterprises India’s (IDEI) guiding philosophy. IDEI accomplishes this with technology that is one-fifth the cost of competitors and is designed to fit very small hectare plots. Its approach is to support local entrepreneurs through donor funds that encourage sustainability and spark market activity.
IDEI’s leadership has led to income generation of over $1.3 billion at the hands of small farmers.
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has four main areas of focus: overcoming poverty and hunger, reducing malnutrition, preventing environmental degradation, and cross-cutting areas (empowering women, coping with climate change, etc.).
This group assists people to grow their own food in a way that makes farming profitable, sustainable and environmentally sensitive. Crop diversification, soil fertility preservation through nutrient management, and increase of water availability through watershed management are a few of the ways that they combat the degradation of the environment.
ICRISAT has had many successes, including directing $14.85 million to 23 agribusiness ventures so far. It has had multiple scientific breakthroughs with crop research benefitting many people in multiple countries.
Poverty alleviation can be successfully accomplished and even advanced through environmental mindfulness. With an environmentally sensitive approach to helping the poor, there can be a sustainable positive impact on the earth and within struggling communities.
John Hoffmire is director of the Impact Bond Fund at Saïd Business School at Oxford University and directs the Center on Business and Poverty at the Wisconsin School of Business at UW-Madison. He runs Progress Through Business, a nonprofit group promoting economic development. Xan Marcucci, Hoffmire’s colleague at Progress Through Business, did the research for this article.