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Zero (?) poverty

IT takes money, lots and lots, to reduce poverty.

A third of Filipinos, or 33 million, are farmers and fishermen, and 18 million of these are among the very poor. In China, there are 800 million farmers.

Taking the province of Hunan, birthplace of Mao Zedong, as an example, a poverty alleviation fund has rescued 1.6 million poor Chinese farmers in the last three years costing 25 billion RMB (about P175B)

Senator Cynthia Villar, vice chairman of the Senate committees on agriculture and social welfare, on a recent visit to China with eight NP congresspersons, exchanged views with Chinese officials on how the people who grow food for the world need more than land, sun, water, and hard work. Here as there, lazy people abound (and that’s a problem!), just as there are the sons and daughters who prefer to look for work in the cities.

Reducing poverty in a nation of nearly 1.4 billion is not a joke – 5 percent of Chinese are poor – and neither is the goal to cut poverty to zero by the year 2020, so that by 2050, the next goal of a thoroughly modern China will be attained. Senator Villar told her hosts about the Philippine government’s conditional cash transfer program, lamenting how it has not brought down the poverty rate of 27 percent despite the billions spent.

She said President Duterte wants to cut the poverty rate to 17 percent, an objective that could be more easily met “if our farmers enrolled in financial literacy, technology, mechanization, marketing, the very subjects we teach in our SIPAG schools.”

Under the Chinese program, loans at 4.7 percent (“no collateral, no mortgage”) are good for three years, extendible to five. The certified-poor receive a monthly allowance of about P1,540. So far, a total of P149B in loans has been released to Hunan this year.

Filipino and Chinese farmers are alike in that the land they till comes in small parcels. To them the senator from the Philippines posed a challenge: “It’s not true that you cannot make money on one hectare.” (Jullie Y. Daza)