A Closer Look at Peru's poverty policy


Expert blog - jelke boesten - peru's poverty reduction

Peru’s poverty reduction: resounding success or reproducing inequalities?

Jelke Boesten, Department of International Development, King’s College London)

Peru is widely lauded for its rapid poverty reduction from 58.7% of the population in 2004, to 21.8% in 2015. Recently, the country was in the news for its successful tackling of child stunting. As many emerging economies in Latin America, the country has experienced high growth rates in the last couple of decades: from 5.5% in 2002 to 9.5% in 2008 and down to 3.5% in 2016. Peru has also diversified its markets and its exports and is not solely dependent on the Chinese or US markets for minerals, so the future looks bright.

In the meantime, Peru has pursued a policy of inclusive growth, the idea that economic growth must go hand in hand with redistribution. During the 2000s and particularly the last ten years, governments have implemented a range of social policies, including a housing support for the lower middle classes, subsidies for water and gas supply in new urban neighbourhoods, benefits for the elderly and the young, health insurance for employees, including domestic workers, and a cash transfer programme for the poorest. It is the latter programme, Juntos, that is generally credited with the rapid poverty reduction of the last 10 years.

Juntos is a Conditional Cash Transfer programme that targets mothers and children in poor rural households. It gives households extra cash to spend on improved nutrition –hence the reduction in stunting- under the condition that mothers take their children regularly to health services, and that all children attend school until they are 18. Pregnant women also have to attend antenatal care regularly. The statistics that monitor the programme are impressive: income poverty reduction is accompanied by near 100% school attendance and healthcare take up among beneficiaries. Women are clearly complying with the conditions and this is leading to improvements in household nutrition.

The idea of inclusive growth aims to draw marginalised people into the booming economy and make poverty reduction sustainable. The conditions tied to the cash transfers are meant to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. While such an approach, and the measured success of the Peruvian case, are indeed laudable, we also need to be cautious: qualitative research shows that the way in which such programmes are implemented tends to reproduce inequalities between poor women and the mestizo civil servants because of the power invested by those who distribute money, and those who need to walk long distances, stand in line and wait hours in the sun and the rain, present paperwork, and generally show compliance. Counterproductively, inequalities based on ethnicity, socio-economic position, and gender are reproduced by the implementation of the programme itself.

Of course, targeting mothers because they are trusted to spend it on the children, rather than waste it on leisure (as men apparently do), might be effective in terms of income poverty reduction, but it does little for gender equality. Women are targeted as mothers and mothers only, and are required to behave a certain way to comply with the tick boxes of statistical verification of programme compliance. In addition, the process of distributing the cash often includes small acts of humiliation and disrespect. Local programme managers also tend to impose shadow conditions that demand even more time commitment from mothers. In addition, while the statistics show that women and children do attend both schools and health centres, the same qualitative research shows that these services are very poorly staffed and supplied, raising questions about the reality of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Sustainable poverty reduction must move beyond framing poverty in terms of income and aim for a reduction in social inequalities and improved opportunities for all regardless of gender, ethnicity, or location. Peru has drawn millions of people out of poverty in the last ten years. It provides a fine example to other emerging economies of how a well-designed cash transfer programme can help poor families to move beyond a focus on immediate survival. However, reducing income poverty alone cannot address the long term social problems that Peru continues to face. 

A closer look at India's Sanitation push against poverty

THe perfect toilet? 

Dr Sarah Bell, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering Science, University College London

In my perfect country everyone has access to a toilet. We can all go to the loo safely and with dignity. The perfect toilet is clean, private and turns our waste into valuable resources.

Nowhere in the world has perfect sanitation. More than 2.5 billion people don’t have access to any form of toilet. This has terrible consequences for public health, the environment and human dignity. Even if people have a toilet, if it is not connected to a good waste treatment system, these problems persist.

My perfect toilet doesn’t use water for flushing. Fresh water is a scarce resource. Around 1.2 billion people live in regions where water is scarce. In the UK 30% of the water used in homes is for toilet flushing. British people each flush around 50 litres of water down the toilet each day. Flushing water down the loo seems like a waste of a precious resource.

Water isn’t the only resource we flush down the loo. Pee and poo contain nutrients that can be used as fertiliser and organic matter than can be a source of renewable energy.

Recycling urine could be vital to future food security. Urine contains phosphorous, which is difficult to remove from sewage, and causes environmental pollution. Phosphate fertilisers are essential to food production, but world reserves of phosphate rock are running out. By 2050 world production of phosphate fertiliser from mineral resources is likely to have peaked. To maintain food production for a growing global population, alternative sources of phosphorous, like urine, will be needed.

The eThekwini Municipality in Durban, South Africa possibly has the largest number of urine-diverting toilets in the world. Durban suffered a cholera outbreak in 2002. This focused attention on providing sanitation to areas not served by the sewerage system.

More than 90,000 urine-diverting toilets were installed in areas surrounding Durban. These separate urine, which currently soaks into the ground, and faeces, which is left to decompose in an enclosed chamber. Researchers from the University of Kwazulu Natal and the Swiss institute Eawag have been working to develop a chemical process to extract phosphorous from urine to create fertiliser. Urine-diverting toilets were chosen in Durban to improve public health in a water scarce region, but this innovation could hold the answer to future food security.

Waterless sanitation systems can also be a source of renewable energy. Loowatt are a small UK-based company working to develop a clean, safe waterless toilet, and a system for turning waste into energy and fertiliser. With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, they tested their system in Madagascar.

Local people pay a small fee to use the Loowatt toilets in Antananarivo. The waste from the toilets is processed in a bio-digester, which produces methane gas and fertiliser. The methane can be burnt for cooking, or to produce electricity. People who use the Loowatt toilet in Madagascar can also charge their phones using electricity that comes from the waste.

The perfect country needs the perfect toilet. Nowhere in the world has the perfect toilet yet, but innovators around world are starting to show us what it might look like. It will be safe and clean, and will produce, rather than waste, valuable resources.

Other approaches to poverty

Universal Basic Income

All the time, new ideas on how we could end poverty are arising. One popular one is Universal Basic Income - the idea that to bring social security into the 21st century, we should guarantee people a basic income upon which they can survive  


Strategies to feed the planet, advocated by both the private sector and NGOs, has been based on spreading the techniques of the Green Revolution, which introduced industrial farming techniques to farmers across the globe. This approach stipulated that poverty would be reduced by small scale farmers selling their produce to global markets, or "cash cropping." This led to an initial boost in production, but the short-term emphasis once again is starting to catch up.  

For a start, cash cropping leads to mono cropping - the practise of relentlessly growing one kind crop on land. This leads to a reduction in the productivity of the land, as soil quality deteriorates. It has also meant that small-scale farmers, who have to buy expensive inputs from large companies are sometimes stuck in a coercive economic relationship with multinationals, who have been known to behave in a predatory manner. 

In contrast to this, Agroecological methods combine modern agriculture techniques with the local ecology and local needs to provide sustainable, stable livelihoods. 

Agroecology represents a rejection of industrial methods, and a refusal to engage with the short-term quest for capital. It focusses instead on what is local, and what is sustainable. And most of all, all signs suggest that it works

Traditional industrial farming techniques are no longer an option due to the challenges we now face. That's why Professor Henrietta Moore of the Institute for Global Prosperity wrote an article in The Guardian last year advocating the use of agroecology - Can agroecology feed the world and save the planet?