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4.1 Qualitative and Quantitative Poverty Appraisal: complementarities, tensions and the way forward (edited by Ravi Kanbur)

In poverty studies, as in other fields of social studies, the merits of qualitative and quantitative “methods” have long been debated by their supporters. For both groups, the objective is a better understanding of poverty and the formulation of policies that would most efficiently alleviate it. This collection of “notes” summarises presentations at a workshop organised earlier this year by Ravi Kanbur of Cornell University. The workshop brought prominent poverty proponents of each tradition to debate the strengths and weaknesses of each tradition. Apart from a commentary by Ravi Kanbur on the workshop's discussions, the collection consists of a series of “notes” reflecting the views of participants. These notes tend to be two or three pages long encapsulating the thrust of arguments rather than arguments or theories.

The thrust of the workshop centred on proponents of each school, rather than defending their preference, attempting to “be self-critical and ask what other approaches could bring to the task of understanding and reducing poverty”. The working collection offers a succinct and informed overview of the “quant-qual” debate within the context of studies of poverty.

Given conferences stipulation of self-criticism and the search for what other methods may contribute to their understanding poverty the notes, perhaps inevitably, reflect a need for the two schools to move closer together. Various arguments are made for a rapprochement between the two schools. Suggestions are forwarded along, inter alia, the lines of qualitative studies using sampling frameworks more systematically and of quantitative studies incorporating more open ended questions. Despite the suggestion that such a rapprochement may be of benefit to our understanding of poverty there is a strong sentiment that anything more than a slight convergence between the rwo schools may result in the intrinsic merit of each being sacrificed. The notes capture some of the potential benefits of convergence while warning of the potential cost of each school moving too far from its traditions. As summarized by Ravi Kanbur “getting a little bit of the best of both worlds seems relatively easy. Getting more than this, it seems, may be quite a bit more difficult.”

The workshop seems to serve as a promising point of departure for further debate as to how tensions between the two schools can better enlighten our understanding of poverty. The participants are content to urge the appropriation of greater insights which “the other school” offers for the benefit of the poor.

The debate seems however to miss a central issue that informs the essence of what either school does. The cost of collecting data, whether qualitative or quantitative is not, by any stretch of the imagination, negligible. What practitioners do is a reflection of the scale of the enquiry (global, national, local etc.) and the resources, capacities and access they have. Each school does the best it can within the context of these constraints. The debate needs to ensure that the benefits, for example, of redesigning national surveys to include a more qualitative dimension or of ensuring that qualitative studies draw on a more rigorous sampling framework are worth the additional resources invested in the research project. The sober economics of research needs to be introduced into the debate if the dialogue is to benefit of the poor.

Linking up: The full text of the workshop can be accessed at:

Readers might be interested in another new contribution by Ravi Kanbur to the broad poverty debate: a chapter entitled Aid, conditionality and debt in Africa can be accessed at:

4.2 Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions Mission Report to Zimbabwe

The Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, based in Geneva, recently released a mission report on Zimbabwe entitled: Land, Housing and Property Rights in Zimbabwe. The report attempts to evaluate the situation pertaining to property, land and housing rights in Zimbabwe before the Abuja Agreement in September 2001.

The report argues that the land invasions in Zimbabwe are being fuelled by the unprecedented rise of poverty, unemployment and income disparities that exist in the face of ineffectual usage of Zimbabwe’s immense natural and human resources. These problems have been compounded by a genuine land hunger of people living on marginal rural areas without fertile soils or reliable rainfall. A fundamental problem facing Zimbabwe’s land reform policy has been how to balance the control and access to land by redistributing it from large-scale landowners to new small-scale and medium-scale users.

The challenge has therefore been how to peacefully transfer land to new users and to assist them to achieve the required production levels to support the ailing economy. However, genuine land redistribution demands have been subordinated by nontransparent policy formulation procedures, which have distracted from the grounds that justify land reform including the need for local and international resources to be mobilised towards this cause. The report argues that a combination of parochial political pressures and a crisis of legitimacy for the ruling ZANU-PF party have marred land reform.

Linking up: The report can be accessed at (click on the “library” section under “fact finding missions”).

4.3 From Savings Mobilisation to Micro-Finance: A Historic Perspective on the Zimbabwe Savings Development Movement (Brian Raftopoulos and Jean-Paul Lacoste)

Recently, within both Southern Africa and the rest of the world, there has been an increasing emphasis on micro credit in development debates; this mirrors a gradual shift in policy focus away from petty capital accumulation or savings to micro-credit. Raftopoulos and Lacoste provide a useful overview of the move away from savings mobilisation in Zimbabwe to one of micro- finance.

The Savings Development Movement (SDM) was initiated in the 1960s and aimed at encouraging the mobilization of the micro-savings of its small group of members, most of whom were rural women; in so doing it actively discouraged the use of micro-credit. However, as the authors point out, the idea of encouraging saving amongst the poor in Zimbabwe, pre-dates the savings movement, and can be traced to the emergence of burial societies from the early years of colonial occupation after 1890. The history of attempting to provide credit to the poor, proved for the most part to be a failure during both the colonial and pre-colonial periods in the country. The reasons are fundamentally related to several factors including the gross inequalities in resource allocation, the movement of accumulated capital into the dominant areas of the money market, government debt, real estate and, during the period of economic liberalisation, into a range of speculative activities.

Thus through the latter activities, the leading financial institutions in the country have directed capital into more profitable areas of investment and away from the credit requirements of the poor. Even attempts by the post-colonial state to extend credit to the rural poor have been carried out in a manner that is directed more to the maintenance of political control over the peasantry, than to a sustainable poverty eradication programme. In addition the practice of banks themselves has actively discouraged the development of micro-credit to the poor.

In the period of the Structural Adjustment Programme after 1990, the donor community took advantage of the new ethos of economic liberalization, to push the SHDF into a micro-credit scheme, aimed at providing a more sustainable financing basis for both the SHDF and its membership. This new trajectory found an increasingly sympathetic audience from a state unable to meet the welfarist needs of its citizens, and desperate for new policies on poverty reduction. In the 1990’s this call for easier credit, broadened into an indigenisation lobby, that played a central role in placing the issue of black economic empowerment on the government’s political agenda. Thus as the state sought ne w policies to reduce poverty in the era of structural adjustment, the donor community has channelled funds away from the state to community based organisations, as part of the reduced emphasis placed on a dirigiste state by the international financial institutions. Finally, the programme boosted the creation of new clubs, but many among them seem to be “credit clubs” rather than “savings clubs”.

There are also some challenges for new micro-finance institutions (MFI). This institution should always bear in mind two principles. First, from the members’ point of view, saving (in cash or in kind) is the objective and borrowing a means. Secondly, MFIs are not commercial banks: their objective is to reach to poorest, not the wealthiest.

On the credit side, the growth of the portfolio should not be an aim in itself. Not all members need credit, and those who need it should be carefully selected and trained. The authors quote Brother Waddelove: “Credit is like a fire: it is useful to cook your sadza but if you are careless, it will burn your hut”. A good number of SHDF borrowers have “burnt” their capital, instead of increasing it. SHDF should also work hard towards sustainability, but not by giving up its mission to serve the poorest women. It is believed that an appropriate “cross-subsidization policy” would allow to achieve both outreach and sustainability objectives.

Although this report is a case study of a Zimbabwean experience around microfinance, its analysis will be of use to a broad range of persons or institutions interested in methods of local economic development in both rural and urban areas across the region.

Linking up: Persons or institutions interested in obtaining a copy may contact SARPN at Alternatively they might like to contact the major author, Brian Raftopoulos, at


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