Chapter 1
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What is poverty?

bulletHow experts see it
bulletHow ordinary people see it
bulletRegional differences
bulletSeeing the bigger picture
bulletIncome and non-income poverty

Different people think about poverty in different ways. Officials usually think about what people buy and sell. But there is more to understanding poverty than this. There are also problems about getting a fair share of education and health care; about having respect and status in your community; about feeling that you have some power over what happens in your life and therefore of having hope for the future. So there is a lot to think about when trying to remove poverty and many of the important ideas are not obvious unless you think deeply about what is really going on.

Ordinary people, businessmen, civil servants, government ministers and foreign experts have different ideas about what poverty is and therefore about what causes it and how to cure it. There is general agreement, however, about most of the following ideas.
If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich. 
[John Fitzgerald Kennedy 1917-63, 35th President of the USA]

How experts see it

In the modern world people buy what they need using money. If they do not have a source of money they will be poor.

The worst kind of poverty is when people cannot get food and therefore they are thin and weak and may starve to death. Another kind of poverty is where people may have more or less enough food but they do not have safe water, health services, decent houses and clothes.

Calculations for 1992 showed that about a quarter of Tanzanians suffered from the first kind of poverty and about one half from the second kind. In 1995 about one third of the population was very poor. The situation is possibly worse today.

Poverty comes in pockets. Some parts of the country are better off than others and some parts of the towns are better off than others.

bulletThere is more poverty in the rural areas than in the towns but it is increasing in the towns.
bulletThe young and the old and those from large households tend to be poorer than others.

But there is more to being poor than not having enough money to buy food, clothes, houses and health. Studies of poor people show that they have:

bulletstunted growth because of malnutrition
bulletearly death amongst babies, children and generally short lives
bulletunsafe water
bulletlow levels of schooling

These studies also show that poor people generally are:

bulletnot adequately protected under the law
bulletnot involved in political decision making
bulletnot supported against acts of God (droughts and floods etc)

How ordinary people see it

When ordinary people were asked about what they needed to escape from poverty they had many ideas:

bulletSecure land tenure
bulletAvailability of agricultural inputs and suitable technology
bulletBetter access to funding and credit
bulletGood transport (roads and vehicles)
bulletAccess to markets
bulletBetter water management
bulletThe potential to save
bulletJob security
bulletBetter social service and infrastructure provision (especially health and education)
bulletLess corruption, more transparency and accountability, and more participation in decision-making at both local and national level
bulletA more positive attitude towards change
bulletBetter planning at the village level
bulletRe-establishment of cooperatives
bulletMore control for women in the use of household resources
bulletTrust, unity and a spirit of participation

Regional differences

In 1999 the government calculated which of the regions had the most poverty. This was not easy because there are so many ways to measure poverty. Things that were included were health, nutrition, food security, education and growth in the economy. There were no clear cut winners and losers but the results suggest that the most deprived regions are Dodoma, Kagera, Lindi, Kigoma and Coast. The least deprived regions are Dar es Salaam, Ruvuma, Kilimanjaro, Singida and Tabora.

Seeing the bigger picture

During a national meeting to discuss an early draft of the PRSP all the above ideas were accepted but people felt that there was also a need to:


Tackle the problem of unemployment among the youth and in urban areas


Stop destroying and polluting the environment


Stop the use of child labour




Increase the amount of money available to tackle poverty (this would include cancelling external debt and attracting other forms of international support)




Develop financial systems to help ‘small’ farmers


Help people to develop small to medium sized businesses


Make the country more attractive to big business




Do more research so we know what needs to be done and how effective we are at doing it

The world’s most primitive people have few possessions, but they are not poor. Poverty is not a certain small amount of goods, nor is it just a relation between means and ends; above all it is a relation between people. Poverty is a social status. As such it is the invention of civilisation.
[Marshall Sahlins, American Anthropologist]


Income and non-income poverty

Because there are many different ways of thinking about poverty it is useful to have some agreed definitions for discussion and making plans. Following what was said above, it is useful to think about poverty in two main ways.

Income poverty is often thought to be when people earn less than one US dollar per day. This means that they will not have enough food or medicine and they will have poor clothes and houses.

Non-income poverty happens when people may have a little bit of money but they do not have access to good schooling or safe water. People living with non-income poverty are likely to have stunted growth and to die young. It is also unlikely that they participate in making the decisions that affect their lives.

Income poverty measures what people buy and how much they spend so it is basically about money. Non-income poverty refers to quality of life and social well-being. It measures many of the things that move people from ill-being to well-being.
from ill-being to well-being
corruption honesty & justice
violence peace and equality
powerlessness grassroots democracy
weakness ability to take action
bare subsistence property and security

All people already have a range of formal and informal organisations, groups and networks which they take part in for the greater good of everybody. This is what has been called our ‘Social Capital’ and we can make it grow.

The PRSP looks towards a future where this Social Capital grows to include wide participation and co-operation at the regional, national and even international levels. If we think and act together then all Tanzanians will live lives of well-being. 

It is very expensive to be poor.
[Mwalimu Julius K Nyerere]


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