Nepal is a landlocked country of 28 million people with a per capita income of about US$340, among the lowest in the world. Political turbulence and a Maoist insurgency have dogged its recent history (1996-2006), imposing high costs in terms of foregone growth and poverty reduction. Nepal has highly stratified societies with many marginalized social groups and these groups are much more likely to have low human development indicators and largely live in remote rural areas. Low economic development, landlessness and poverty are widespread. The poverty rate in rural areas is much higher (35 percent) than in urban centers (10 percent), and evidence suggests that inequality and regional disparities are increasing. Nevertheless, Nepal has made important progress in bringing its overall poverty rate down to 31 percent from 42 percent over the last ten years, although the gains in urban areas have been greater than those in rural areas.
The Poverty Alleviation (PAF) program, financed by the International Development Association, is addressing both income and non-income dimensions of rural poverty throughout the country, with special attention to groups that have traditionally been excluded by reasons of gender and ethnicity. The project focuses on the rural poor by: (a) targeting disadvantaged and marginalized groups; (b) taking action on the commitment to reach poor and excluded groups as articulated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper; (c) improving coordination of poverty programs; (d) increasing employment and income opportunities through community-driven sub-projects; and (e) building the capacity of various stakeholders, including beneficiary groups and local bodies.
Through income-generating activities and community infrastructure projects, the PAF has reached over one million rural Nepalese in 25 districts since it began operations. Incomes for beneficiary families have increased by some 15 percent. More than 15,600 households now have road access for the first time, and water supply, bridges, and sanitation have been provided for more than 32,000 households.
Communities have reported multiple benefits, in both tangible (i.e. physical and financial) and intangible (social and institutional) assets. They have also reported increased income generation through livestock purchases, increased local employment opportunities and higher income, mainly through vegetable production, and the rehabilitation of community assets such as trails, foot bridges and tap stands.
Income Generation: The results estimate a sustained increase in income to these households of about 15 percent, which translates to about a 20 percent-25 percent rate of return. If there were no PAF, the only finance available to these households would be through informal credit markets charging interest rates close to 30 percent-40 percent.
Twenty-five percent of beneficiary households have increased their incomes by at least 15 percent since 2004 by end of 2007.
Thirty percent of beneficiary group members come from targeted female-headed, which are the poorest of poor households.
For years, Min Bahadur Magar, a 48-year old farmer in the remote Ramechhap district in eastern Nepal, had to borrow money from a local money lender – paying a 50 percent interest rate - to make ends meet.
Today his life has fundamentally changed. With training and money given by the World Bank-funded Poverty Alleviation Fund (PAF), Magar started a vegetable business. He now earns nearly US$100 a month from selling vegetables alone..