Reviving agriculture is critical to fostering economic growth and tackling widespread extreme poverty in the Central African Republic (CAR), says the World Bank’s first Poverty Assessment report for the country.
With 70% of the country’s working-age population dependent on farming, fixing agriculture offers the most direct way to improve livelihoods and feed people, says the report, released today.
Plagued by decades of conflict, political instability and low growth, CAR has one of the world’s highest rates of poverty – almost 7 out of 10 people are extremely poor (65.7% are living on less than $2.15 per day) and more than half are unable to afford enough food, even if they devote all their consumption to it, the report finds.
Among the population of more than six million people, many suffer from extreme non-monetary deprivations – almost nine out 10 people have no access to electricity; secondary school enrolment is a meagre 16%; and only 2.5% of the country’s roads are paved.
“The urgency of stimulating economic growth and lifting Central Africans out of poverty cannot be stressed enough. Revitalizing agriculture, with broader support measures to provide social safety nets for the most vulnerable, develop human capital, and stimulate private sector development will be essential,” said Ousmane Diagana, World Bank Vice President for Western and Central Africa.
The report provides new data to help better target development and social policies and programs to reach the most vulnerable. It identifies a roadmap to take on poverty with a focus on strengthening agriculture as a critical step towards generating economic growth and reducing food insecurity. Rainfed agriculture is prevalent throughout the country, with cassava, maize, rice, sorghum, and millet comprising the main staple crops. These activities are also potentially vulnerable to climate-related shocks.
However, agricultural productivity is low, constrained by lack of access to key inputs (such as fertilizers, irrigation, and equipment) and markets (lack of paved roads and limited trade). This underscores the importance of investing in infrastructure to improve farmers’ access to markets for enhancing agricultural productivity and bolstering livelihoods.
The report suggests urgent and long-term initiatives to foster and sustain pro-poor growth and lift CAR’s people out of poverty. These include strengthening:
Safety nets: Social safety nets can help address the immediate need to lift Central Africans out of particularly extreme forms of deprivation and protect them from shocks. Currently, just 1% of Central Africans live in a household receiving government cash transfers and 14.3% live in a household receiving support in the form of food. As a result, Central Africans have adopted coping strategies – including reducing their food consumption – which could weaken investments in physical and human capital.
Human capital: Policies to build human capital, by investing in education, health, and water, sanitation, and hygiene, can help trigger durable poverty-reduction. Developing human capital and basic infrastructure could reduce monetary poverty. Unfortunately, many Central Africans live prohibitively far away from schools, especially in remote and rural areas and especially at the secondary level; this is associated with lower school enrolment and higher poverty.
Infrastructure and trade: About 1 in 10 Central Africans need to walk more than one hour to reach a primary, secondary, or tertiary road. Upgrading infrastructure, especially electricity and roads, and macroeconomic reforms to boost trade and private investment can improve the foundations of poverty reduction.
Peace and security: Promoting peace and security is also critical, and all poverty-reducing policies must be formulated with sensitivity to displacement and CAR’s conflict-affected environment.
“Maintaining the momentum on data collection could help design, implement, monitor, and evaluate the specific policies needed to improve the quality of life of the people of the Central African Republic,” said Luis Felipe López-Calva, World Bank Global Director for the Poverty and Equity Global Practice.
The poverty assessment uses unparalleled microdata to generate practical policies to lift Central Africans out of poverty. The report draws primarily on the 2021 Survey of Harmonized Data on Households Living Conditions (EHCVM in French), the first household survey suitable for poverty measurement conducted in CAR in more than a decade. The EHCVM, implemented in partnership with the Central African Institute of Statistics, Economic and Social Studies (ICAEES in French) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), collected data on a wide range of socioeconomic indicators including from CAR’s internally displaced population.