Backsliding in Uganda: ensuring escapes from poverty are sustained to end extreme poverty

Type Report
Title Backsliding in Uganda: ensuring escapes from poverty are sustained to end extreme poverty
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Publisher USAID
Since the early 1990s, Uganda has experienced substantial reductions in poverty. Using the national poverty
line, the poverty headcount has declined from 21 percent in 1992 to just over 5 percent in 2012. Economic
growth, the end of conflict, and sound macroeconomic management have all contributed strongly to this
success. However, as people have moved out of poverty, the number of people living at a level less than twice
the poverty line—termed the ‘insecure non-poor’ in the Ugandan context—has risen. In 2012/2013, as many
as 14.7 million people were ‘insecure non-poor’ meaning they were extremely vulnerable to falling into
poverty in the event of shocks or stressors, such as drought or an episode of ill-health.
The specific focus of this report is on ‘backsliding’, i.e., on those households which, having successfully
escaped from poverty, return to living in it once again. Analysis of the Uganda National Panel Survey (UNPS)
reveals that backsliding is a significant phenomenon in Uganda. In particular, between 2005 and 2011, 9% of
all households backslid into poverty. Of those households that escaped poverty between 2005 and 2009,
around 40% were again living in poverty by 2011. The fact that many people escape poverty only to live at a
condition just above the poverty line is a contributory factor for the high level of backsliding in Uganda.
This report combines analysis of UNPS data with qualitative research approaches; key informant interviews,
life histories and participatory wealth ranking to investigate further the drivers of backsliding. Specifically, it
examines why some households are able to escape poverty and remain out of it—that is, they experience
sustained escapes from poverty—while others escape poverty only to return to living in it again in the future.
The report investigates the resources (land, livestock, and value of assets), attributes (household composition,
and education level) and activities (including jobs, and engagement in non-farm enterprises) of households
which enable them to escape poverty sustainably and minimize the likelihood of backsliding. It disaggregates
these findings by sex of the household head, arguing that different factors are associated with backsliding for
female-headed households than for their male counterparts.
What matters? Specific findings include the following:
 The amount of cultivable land owned lowers the risk of backsliding for both male- and femaleheaded
households, but increases the risk of impoverishment for male-headed households—possibly
due to disputes over land ownership.
 Increased asset value reduces the relative risk of backsliding among male-headed households, but
increases this risk among female-headed households. The latter finding could be because of the
increased exposure of female-headed households to theft and asset-grabbing. Analysis of sexdisaggregated
resource base determinants suggests there is a need for measures to help femaleheaded
households protect their wealth base to strengthen the security of their poverty escapes.
 Households with more livestock are less at risk of backsliding. Small livestock (chicken and goats) are
a particularly important source of ‘insurance’ for poor households which sell them to cope with
shocks and stressors.
 Larger households and those with a greater share of dependents have an increased risk of
backsliding. Social assistance directed towards female-headed households that are larger and include
the elderly may help reduce the risk of backsliding.
 Primary education is associated with a reduced likelihood of backsliding across male- and femaleheaded
households, but more so for the latter group.

 The risk of backsliding and impoverishment is reduced when the household head has a job,

particularly a government or private job as opposed to own-account work.

 Male-headed households are less likely to backslide if they own a non-farm enterprise, though the
same association does not hold for female-headed households. This could be because female-headed
households tend to engage in less capital-intensive and potentially less profitable types of enterprise.
If so, there may be policy or program development implications.
 Sustained success in crop agriculture will require market-oriented farmers with access to sufficient
land and the means to prepare that land. In particular, it requires behavior change among farmers to
be more market-oriented in their production.
 Remittances are important for female-headed households to experience sustained poverty escapes.
 It is not the experience of a single shock but the accumulation of multiple shocks over time that
exacerbate living conditions, ultimately propelling households into negative poverty trajectories.
What can be done? Recommendations include the following:
 Encourage longer-term support. In particular, through longer-term planning or strategy cycles, which
ensure continuity of support through projects being appropriately sequenced and linked.
 Work towards changing values and behaviors. Female empowerment and tackling unequal gender relations
as a root cause of poverty remains central in efforts aimed at ensuring that escapes from poverty are
sustained. Changing farmer behavior, in particular through encouraging farmers to think about
marketing arrangements for their crops from the outset, is important, as is the need to encourage
savings behaviors to help sustain poverty escapes.
 Promote mentoring. Household- and individual-level mentoring and follow-up is useful in providing
continuous support to enable them to successfully follow new livelihoods activities and to maintain
interest in these activities.
 Focus on market linkages and not just increasing production. Respondents continually highlighted the
importance of market development in order to ensure people are able to operate profitable farm and
non-farm enterprises.
 Acknowledge longer-term shocks and stressors in policy and program development.
 Encourage the development of holistic approaches and linkages. Holistic approaches to promoting sustained
escapes from poverty may ‘layer’ different interventions to ensure households and individuals have
the economic opportunities to improve their situation as well as the support to be able to sustain
these improvements over-time. Projects may also link beneficiaries to support services implemented
by the government, or the public- or private-sector. Appropriate linkages are also needed to help
households to manage risks.

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