SEATTLE — In the last two decades, Benin, a low-income nation in Western Africa, has experienced moderate yet steady GDP growth at an annual rate between four and five percent. Its poverty rate, however, has increased from 35.2 percent in 2009 to 40.1 percent in 2015. Ranked 167 out of 188 countries on the 2016 Human Development Index, Benin continues to struggle with a high population growth rate, a low average life expectancy and food insecurity. Some of the root causes of poverty in Benin include a vulnerable agricultural sector which employs 45 to 55 percent of the population, inequality in education and the economic gender gap.
Benin relies heavily on its agricultural sector for both economic development and food security. The country’s agricultural workers remain challenged by the lack of modern farming technology, poor soil and inadequate means of storing and processing food. The precarious position in which many rural communities are put as a result of these obstacles is only worsened by adverse weather conditions such as recurring droughts and floods and high food prices. Approximately 33.6 percent of households in Benin are food insecure, and 45 percent of children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition.
In addition to relying on agriculture, about 20 percent of Benin’s GDP relies on re-export and transit trade with neighboring Nigeria. Approximately 80 percent of Benin’s imports will be re-exported to Nigeria through the informal cross-border trade the countries share. Because the re-exportation trade accounts for a quarter of the Beninese government’s revenue, events in Nigeria have the potential to severely impact Benin’s economy. Low growth rates in Nigeria can also have an indirect effect on Benin.
Besides the country’s economy, the causes of poverty in Benin can also be found in the inequitable distribution of health and education resources. On average, seven percent of public expenditure is allocated to the health sector and 23 percent to education. In some rural districts, though, school enrollment rates are under 50 percent. According to the World Bank, significant efforts to equitably distribute these resources across geographic areas would ensure greater effectiveness and efficiency in the management of both sectors.
The significant gender equality gap in Benin must also be addressed. Between 2008 and 2012, approximately 54.9 percent of male youth between the ages of 15 and 24 were literate. During the same period of time, only 30.8 percent of female youth in the same age group were literate. Women also suffer from a lack of economic opportunities and are underrepresented in high-level decision-making positions. Despite this, about 28 percent of female-headed households experience poverty, compared to the 38 percent of male-headed households that experience poverty.
This is why one of the organizations that works in Benin, the Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), has made both accessible education and the empowerment of women and girls two of its key objectives in the country.
“CARE incorporates leadership skills development … transferable skills … adolescent sexual and reproductive health, information communication and technology … and economic empowerment interventions into its programming,” stated CARE Senior Technical Advisor for Education Katherine Begley in an interview with The Borgen Project. Begley went on to add that these skills, when coupled with high-quality education, give adolescents the ability to make informed decisions in school, work and life.
In December 2016, the Beninese government adopted a new development plan aimed at improving productivity and living conditions. With a focus put on reducing the causes of poverty in Benin and promoting inclusive prosperity through education and economic opportunities, the country may see an improvement in the severity of poverty in the years ahead.
– Amanda Quinn