This paper aims to extract the lessons of experience from the Integrated Rural Development Programme that have a direct bearing on the current policy initiative to reformulate macroeconomic and sectoral policies to include a pro-poor bias. Thus, the present paper analyses the IRDP process in terms of increasing productivity, incomes and employment among the poor, improving access to social welfare services, and programme implementation and management at district-level.

The study finds that although programme interventions certainly made life a little more bearable for the poor, the gains were short-lived. This was because of project specific of constraints, and logistical problems, problems endemic to this type of approach, the lack of maintenance of infrastructure assents, the absence of economic dynamism in the rural hinterland, and continued segmentation of markets. Outcomes fell short of expectations also because of inherent structural and other weaknesses in the public institutional apparatus that made co-ordination, planning, programming and implementation difficult.

Policy directions that emerge from the study are as follows. First, a strong investment push is needed to link the rural economy with the expanding urban economy and so generate a growth dynamic in rural areas. Secondly, raising incomes and employment among the poor requires a differentiated strategy. The first-prong should include micro-level interventions focused on households that help reduce the vulnerability of poor people. The second prong should concentrate on building up a qualitatively dynamic entrepreneurial class among those poor who already have the necessary skills. Thirdly, more attention needs to be given to maintaining infrastructure. Finally, the capacity of the public service to manage and implement such programmes should be enhanced through institutional reform.

by Ramani Gunatilaka and Tushara Williams

Poverty and Social Welfare Series