On January 23, at the ministerial meeting of African countries belonging to the Islamic Development Bank, Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade contested the definition of poverty commonly used by the international organizations, deeming it far too restrictive1.
According to the World Bank, an individual is in a condition of poverty if he or she is living on less than two dollars a day, and extreme poverty if living on less than one dollar a day. By this definition, approximately 40 percent of the world's population, including a large part of the African and Asian populations, is currently considered poor.
As Wade emphasized, however, "if income were the only requirement for escaping poverty, I could certainly give the equivalent of two dollars to each Senegalese every day – but they still would not escape their poverty." At the International Labor Conference in June 2007, he was already insisting that "the time [had] come to rethink the definition of poverty. Even with two or three dollars a day, can people honestly put a decent roof over their heads, feed and clothe themselves, and raise and care for a family?" This is why he believes that poverty should be defined as a 'combination of things lacking.'
The official definition certainly fails to take into account a variety of factors such as access to care, housing and education, limiting itself instead to an economic and financial perspective that disregards "basic human needs."4
In this context, expanding the concept of poverty is a double challenge to the positive feedback loop that the World Trade Organization assumes will result from total liberalization of agricultural markets.
Indeed, the reason that Abdoulaye Wade is pleading for a new definition of poverty to improve the policies designed to combat it is that poverty is not disappearing worldwide. This means that Pascal Lamy's strategy, which cites trade as the source of enrichment for the poorest, is not relevant. In fact, the massif influx of cheaper agricultural products
from developed and emerging countries is threatening not only local production, but also employment, and could even lead to greater poverty!
Furthermore, although growth in trade can be a source of wealth under certain conditions and could therefore contribute to fighting "financial" poverty, this does not by any means imply that access to care, housing or even education would be improved by extension; quite the contrary.