How UBI is helping farmers deal with poverty and pandemic life at the same time

I've posted before about the great work being done by US charity GiveDirectly, which raises funds to pilot Universal Basic Income programs around the world. It's not only good for those communities, but it also allows the organization to collect data on the successes of these kinds of programs — strengthening the argument for greater UBI implementation, and improves the distribution of existing programs.

NPR published a recent piece about one such UBI initiative in the west African country of Togo:

The pandemic has been tough for Eric Dossekpli. The 49-year-old farmer from Anfoin Avele, a town in the west African country of Togo, had trouble selling his peanuts, black-eyed peas, maize and cassava at the market. Customers couldn't buy much because of their own pandemic income loss. Then he couldn't afford fertilizer to keep growing his crops. 

"I didn't know how I was going to buy food, to buy what's needed at home," he says. And with four of his six children in school, he needed to pay for their tuition.

Then around October, he heard people in his community buzzing about a program: The government was giving away free money: $13 for men, $15 for women every month for 5 months (women get more because of their caregiving role). All he had to do was dial *855# to register to see if he qualified for an instant mobile payment.

The Togo government used an AI trained on data from GiveDirectly, combined with mobile phone data, to help identify the people most in need of these cash payments — otherwise, it would have been difficult to properly track and identify all of the "informal workers" (mostly farmers) in remote rural areas. This results in not only a more efficient system, but also empowers the UBI recipients to make their own financial decisions, instead of dealing with more (expensive) bureaucratic barriers.

The Pandemic Pushed This Farmer Into Deep Poverty. Then Something Amazing Happened [Malaka Gharib / NPR]

Image: Generation Grundeinkommen / Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)