Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Millennium Villages

Seven years after the launch of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), 300 million Africans still live on less than a dollar a day.

The Millennium Villages are an attempt to prove that focused, community-led development strategies can help achieve the MDGs on the ground. The Millennium Villages have tried to show, in 10 countries across the continent, that specific, concrete steps can help increase rural Africa’s well-being, quickly and dramatically.

The Villages are based on four premises:

  • Farm productivity must be improved. The yields in Africa are a third to a fifth of those obtained in other developing countries. African farmers grow half a ton or a ton per hectare, compared with three to five tones in other regions. The Millennium Villages have shown that, with the basic inputs, a dramatic rise in farm productivity is possible within just one growing season.
  • Basic social services are desperately needed, starting with infectious and other diseases. Treatment for worms, insecticide-treated bed nets, screening for nutritional deficiencies are examples of goods and services that must be given out (delivering bed nets, like our friends at Nothing but Nets, can cause malaria to fall by 70%). Another important basic need is universal school attendance and school feeding programs using locally produced food can result in universal attendance.
  • The development strategy must take into account the local and regional networks, as well as the cities, to which the villages are connected. In Africa, rural connections to electricity and the internet can be rare.
  • Business is crucial for local development, and the Villages are encouraged to produce goods that can be traded, generating local profits. The idea is also that both public and private investments are essential for development. A major international dairy company, for instance, is considering setting up a factory in two of the Millennium Villages, which would empower local dairy industries and generate employment.

The early results achieved in the Millennium Villages are remarkable. In Sauri, Kenya for instance, maize production has more than tripled — from 1.9 tons/ha to 6.2 tons/ha — after fertilizer and improved seeds were introduced into the Village. A school feeding program has been put into place in all 28 primary schools and is now providing lunch to 17,514 students, leading to increased school attendance and better academic performance. Malaria prevalence in Sauri is down from 55 percent to 13 percent — due to distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and improved clinics that can now facilitate malaria diagnosis and treatment.