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October 04, 2012

New Millennium Village project in Ghana, old questions remain

Northern Ghana is hosting a new Millennium Village, an experiment in what is hoped will result in a sort of holistic type of development embracing farming improvements, better school and health care access and more.

The concept is the brainchild of American economist Jeffrey Sachs, who has over several years mobilized funding to set up about a dozen such villages in various African countries. He says the lessons learned from the villages will serve as a model for how to bring integrated development to neglected areas like the site of the new project.

The Ghanaian government and local partners are said to have pledged some of the funding for the $24 million project, but the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is the single biggest contributor at $18 million.

There are skeptics about the Millennium Village model, chief among them Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, Washington D.C. His main criticism of the concept is based on sustainability, the important but difficult variable that dooms many 'development projects' before they even start.

Says Clemens, "Triple the size of the entire local economy and you can do something good for people, of course. I mean sure, as a humanitarian model, as a pure charity you can do so much for individual families, for individual children, and I admire people who do that. But to suggest … that this is something that can go on and on... How?"

"How likely is it that without the lavish expenditures of a New York-centered philanthropist-funded organization, the project can continue for long?" Clemens asks.

Clemens points to a similarly-structured World Bank-funded project of the 1970s/1980s, Integrated Rural Development, which he says failed when the funding ran out.

Sachs says his project is different in important ways. "The earlier programs did not include computers, email, internet for data management, systems control, mapping, monitoring, banking, payments, health care, teaching, process control, value chains and countless more areas," he says.

Other criticisms are that the projects create dependence amongst recipients, and that its is unrealistic to expect real 'development' in pockets isolated from what is happening in the rest of a country.

Out of DFID's contribution $3 million will go towards a 10 year evaluation, the first such such 'independent' monitoring of any Millennium Village since the projects began in 2005.

African Agriculture

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