Sunday, February 14, 2010

Millennium Villages Project - The Sequel

(Written by John, typed by Judy)

Dear All,

Once again, Judy has done a fantastic job of documenting our trip and sharing learnings as we go. This time she's really outdone herself. Her emails have been extremely well-written, insightful and entertaining. And she pounded them out with two thumbs on her Blackberry. A real labor of love and I know we all appreciate her extraordinary effort. (Judy: so sweet of you to say. You're very welcome.)

In addition to my photos, which I'll edit down and post on Flickr in the next week or two, I'd like to share a broader perspective on what's happening with the Millennium Villages Project. MVP is reaching an important milestone (5 years in the field), taking stock of its performance to date and adjusting strategy going forward.

A quick refresher. The Millennium Villages Project was established in 2004 to demonstrate that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are, in fact, achievable. The MDGs are eight goals designed to create a better and more equitable world for all. They include eliminating extreme poverty, drastically reducing deaths from preventable diseases (such as malaria and HIV/AIDS), providing universal primary education for children and ensuring gender equality for women.

The MVP "model" combines an integrated approach to rural development (simultaneously tackling challenges in healthcare, education, economic development and infrastructure) with full involvement and ownership by the local community. The premise is that by applying proven best practices within an affordable budget over a 5 year period, the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved.

A total of 80 villages in 10 African countries participate in the Project. These villages are located in remote rural areas, typical of the areas where most of the extreme poor reside. Some villages have only been in the program for two or three years, but several are approaching or completing their 5th anniversary.

And the results? Mission partially accomplished. The most dramatic improvements have come in the areas of health care and education; Judy has already shared some of the impressive results in these areas in several of her emails.

In infrastructure, projects have focused on access to safe drinking water, improved road access and telelcommunications availability, with good progress on all fronts. In agriculture the emphasis has been on "food security," a euphemistic way of saying ensuring people don't starve to death. Again, good progress. Improved seed and proper
fertilizer have doubled or tripled yields of traditional subsistence crops.

All reasons to feel very good. But- - - true success only comes if the improvements are sustainable, and the villages are still far from being self-sustaining. And even doubling or tripling the yields of traditional crops is a long way from building a solid economic base from which to permanently escape extreme poverty. Among the key
reasons for this are the extremely small land holding sizes and complete dependance on rain fed agriculture.

So, turns out it takes more than 5 years to change the world. Who knew! The Project has started to map out the strategy for years 6-10. Think of it as Millennium Villages Project: The Sequel. The major shift will be an increased focus on economic development, exactly the area that Judy and I have been most concerned about.

The economic model emerging is to use agriculture as the economic engine, turning agriculture into income-producing agribusiness and then layering additional non-agricultural opportunities (think of Judy's email on sewing) on top. Sounds simple. It's not. But for the first time, significant energy is being put into figuring it out - - identifying the right opportunities,
lining up the money and people to drive it within the villages and identifying business partners who can connect the villages to regional, national and international markets. The women's garden in Mali is one small building block in what we hope will become a major foundation for economic development.

Judy and I have been keeping track of various opportunities over the course of our trip. We'll send out one last email with a list of things you can do if you're interested.

Love to all,


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