Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Guest Post: Towards The End of Poverty? The Case of Mwandama Millennium Village in Malawi

This week we have a guest post for you! 

Rodrick Chirambo is responsible for the agricultural cooperatives in the Mwandama (Malawi) Millennium Villages Cluster. These would be the parallel organizations to the Kigarama Farmers' Cooperative in Kabuyanda (Uganda) where John and Judy funded a grain warehouse before the establishment of Eliminate Poverty NOW. Rodrick has written this post to inform our network of the wonderful work being done in the Mwandama cluster. We hope you enjoy the post!

By Rodrick Chirambo, Business & Cooperatives Development Coordinator, Millennium Villages Project - Mwandama

Some say poverty is a fact of life. It is here to stay; we just have to learn to live with it! In 2005 Malawi was described by UN officials as a “perfect storm” of hunger, poverty and disease and represented the plight of some 1 billion people around the globe trapped far below the first rung on the development ladder. In the same year, the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), comprised of a team of Malawi’s rural development experts, started working in the village of Mwandama, in one of the poorest regions of the country. Eight years later, the picture first described by those officials seems like a bad dream.

The Mwandama community has moved from perpetual food insecurity to being a food basket for the surrounding district of Zomba. The average distance to the nearest clinic is now about 5 Km compared to 25 Km before the start of the project. Over 70 percent of people are sleeping under insecticide treated mosquito nets compared to only 13 percent eight years ago. Primary school attendance has increased by 96 percent. Infrastructure and local institutions have improved tremendously. Wherever you look in Mwandama, you see people who have been empowered, are able to support themselves and their families, and invest back into the community.

Fast tracking development takes hard work but with the proper steps, it can be done.  As a Malawi citizen and the business development coordinator in Mwandama, I can proudly say that I have witnessed this transformation. I am part of a wonderful team of local development workers passionate about improving the livelihoods of their compatriots.

The building blocks of development are simple and readily accessible - community-led action, visionary and motivated local leadership, supportive Government policy, dedicated and knowledgeable staff and technological advancement. When these are in place, with good quality programming and the requisite financial resources, you are on your way.

As the local staff of the Millennium Villages Project, we have fostered community ownership of all development activities. The community chooses its own destiny. We’re here to help build systems of delivery and provide the essential knowledge that will build their capacity to get to where they want to be. By and by, small changes appear and accumulate into permanent transformation.

Of course, let’s not celebrate before the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals is reached in two years time. It is not yet a done deal and there’s much work to do beyond. It is time to ensure that the capacity of the community to maintain and manage the gains achieved so far is enhanced. This entails setting up systems for continued access to improved technologies; building institutions, such as business cooperatives, to support the farmers in accessing farm inputs and market linkages; creating a network of volunteers to promote girls attendance in schools; developing a cadre of community health workers; and building valuable partnerships with stakeholders.

With the support of wonderful partners like Eliminate Poverty Now, the Millennium Villages Project is proving that it is a matter of time before we end extreme poverty in our communities. Together, we are on the verge of a breakthrough that will help rural Africa not only get a grip on the development ladder, but also energize communities to climb higher. I will say this again – it can be done. With small targeted investments, huge changes can be realized. It is within our power. Visit and get involved.

**The views expressed here are my personal ones and do not represent those of the Millennium Villages Project.


  1. We must say a special thank you to Rodrick for this wonderful post from the entire EPN team!

  2. Recently, a review of the book "The Idealist" by Nina Munk appeared in The Wall Street Journal. It was highly critical of Jeffrey Sachs and the organization he founded, The Millennium Villages Project. I haven't read the book so I don't know how accurately the review reflects its content. I can only say the review doesn't square with 8 years of experience which Eliminate Poverty Now has had with the Project and our visits to over half the villages participating in the program.

    It is true that the Project has not fully achieved the Millennium Development Goals and that it's taken more than the 5 years originally envisioned. But as Rodrick's post clearly shows, substantial progress has been made in health care, education, infrastructure and food security. There is no simple answer or single "bag of tricks" to cure Africa's ills. But intelligent investment that empowers local people clearly can pay off.

    Eliminate Poverty Now has been proud to partner with The Millennium Villages Project. And in an upcoming post you'll hear about our latest initiative targeted at one of the major obstacles to increasing income through agriculture. Stay tuned.

    John Craig

  3. Amen to that. And if it were that easy to end poverty in 5 years, it would have been done a long time ago. So maybe it will take 10 years. That doesn't change the fact that we are the first generation in the history of the world with the power to end extreme poverty!