The recent UN summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) stressed that not enough progress has been made to meet the goals by 2015. The Millennium Villages Project aims to show how an integrated package of proven, low-cost interventions can lift people in rural Africa out of extreme poverty, and that meeting the MDGs is still possible within the agreed timeline. The project is led by Professor Jeffrey Sachs of the Earth Institute, Columbia University. The five year project was launched in 2006 and targets 80 Millennium Villages across ten African countries. It provides low-cost interventions in agriculture and nutrition, health, water and sanitation, education, infrastructure and the environment to the villages at a cost of $120 per person per year.
Given the importance of this experiment, the Open Society Institute, a major sponsor of the project, commissioned ODI to review its prospects for scaling up. Case studies from project sites in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda, particularly in the agricultural and health sectors, found that the MVP reports success across the countries. Achievements include improved crop yields, increased labour productivity, increased school enrolment, and decreases in the burden of various diseases.
The review found room for improvement, with a need for more emphasis on rural-urban linkages, such as roads and markets, and upstream investments in, for example, human resources if investments are to be sustained and scaled up. The institutional constraints to equitable scaling up need to be addressed by, for example strengthening local administrations, supporting civil service reform to motivate front line staff to serve in remote areas, and dealing with contested property rights or gender discrimination.
The over-arching lessons for the MVP and other village-based initiatives are:
- The MVP has achieved results and has demonstrated the impact of greater investment in evidence-based, low-cost interventions at village level on progress towards the MDGs.
- The MVP points to the upstream investments, rural–urban linkages, infrastructure and institutions required to scale up village-level investments, but does not have the budget to address them.
- Countries need to position the scale-up of MVP-type investments within a national development strategy. Donors should give special support to at least one country that, having successfully implemented the MVP, now wants to take it to national scale.
- Scaling up rural investment depends on donors living up to their commitments. Donors should support such scale-up if plans demonstrate adequate vertical linkages and are embedded in national plans.
Head of Programme - Water Policy