Millennium Villages, A New Approach to Fighting Poverty in Africa: UN DPI/NGO briefing
6 November 2008
The Briefing entitled “Millennium Villages, A New Approach to Fighting Poverty in Africa” took place from 10:15 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Information Officer at the NGO Relations Cluster, in the Department of Public Information, opened the Briefing and gave an overview of the concept of Millennium Villages. She noted that this concept offered a new model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty, especially in the face of the current global economic and social situations, which threatened to undermine the Africa’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target date of 2015.
Eric Kashamubuzi, Liaison for Millennium Promise and Principal Advisor to its CEO gave the background to the Millennium Villages concept. He began by explaining the relationship between the Millennium Development Goals that came out of the 2000 Millennium Declaration by world leaders, and the concept of the Millennium Villages. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which reflected the global development priorities identified by world leaders, also had specific targets and indicators for achieving them. In 2001, the General Assembly of the United Nations passed a resolution calling for the implementation of the Millennium Declaration to be evaluated after five years. UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan, was asked to develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In 2005, he commissioned Professor Jeffery Sachs to head a Task Force that would carry out a review of the MDGs. The result was a 70-page document entitled “Investing in Development: A Practical Plan to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals.” One of the recommendations of the report was that there was a need to accelerate the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by bypassing many of the policies and the bureaucracy that seemed to hold up real progress on the ground. It was out of discussions on addressing this issue that the concept of Quick Impact Initiatives was born and later endorsed by the September 2005 UN World Summit Outcome. Subsequently, the General Assembly requested the Secretary General to assist Member States in implementing the Quick Impact Initiatives on the ground, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, who had prepared the original report, was asked by Secretary-General Annan to assist him in aiding Member States to implement the new development concept. According to Mr. Kashambuzi, Mr. Sachs consulted Members States, members of the UN system and NGOs, and together they came up with the concept of the Millennium Villages that was endorsed by the General Assembly. Mr. Kashambuzi explained that the Millennium Villages were an attempt to implement, simultaneously, multiple Quick Impact Initiatives, such as school feeding programs, increased agricultural productivity and health services, as well as a provision of water, transport and communication. The idea was to integrate these programmes and implement them together. The Millennium Villages programme was established in 2005 in 10 African countries including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda. These participating countries were selected by Member States. The hope was that, as opposed to the 1970’s where integrated rural development was approached from a top- down perspective, which had since proved unsustainable, the new approach would start from bottom- up, beginning with consultations at the community level. Mr. Kashambuzi stressed that the Millennium Villages were the responsibility of the Member States with Professor Jeffrey Sachs as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, providing assistance to them through the office of the UN head. He noted that in 2007 the General Assembly called for an evaluation of the Millennium Villages, which was submitted to it in 2008. The findings were positive and many countries are requesting support to establish their own Millennium Villages, provided funding is available. He concluded by appealing to NGOs to give honest feedback on what they thought of the Millennium Villages and, most importantly, on how they could help them attain the goal of meeting the MDGs by 2015.
Mr. Patrick Haverman, Project Manager of the Millennium Village, Regional Bureau for Africa, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), focused his presentation on the status of the work on Millennium Villages in Africa. He explained that the millennium villages were an integrated development initiative empowering rural communities with necessities and resources to get out of poverty. These villages were based in countries that were committed to meeting the MDGs. When planning the Villages, there was an effort to place them in diverse ecological zones. There were four main interventions that the Millennium Villages addressed namely: agriculture, health, water and the environment, and infrastructure. He emphasized that each intervention was linked to an MDG. There were several key elements of the Millennium Villages programme. First, the program took an integrated, multi-sectored approach. Second, it was dependent upon community participation for success. Third, it was driven by the concept of rural economic transformation, backed by capacity building. Finally, it underscored the importance of having a sustainable exit strategy. Providing information on the leading partners of the project, Mr. Haverman noted that Millennium Promise, Earth Institute, and UNDP were the three primary sponsors of the Millennium Villages. The project was funded by a variety of donors; the 12 clusters of settlements spread across 10 African Villages spent about $110 US dollars per villager per year, which was relatively inexpensive. Citing the projects achievements Mr. Haverman noted that in the first three yeas of the programme, the Millennium Villages had achieved 98% primary school enrollment, as well as a decrease in the rate of malaria from 37% to 7%. He noted that using simple, inexpensive interventions could help to achieve the MDGs by the deadlines set. He hoped that the example of the Millennium Villages could be scaled up and applied throughout Africa. Mr. Haverman concluded by stating that that the Millennium Villages had been made possible by a number of innovative partnerships, which included alliances with the corporate world, bi-lateral partners, members of the UN system and NGOs.
Rebbie Harawa, Coordinator of the Millennium Village in Malawi, gave an overview of the current status of the Millennium Village project in that country via videoconference. The project, which began in September 2005, had had a growing positive impact in Malawi. The agriculture intervention had resulted in higher production of crops, due to subsidized fertilizer, distribution of maize feed, and provision of training on new farming techniques. Farmers were now producing beyond required household consumption and this allowed them to sell excess crops and use the proceeds to purchase much-needed household items. The impact of this increase in the agriculture had also resulted in higher school attendance, since meals were now provided in schools. Turning to health intervention, Ms. Harawa highlighted the impact of the new family planning clinics that were working towards reducing the acceleration in the increase of population, and had so far provided planning assistance to 6,000 women. Further, the new treatment programs for patients with HIV/AIDS [some 550 had been placed on ARV or anti-retroviral treatment] had brought a sense of hope to the community that had been seriously impacted by the disease. De-worming of children had also improved their health status. The project was also making infrastructure improvements, such as increasing access to water supplies and building bridges, which provided vital links between schools and markets. She also said that new microfinance initiatives had enabled people to start new businesses and mobile banking units had facilitated people to increase personal savings. Ms. Harawa said that after 3 years, it was evident that transformation of life had taken place and that the impact of the new approach had been felt on the ground.
Philippe Poinsot, Deputy Programme, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), made a presentation on the status of the project in Mali. At present, there are two Millennium Village projects in that country. Mr. Poinsot said the government of Mali was extremely supportive of the project and was taking new initiatives to accelerate its progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Government, working in partnership with UNDP, was committed to making drastic changes to its current approach, as it is feared that the MDGs would not be achieved unless significant policy changes were made and development assistance increased substantially. The two Millennium Village projects, focusing on expansion of food security, were initiated three years ago and it was now hoped that the projects would be expanded to include other sector activities and then replicated nationally. Mr. Poinsot highlighted current attempts made by the government of Mali to establish a consortium with the private sector to fund the proposed expansion and “scale up” efforts to achieve the MDGs.
Dr. George Ayittey, Professor of Economics at American University, put forward the view that though the Millennium Villages concept was a step in the right direction it needed to pay attention to one of the sectors of the African economy that was traditionally neglected, namely the informal sector. He explained that there are three sectors of the African economy: the modern sector that was the source of African problems, the traditional sector, and stuck in between the modern sector and the traditional sector, the informal sector. He posited the view that post-colonial development in Africa neglected the informal and traditional sectors, where “the real people of Africa are,” and this meant that despite the Continent being rich in natural resources, it could not feed itself. Development aid, he noted, was mostly channeled into the modern sector, which was dysfunctional in many parts of Africa because of constant struggles for political power. Dr. Ayittey emphasized that rather than creating new projects for villages in Africa what should be done is to help villages build on what was already there and teach people what to do. He cited the fact that many educated Africans in trying to help the people of the continent mistakenly took methods and ideas from the Western world and applied them to Africa without considering their suitability. He strongly urged that the traditional leadership role played by the village chiefs in decision-making should not be ignored when carrying out projects like the Millennium Villages. Dr. Ayittey warned that care should also be taken not to undermine their authority because under the traditional political structure they were considered custodians of the land. He cited the example of his own work with Free Africa Foundation, where he helped some 50,000 farmers create malaria-free zones and turn palm fruit into a successful palm oil milling operation, working as a cooperative with funds from investors abroad. This model he stressed was sustainable because it was focused on utilizing resources that were already available in these villages, without introducing anything new. It also acknowledged and strengthened the traditional authority. In conclusion, Dr. Ayittey emphasized that the alternative development model he was proposing was sustainable because it promoted investment rather than charity.
During the question and answer session, the audience raised several questions regarding NGO participation in the Millennium Villages projects. A question was raised as regards what would happen to the Millennium Villages after 2015. Another query was raised regarding whether there were Millennium Villages in other parts of the world including Asia, the former Soviet Union and Latin America. One NGO asked whether there were opportunities for civil society organizations or NGOs interested in getting involved with the Millennium Villages and requested to know how they could go about doing so. Other queries addressed reports of high suicide rates among African farmers, whether food production in the Millennium Village in Ethiopia was affected by the food crisis in the country, and whether there was any demographic progress, particularly representation of women, as a result of the Millennium Villages. Issues pertaining to family planning were raised as well as a request for examples what was meant by the term “informal sector.” Concern was also expressed as to whether the Millennium Villages were in danger of being not funded, bearing in mind the current global economic crisis.
Mr. Haverman responding to the question on what would happen to the Millennium Villages said there would be a new phase in 2015, which they expected the Governments to take over and run completely. Mr. Poinsot expressed the hope that as UNDP was able to demonstrate progress in the Millennium Villages that his organization would be able to make the case for additional funding to mobilize more partners and more resources to achieve the MDGs. On the query of whether there were other Millennium Villages in other parts of the world, Mr. Haverman advised that that there were Millennium Villages in initial stages of expansion in Cambodia and Haiti and that Papua New Guinea was currently under consideration for establishing one as well. He indicated that he expected the Millennium Villages project to expanded, but this would depend on sufficient resource capacity. On how much money is devoted to family planning and demography within the Millennium Villages, Mr. Haverman explained that since the Millennium Villages was an integrated rural development project, it included a specific budget for family planning and demography, even though only 2 to 3 percent of the budget was set aside for such purposes. Ms. Harawa added that as one of the Millennium Development Goals was empowerment of women, there were training programs for gender awareness and literacy programs for women being worked on with Village committees in the Millennium Villages. On family planning, she noted that they were also working with women regarding having smaller families. She stressed that additional funding was essential and that there was a real need for global partnership in order to increase Education for girls and enrollment in schools. Mr. Ayittey emphasized women’s role in food production as well as in market activities in Africa. Mr. Kashambuzi underscored that family planning is complicated because women alone, could not address this issue, men needed to be more involved. Family planning he noted also followed improvements in education and health care and pointed to the high child mortality rates in most of Africa. He stressed the importance of empowering women as essential to success in family planning. When asked whether the food crisis in Ethiopia has hindered the agricultural output of the Millennium Village in that country, Mr. Haverman noted that while the Village’s food production has increased, it only affected that village and not the entire country. In response to the query on whether the global financial crisis would have an impact on the Millennium Villages. Mr. Haverman answered that there was indeed a possibility of States reducing their Official Development Assistance (ODA), however he urged the NGO community and United Nations family to continue to lobby governments to maintain their ODA levels despite the difficult financial times.
The briefing was attended by about 150 representatives of NGOs, United Nations and Permanent Mission staff as well as interns from various UN Departments and NGOs.
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