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Economist Unveils Ghana Project to Break Poverty Cycle (Voice of America)

August 30, 2012
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Senior fellow Michael Clemens is quoted in an article describing the newest Millennium Village in Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Village Project.

From the article:

SILINGA, Ghana – Economist Jeffrey Sachs unveiled his new Millennium Village Tuesday, in Silinga, north Ghana. The Millennium Villages Project is based on the belief that poor villagers are stuck in a "poverty trap" and if given enough resources, they will become self-sufficient. Sachs' critics say the demonstration is neither scientific nor sustainable.

Started in 2006 by economist and founder of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, the Millennium Villages Project is meant to serve as a model for how aid money can help the world's poorest people. Sachs says his goal is to enable poor communities to reach the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, a series of benchmarks for poverty alleviation.

Sachs has set up over a dozen demonstration sites across ten countries in Africa to show integrated development works. He says the poorest people are stuck in poverty, but if given enough assistance in agriculture, education, health, infrastructure and business development, they can lift themselves out of poverty for good. It's not just about charity, he says.

But not everyone thinks the project's goals are realistic.

One of Sachs' most vocal critics is Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the D.C.-based Center for Global Development. Clemens says the new project will involve tripling the local economy, which he says is not sustainable.

"Triple the size of the entire local economy and you can do something good for people, of course," Clemens said. "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?"

Yet Sachs says the project is already influencing national governments to scale up projects like the distribution of mosquito nets to fight malaria. And Sachs has proven he can mobilize resources and money, attracting corporate sponsors like Tommy Hilfiger and rock stars like U2's Bono. He has also convinced some governments to bump up funding to rural areas.

But Sachs also admits the project is not being carried out like a scientific experiment.

"I don't think this project will meet the standards of a randomized trial that you might do with a new medicine, but then again the things that we're doing are already proved often by those kinds of randomized trials," he stressed. "What we're really trying to do is to show how to put those things together, so if you know that bed nets work to fight malaria and have been proved in so-called randomized trials, and if you know that higher fertilizer use can raise farm yields significantly, and that's been shown in randomized trials, and if you have other kinds of good investments that have been proved in a variety of ways, then putting them together is a different kind of task."

Whether the project has lasting impact, or is effective even in the short term, will be determined by the final results of the British study - results which will be available in another 10 years.

Read it here.

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