CGD in the News

Villages as Laboratories in Debate on Africa Aid (AP)

September 18, 2012

CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens is quoted in an article on Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Villages Project.

From the article:

NABARI, Ghana—In the village of Nabari on northern Ghana's dry savanna, 80-year-old Wudana Dokurugu lives with other widows in a clump of mud huts. They farm maize and soybeans in impoverished soil, and say their food never lasts to the next harvest.

Lately, however, Nabari and 33 neighboring villages are in the spotlight, brought together as a single "Millennium Village" as part of American economist Jeffrey Sachs' ambitious effort to demonstrate that with the right guidance and seed money, Africans can rise out of poverty and become self-sustaining.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Global Development, says a similar project called Integrated Rural Development was attempted in the 1970s and 80s by the World Bank and failed because it could not survive without donor funding.

Clemens, who researches ways of making aid more effective, sees a similar fate awaiting the Millennium Villages. "How likely is it that without the lavish expenditures of a New York-centered philanthropist-funded organization, the project can continue for long?" he said in an interview.

Clemens and his co-author Gabriel Demombynes, a senior economist at the World Bank in Nairobi, have published papers and editorials over the years claiming the project is overstating its impact. They say it boasts of gains in indicators like child mortality, without noting these are insignificant compared to changes happening at a relevant regional or national level. That should be the critical question for every project like this one - "what would have happened if the project hadn't come along?" Clemens said.

Read it here.