- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 26, 2012

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 nutrient-poor soil, and say their food never lasts to the next harvest.

“When I run out of food, I go fetch firewood and sell it for [50 cents] a bundle,” said Mrs. Dokurugu.

That will buy her a bowl of dry maize. Anyone getting sick will likely not have the $2.50 fare to the nearest hospital, about 15 miles away.

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.

While this West African country is benefiting from new oil wealth, mining and industry, life for many in the districts of West Mamprusi and Builsa, about 300 miles from the capital, Accra, consists of understocked food markets, poor health and low school attendance.

“This is a hardworking community, and with new technologies and new ways to do things, poverty can be ended in this region,” Mr. Sachs told more than 1,000 villagers in Silinga, a village near Nabari, when he visited in August, accompanied by Ghana’s new president, John Mahama.

A challenging endeavor

The 14 Millennium Villages in Africa are part of a global anti-poverty initiative launched under U.N. auspices in 2000.

The goal is to bring people such as Mrs. Dokurugu out of poverty with a big push of assistance that will wean them off aid after several years. The villages get fertilizer and improved seed, irrigation canals, clinics and health workers, school meals, roads and better access to markets.

Mr. Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York, says that villagers in Africa are stuck in a poverty trap, and with the right help can escape it for good.

But he has critics. Some say the project creates dependence, that its advances may be no greater than the rest of the country in question and cannot be sustained once the project ends.

Now Mr. Sachs has scored possibly the project’s biggest coup to date — $18.1 million from the British government’s Department for International Development to help 30,000 people in northern Ghana — which, with government and local contributions, comes out to about $150 per person per year over five years.

But it also presents Mr. Sachs with a challenge, because the British agency is spending $3 million of the money on a 10-year evaluation of the project to measure its impact, sustainability and value for money.

It’s the first independent evaluation, and the critics say it’s long overdue.

Even though he acknowledges the program hasn’t been rigorously evaluated, former British Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has faith in it.

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