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Malawi: Villages get cracking to become MDG achievers
31 January 2006

Johannesburg, South Africa: The UN Millennium Village Project is giving 11 Malawian hamlets the chance to break free from the cycle of poverty.

About 55,000 people in the settlements, spread across the country, are participating in the five-year project aimed at finding practical solutions to the problems preventing countries from achieving the UN's poverty-slashing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015.

Rather than the 2015 timeframe, the villages "intend to prove that they can achieve at least some of the MDGs in a period of five years", said Peter Kulemeka, assistant resident representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in Malawi.

Malawi joins Kenya and Ethiopia in the research project, carried out jointly by the Earth Institute of Columbia University, with financial support from the Japanese government, to find a model for fighting poverty at village level.

One of the 11 villages, Mwandama in the Zomba district of Malawi's Southern province, has been billed as the "research village", where new methods will be tested.

"As and when we establish evidence that the methods are proving effective they will be replicated in the other villages, but certain interventions related to achieving food security, which includes distribution of free fertilisers and drought-resistant maize seeds, are being implemented simultaneously in all the villages," Kulemeka told IRIN.

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world, is currently in the grip of one of its worst food shortages in a decade, with more than five million people in need of food.

The project, spearheaded by economist Jeffrey Sachs, last year presented an action plan that included practical and affordable interventions to meet the MDGs, such as bed-nets to fight malaria, vaccinations to combat infectious diseases, the provision of anti-AIDS drugs, fertilisers to improve crop yields and boring wells to provide safe drinking water.

The project in Malawi has set up a committee of community members for every MDG in each village. "Each committee then identifies the needs of the village, be it more classrooms or teachers in the education sector or certain medicines. The most unique feature of our project is community participation and ownership because, ultimately, they own and run the project," said Kulemeka.

The village approach recognises the interdependence of the MDGs. "Each villager who receives free maize seeds and fertiliser is required to contribute a bag of maize from his output, which will be used in the daily school lunch feeding programmes aimed at increasing school attendance," explained Kulemeka.

At a cost of US $100 per person per year, the project also aims to ensure that each villager is aware of natural methods of improving soil fertility and everyone has access to a health clinic. Solar-powered lighting systems, cleaner cook stoves, manual irrigation and water purification systems are among the other goals.