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The Villages
Sauri, Kenya
Koraro, Ethiopia
Pampaida, Nigeria
Bonsaaso, Ghana
Mayange, Rwanda
Mwandama, Malawi
Potou, Senegal
Tiby, Mali
Mbola, Tanzania
Ruhiira, Uganda
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Improving Agriculture to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals:
An Interview with Dr. Pedro Sanchez
The mission of Millennium Promise is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—eight globally endorsed objectives that address the multi-dimensional nature of extreme poverty—in Africa by 2015. Millennium Promise works to achieve the MDGs in Africa through our flagship initiative, the Millennium Villages. Working with our lead partners at the United Nations Development Programme and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, the Millennium Villages project implements critical interventions that address the major problems of poverty simultaneously—hunger, disease, inadequate education, lack of safe drinking water and absence of essential infrastructure. Dr. Pedro Sanchez in Mayange, Rwanda
Dr. Pedro Sanchez teaching agricultural techniques to site team in Mayange, Rwanda

Millennium Promise board member, World Food Prize laureate and director of tropical agriculture at the Earth Institute, Dr. Pedro Sanchez is co-founder of the Millennium Villages project and leads the science team that is essential to the project’s ongoing success. He explains how core agricultural interventions are dramatically increasing food supplies in the villages, helping to achieve all eight MDGs.

From the beginning of the Millennium Villages project, all of the villages were provided with agricultural inputs, such as improved seeds and fertilizers, to improve their crops. Overall, production of basic food crops has doubled to tripled in the villages because of these interventions. Now, the project is working to improve farming methods in order to decrease dependence on fertilizer and to increase crop diversity. Dr. Sanchez explains, “Crop diversification will do two things: increase the nutritional quality of foods in households and give villagers high value products to sell at the market.” The transformation from subsistence farming to small scale entrepreneurship will help the villages become economically sustainable and pull themselves out of the poverty trap.

This transformation will also help to achieve the eight MDGs. For MDG 1, eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, Dr. Sanchez says, “Basically, hunger periods are taken care of. For poverty, the transformation will put money in farmers’ pockets.” Farmers are also providing food for school lunch programs, working to achieve universal primary education (MDG 2). A much greater number of children are now attending school, “because they have a solid meal and are more alert, learn better and play more sports,” says Dr. Sanchez. And, schools are attracting many girls who otherwise would not get an education, helping to promote gender equality and empower women (MDG 3). The project also addresses the back-breaking labor that many women have to endure, such as walking long distances to collect firewood. Planting trees that add nitrogen to the soil in the farms not only decreases dependence on fertilizer, but also provides firewood for the villagers to cook with.

MDGs 4, 5 and 6 address health concerns—reduce child and maternal mortality, and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and neglected tropical diseases. Dr. Sanchez says, “In general, agriculture improves nutrition, and nutrition improves the immune system, making the body more able to combat infections.” Ensuring environmental sustainability (MDG 7) is at the core of the kind of agriculture being practiced in the villages, working to increase biodiversity while decreasing erosion and soil run-off. Finally developing a global partnership for development (MDG 8), is the heart of the Millennium Villages project—made possible through a commitment by global partners, both public and private.

“I have been personally affected by this project in amazing ways,” says Dr. Sanchez. “All my life I have been doing research in experimental plots, but now I find it so exciting to see how people can change—they now have hope. As a professional, it provides evidence that what we have been practicing in science really works. And, as a human being worrying about the bottom billion, to see them pulling themselves out of their poverty traps is very satisfying.”