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Agriculture and Rural Development

Evaluating Millennium Villages Revisited

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Although the members of the Millennium Village Project were unavailable (but have offered to hold a follow-up seminar in January), we held a seminar on the Clemens-Demombynes  paper to discuss different approaches to evaluating rural development programs.

Benin under water

Daniel Sellen's picture

I've written before about floods in Niger and Abidjan, but these experiences left me poorly prepared for what I saw in Benin a few days ago.

Half the country is under water, and it's still raining.

We recently received a request from the President of Benin to assist with recent flooding. I was asked to go take a look, get a feel for the scale of the problem, find out what Government and donors were doing about it, and make some recommendations for Bank action.

 After booking my flight, I did a Google search which revealed no details, even from OCHA, the UN's humanitarian branch. So I was sceptical about finding the type of damage I had seen elsewhere in the region over the past two months. If there was a big problem, the international press didn't seem to know about it. If they did, perhaps they were too tired of Haiti, Pakistan, or spoiling the euphoria following the rescued miners.

Evaluating the Millennium Villages

Gabriel Demombynes's picture

Here’s the quick summary of a new working paper I have co-authored with Michael Clemens of the Center for Global Development:

When is the rigorous impact evaluation of development projects a luxury, and when a necessity? We study one high-profile case where it is a necessity: the Millennium Villages Project (MVP), an experimental intervention in rural Africa. We compare development trends inside versus outside the villages in three countries, and show that estimates of the project’s effects depend heavily on the evaluation method.

The impact evaluation currently planned by the MVP is unlikely to yield adequate estimates of its effects on Africans in general, for five reasons we explain. But it is not too late to carefully measure the project’s effects, by making small and inexpensive changes to the next wave of the project.

Michael’s own blog post gives more details about the paper. The paper uses publicly-available data from the MVP mid-term evaluation report and Demographic and Health Surveys  (DHS). Field visits played no role in the study.

But after the study I found myself wanting to learn more about a couple of the places behind the statistics. So after we completed the analysis, during September 26-28, I took a trip with several World Bank colleagues to the western edge of Kenya. We visited two village clusters in Nyanza Province: first the MVP site in Bar-Sauri, and then the town of Uranga, 50 km to the west, which is not an MVP site.

Here’s a picture of me pressing the flesh with the kids at Nyamninia Primary School in Bar-Sauri:

Varieties of African successes

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Tolstoy notwithstanding, the 20 African success stories described in the booklet “Yes, Africa Can” show that success comes in many different forms.  Broadly speaking, the cases fall into three categories:

- Success from removing an existing, major distortion.  The best example is Ghana’s cocoa sector, which was destroyed by the hyperinflation and overvalued exchange rate in the early 1980s.  When the exchange rate regime was liberalized and the economy stabilized, cocoa exports boomed (and continue to grow).  Similar examples include Rwanda’s coffee sector and Kenya’s fertilizer use.  Africa’s mobile phone revolution, too, is an example of the government’s stepping out of the way—in this case by deregulating the telecommunications sector—and letting the private sector jump in. 

More cell phones than toilets

Shanta Devarajan's picture

An article in yesterday’s New York Times observes that, with the number of mobile subscriptions exceeding five billion, more people today have access to a cell phone than to a clean toilet.  Leaving aside the relative value of these two appliances, the surge in cell phones in Africa—some 94 percent of urban Africans are near a GSM signal—is transforming the continent.  Farmers in Niger use cell phones to find out which market is giving the best price; people in Kenya pay their bills and send money home using M-Pesa.

Can better roads reduce poverty?

Gael Raballand's picture

This  question  was on my mind when, in the Meme region of Cameroon, I saw motorcycle passengers come to a full stop, dismount, carry the bags of vegetables they were transporting on their backs, and start pushing the vehicle to the side, over a field--to circumvent the huge pool of water interrupting the rural road in front of us. Soon, they were on their way again.
Meme is a remote region with almost four meters of rain per year.  The state of its roads reflects the very limited investment they have seen in the last decade.

The motorcycle story from Meme shows that, even in extreme climatic conditions, the connectivity of roads is maintained.  A road may be impassable for cars, but motorcycles find their way around.  Therefore, most rural populations are somehow connected to markets, whereas connectivity is usually thought of as either 0 or 1.

This means that investments in roads could have a lower-than-expected impact on economic development since most households are already somehow connected.

Climate Change as a Development Opportunity

Shanta Devarajan's picture

There is considerable evidence that Africa is the continent that will be hit the first, most and worst by climate change. 

Agricultural productivity, already among the world’s lowest, could in several African countries fall by 50 percent in 10 years because of higher and more variable temperatures, which in turn could lead to faster desertification, rising sea levels, and more frequent droughts, floods and typhoons. 

Some (Possibly Heretical) Thoughts on Agriculture

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Since the publication of the 2008 World Development Report, there has been a vigorous discussion in the development community about agriculture; today’s publication of the World Bank’s Agriculture Action Plan is a milestone in that process.  To stimulate further discussion on the subject, here are some thoughts from a garden-variety economist.

1. The oft-quoted statement, “GDP growth originating in agriculture is about four times more effective in raising incomes of extremely poor people than GDP growth originating from other sectors,” is an arithmetical point, not an economic point.  It simply reflects the fact that 75 percent of the world’s poor depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Why We Work in Development

Shanta Devarajan's picture

A visual reminder of why many of us work in development:

The schoolchildren in this picture are first- and second-graders in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They're holding their new textbooks, given to them as part of a project that distributed some 14 million free textbooks to private and public schools across the country. 

After the photo was taken, the teachers tried to take the books back to put them in the classrooms for safekeeping.  The kids refused. For many of them, this was the first time they had held a book in their hands--and they weren't about to let go of them. The Minister of Education (seen in the photo with my colleague Marie-Francoise Mary-Nelly), wanting to give the kids a chance to enjoy their new textbooks, let them keep them.

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