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New York Times Admits Several Errors in Account of Millennium Villages

A recent article in the New York Times purported to criticize the Millennium Villages Project, but was filled with mistakes and misinterpretations. The newspaper acknowledged three errors online and ran a letter to the editor from Prof. Jeffrey Sachs.

The columnist Joe Nocera was attempting to write an upbeat review of an error-filled and out of date book on the Millennium Villages by a former colleague of his. Nocera reported these same errors in his column, now the paper is stepping back.

First, Nocera wrote incorrectly that Ruhiira’s boom in food production was for naught, because there were no buyers and rats ended up eating most of the maize. This is incorrect. Ruhiira is successfully marketing maize and other agriculture crops. The project has also worked with an innovative project with the World Food Programme to help support the marketing.

Second, Nocera claimed that the Millennium Village in Dertu, Kenya site failed and was abandoned. This is false. The Dertu site is a dryland, semi-nomadic region in the Somali part of Kenya. The entire region got caught up in the extreme violence of Somalia, notably after Kenya invaded Somalia in 2011. As a result, the project was scaled back because of curfews and violence in the area, but it remains operational till today, with 15 fulltime staff. As peace comes to the area, the project is scaling up again.

Third, Nocera wrote that Prof. Sachs claimed that the Millennium Villages were the “main driver” of Africa’s turnaround. He made this statement so that he could conclude that Prof. Sachs’ assertion is “tough to believe.” There was just one problem. Prof. Sachs never said what he claimed he did.

The NYT has acknowledged these three errors, but there are others to mention.

Fourth, Nocera claimed that the Millennium Villages are not being rigorously evaluated. This is false, as Professor Sachs’ letter to the NYT explained very clearly. The project is being rigorously evaluated, with the assistance of an independent expert review committee chaired by Prof. Robert Black of Johns Hopkins.

Fifth, the article completely misrepresents or misconstrues the purpose of the project. The Millennium Villages are sites for designing and demonstrating solutions to African extreme poverty. They thereby help communities and nations to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Why did Nocera not include this point?

The reason, most likely, is that he would have to face up to his own failed predictions in 2007 when he first wrote about the project [URL]. In that original article he predicted that the campaign against malaria led by Prof. Sachs and supported in the Millennium Villages would fail. As he put it in 2007, “it is probably best not to get too excited [about malaria control], no matter how inspiring the speeches at New York fund-raisers.” Yet the effort against malaria has made historic progress, and the Millennium Villages have played an important role. Nocera unfortunately does not take of this achievement.

Sixth, finally, Nocera incorrectly described the view of Georgetown Professor Steve Radelet, in particular forgetting to note that Prof. Radelet, like Prof. Sachs, has advocated for development aid. Nocera incorrectly sought to contrast Professors Sachs and Radelet, even though they are actually on the same side of the argument. See his letter to the New York Times editor here.

The Millennium Villages Project has gained enormous strength in recent years, none of it mentioned by Nocera despite the fact that it was brought to his attention.

Four big recent points:

The Millennium Villages helped to clear the way for comprehensive malaria control policies in Africa, not by themselves, but as part of a larger effort.

The Millennium Villages are expanding rapidly, now reaching 23 countries.

The Millennium Village Project is partnering with the Islamic Development Bank in a major scale up. Eight countries in Africa have recently taken $100 million combined in IsDB financing to introduce or expand the project in their countries.

The Millennium Development Goals, together with other factors, and supported by the Millennium Villages Project, are helping Africa to start winning the battle against extreme poverty.

Communities and government leaders throughout Africa know the value of the Millennium Villages Project first hand.

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