Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga hailed the Millennium Villages Project's (MVP) achievements in his country, at a meeting in Nairobi with a high-level Ethiopian delegation. ‘The MVP have opened up the eyes of people. They have done wonders,' said Mr. Odinga.
‘Farmers didn't use fertilizers because they believed that if they did, they could never stop and get out of this cycle,' added the Prime Minister, in reference to villagers in Western Kenya, his native area where the Sauri Millennium Village is also based.
When the MVP was launched in the area, and started distributing fertilizer and improved seeds, the yield increased up to three fold. ‘That has converted many farmers in the region. It's something that our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia can try,' concluded Mr. Odinga.
He was addressing the delegation which visited Sauri and Dertu, the pastoralist Millennium Village in Northern Kenya, during a one week stay in the country at the invitation of The MDG Centre, East and Southern Africa.
The Ethiopian officials — the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Tefera Derbew, the Minister for Federal Affairs Shiferaw Teklemariam, the President for the Tigray Region Tsegaye Berhe, and the Vice-President for the Tigray Region Abay Weldu — showed great interest in the ongoing projects in the Villages, especially the strong partnership with the government, as well as the mobile school and health unit in Dertu.
‘We have very similar ecosystems and ways of life in Ethiopia,' said Mr. Teklemariam. ‘The great lessons we learnt were practical.' The delegation listened extensively to an elder from Dertu who explained how the community secures peace in the area, while the government and civil society have to guarantee development. Pastoralists in East Africa are traditionally armed. Cattle rustling and village raids have left a long trail of death and instability in these areas that were ignored by development. This has changed in Dertu thanks to the community's active involvement in the MVP.
‘We understood that development is on one hand, while peace and the community's involvement are on the other. So we have to report that when we go back to our country,' added Mr. Teklemariam, after a meeting with the Deputy Speaker of the House, Farah Maalim, who is also the representative of Lagdera, the constituency where Dertu is located.
In Sauri, the Ethiopian delegation visited projects which aim to diversify villagers' income and move them from subsistence farming to high-value crops and income generating activities, like fish farming.
‘I am very interested in fish farming. Can I get the manual for producing the fingerlings?' asked Mr. Berhe, after seeing the efforts of one farmer in Uranga village, who is producing fish fingerlings for sale to other fish farmers.
The delegation also visited Nyamninia primary school where they witnessed the school meals program, almost entirely run by the school management. Over the last four years, MVP has supported the school meals by supplying foodstuffs. But to ensure sustainability, inputs from the project have been slowly withdrawn while the parents increase their share and the school is able to supplement with income generating activities, such as growing vegetables in the school garden, and keeping poultry and dairy cows.
The delegation showed a lot of interest in the computer program at Nyamninia primary school, which includes a computer room with 20 machines connected to the internet. They held their disbelief as grade 4 pupils were comfortably working on their assignments on the computers.
‘Good effort, good job. You are building a great generation,' said Mr. Teklemariam to Millicent Okinyi, the head teacher.
‘It was beyond our expectation, we learnt a lot,' remarked Mr. Berhe.
Joelle Bassoul Mojon is a Millennium Villages Project Communications Specialist. She is based in Nairobi, Kenya.