More lessons from Millennium Villages

Using household survey data from Sauri Millennium village and propensity score matching methodology, this paper sought to analyze the impact of the Millennium Village Project (MVP) interventions on agricultural productivity and income. The results show a significant increase in agricultural productivity and an insignificant income effect, which can be attributed to small land sizes and over-reliance on agriculture. The results indicate the need to diversify economic activities and a revision of the assumptions on the relationship between productivity and income, on which the MVP, and many other rural development policies, rely on

Abstract, from a recent paper (HT: CGD) from an indepent study that examines the income effects from the massively funded and over-hyped big bang that is the Millennium Villages Project. 

Given the taregted approach of the MVs, the researchers had no way to implement a randomised design – meaning, that there was the danger that the carefully chosen MVs are likely to show basic characteristics that could bias the impact data in its favour. The paper does report that –

…MVP households on average have household heads who are more educated, have a higher average number of household members and a higher dependency ratio as compared to the non-MVP households.


On average, households in MVP also have better housing (more semi-permanent and permanent structures) than in non-MVP. MVP households are also more reliant on agriculture as compared to the non-MVP households. Lastly, the average land size for MVP households is higher than in non-MVP households, with the mean land acreage for MVP households being 0.53 hectares as compared to 0.41 hectares for non-MVP households…

In spite of all of the above, the MVs seem not to show any significant rise in incomes. They do show increased agricultural productivity, but this advantage fails to translate into higher incomes for the households themselves. The authors unfortunately don’t go much further in explaining why this might be so and leave us with the following possible explanation –

…This unexpected gap between the theoretically expected and actual behavior of actors might be explained by structural conditions faced by small-scale farmers, and in particular their initial very low productivity, the large number of household members and the constraints for production increase imposed by the small scale of land. This ultimately results in a very high proportion of production allocated to self-consumption, including the production increment due to (even substantial) productivity gains…

Does that then mean that the MVP has a potential impact on household nutrition? Not sure Lawrence would agree! In any case, this is not the last we will hear about Sachs and his inscrutable MVs…more lessons from MVs indeed – sadly, those outside seem to be the only ones taking them seriously…

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