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Lend support to small-scale projects

How refreshing to read William Easterly's article about aid (see Time for a grand re-think of grand aid plans).

He shows that it is often small-scale projects that do most to improve poor people's lives rather than the large expensive plans that are currently in vogue with big donors. He also demonstrates with an excellent example from Zambia how handouts are often less effective at changing people's lives than using the market.

However, what Easterly does not touch on is the age-old problem of how best to scale-up these successful village based initiatives. FARM-Africa, a British nongovernmental organisation that supports small-scale farmers in eastern and southern Africa, is tackling this issue head on.

Once it has developed successful models from its grassroots work, the organisation influences policies to facilitate uptake and, where appropriate, train people in the skills they need to transfer and adopt new technologies.

Western governments should heed Easterly's words. As a matter of urgency they need to explore ways of generating more innovative 'piecemeal' projects. Those that are successful should not be drowned in donor money but carefully nurtured and scaled up, taking local conditions into account.

While grandiose plans are the flavour of the month, the world's poor are crying out for simple, effective solutions to help them escape from poverty.