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Progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals has been slow – particularly in Africa. It's a situation that has prompted a UN official to get things moving at the grassroots.

In this feature, Sarah Tomlin reports on the Millennium Villages project, brainchild of Jeffrey Sachs, who heads the UN Millennium Project and the US-based Earth Institute. The project aims to show how 12 'research villages' throughout Africa can achieve the goals and become regional hubs disseminating sustainable skills and knowledge.

The project is investing US$550 per person over five years on low-cost interventions to lift the villages out of poverty, focusing on agriculture, health, education, transport, energy, water and financial management. Teams of professionals teach and motivate villagers and chart their progress.

Focusing on the village of Kagenge in Rwanda, Tomlin reveals significant successes. People here struggle with infrequent rains, poor soils and high rates of malaria and HIV/AIDS — as well as the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

But after five months under the project, they have a harvest surplus, a rainwater tank and a functional health centre.

The project has its critics. Some point to similar projects in the 1970s and 1980s, which created 'islands' of success that collapsed when the funding stopped. And the people of Kagenge are not convinced they can go it alone, says Tomlin. Only time will tell whether confidence grows with the harvests.

Link to full article in Nature