Thu, Sep 14, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Soros and Sachs set their own objectives for Africa

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , WASHINGTON

The financier and philanthropist George Soros said on Tuesday that he was contributing US$50 million to support a vast social experiment -- organized and led by the economist Jeffrey Sachs -- that aims to help villages in Africa escape grinding poverty.

Soros' money will, among other things, pay for fertilizers and improved seeds to raise crop yields, classrooms to improve literacy and health clinics to reduce deaths in 33 villages in 10 African countries.

The hope is that poor subsistence farmers will begin earning more income by selling crops at the market.

The strategy, which Sachs has been pursuing since 2004 through his nonprofit group, the Millennium Promise, is to tackle the many problems of poverty all at once.

This, Sachs argues, will be achieved by providing villagers with relatively inexpensive technologies and approaches -- including mosquito nets that prevent malaria and stoves with chimneys that reduce deadly indoor air pollution.

Soros' contribution is a philanthropic departure for him.

To date, he has largely focused on fostering democracy and good governance.

But during an interview on Tuesday he expressed his belief that this undertaking had a humanitarian value for the participating villages, as well as some chance of building a successful model that could be copied.

"It requires the support or at least benevolent attitudes from the governments concerned," he said.

"In my view, most of the poverty in the world is due to bad governance," Soros said.

"And whether the project can overcome that is a big question. If it succeeds in five of 10 countries and can be scaled up, that would be a tremendous achievement."

Sachs said he believed that donors -- who for many years have supported projects like the battle against AIDS -- should now help jump-start economic growth in rural areas through the distribution of fertilizers, various higher-yielding seeds and inexpensive small-scale irrigation methods.

Sachs launched his experiment with a single cluster of villages located in western Kenya, but it has since expanded to 79 such clusters in a dozen other countries.

His nonprofit group estimated that the cost of the package of village-level investments was US$110 per person a year for five years.

Millennium Promise is putting up US$50 a year, with the balance coming from African governments, other donors and the villagers themselves.

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