My colleagues and I had a number of concerns about Sachs's approach. We questioned his assumptions about how quickly the gains would materialize, what would happen when the MVP funding was phased out, how much governments would contribute to offset the high per-person costs, and how feasible it was to measure progress (given the likelihood that people from the surrounding area would stream into their villages once the MVP aid started flowing). So we decided not to invest in the MVP directly, although we were happy to keep supporting his other work.
Now that the project has not gone as planned, I'm not about to throw stones. We have many projects of our own that have come up short. It's hard to deliver effective solutions, even when you plan for every potential contingency and unintended consequence. There is a natural tendency in almost any kind of investment — business, philanthropic, or otherwise — to double down in the face of difficulty and missteps. I've done it, and I think that most other people have, too.
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So what went wrong? For one thing, the villages that Sachs picked experienced all kinds of problems — from drought to political unrest. For another, the MVP took an idealistic "Field of Dreams" approach. MVP leaders encouraged farmers to switch to a series of new crops that were in demand in richer countries, and experts on the ground did a good job of helping farmers to produce good crop yields by using fertilizer, irrigation, and better seeds.
But the MVP didn't simultaneously invest in developing markets for these crops. According to Munk, "Pineapple couldn't be exported after all, because the cost of transport was far too high. There was no market for ginger, apparently. And, despite some early interest from buyers in Japan, no one wanted banana flour." The farmers grew the crops, but the buyers didn't come.