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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (March 29, 2002 – The Marshall Islands Journal)---Things seem a bit backwards in the Marshall Islands in the economic development area.

Money is generally readily available for development projects in the Marshall Islands – what’s lacking is people coming forward with projects to develop the local economy.

In one example, the RMI government is a member of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The Ministry of Resources and Development has established relations with the FAO to enable Marshall Islanders to access a small grant program. In development jargon, the aim of the small grant program is to improve "food security," which means improving the amount and quality of food available to local populations.

R&D Secretary Fred Muller said that this FAO-funded small grant program "is geared toward grassroots/community projects."

The funding is relatively small, limited to about $10,000 per grant. But for an outer island project, that level of money is substantial.

In the first 18 months that the program has been available, however, just six grant requests have been submitted.

"We (R&D) help facilitate the proposal," Muller said. R&D as well as the Ministry of Finance’s Office of International Development Assistance have helped to prepare the six proposals that have been submitted for funding.

The six proposals have been related to home gardening and animal husbandry. "Fisheries is included, but we haven’t yet had any requests for funding fisheries projects," Muller said.

This small scale funding, he added, is for materials and supplies. Local individuals or groups are responsible for providing labor. RMI is allowed a maximum of 10 projects a year. But, said Muller, since the Marshall Islands is a new member of FAO, the U.N. agency is encouraging the Ministry to submit as many requests as possible.

But the hold up is that people and organizations are not exactly running into Muller’s office to submit project requests – despite the fact that there is technical assistance to help prepare project requests. Muller hopes that more requests for small-scale development projects related to food will be forthcoming from people and organizations in the RMI.

"The opportunities are there," he said, adding that he believes out-dated attitudes may be the cause of the slowness of people here to take advantage of funding opportunities for local development. "Everyone thinks the government will do it for them," he said. "That’s changing now."

Muller added, "Everything is there (for development). We’re just missing something in the process: it’s called ‘action.’"

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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