After decades of predominately sourcing food for aid from large international traders, the UN World Food Program announced yesterday the five-year pilot project Purchase for Progress that will see more than 350,000 small-scale farmers across Africa and Central America selling their surplus crops directly to the organization.
While the WFP bought $612m of food supplies in the developing world last year to feed 86 million people, virtually all of this produce came from traders and large-scale farming operations. The new program will ensure that a portion of this produce – estimated to be worth $76m (£41m) over the five years – is purchased from low-income farmers in 21 countries, including some of the world’s poorest nations such as Sierra Leone, Malawi, Ethiopia and El Salvador.
‘The world’s poor are reeling under the impact of high food and fuel prices, and buying food assistance from developing-world farmers is the right solution at the right time,’ said WFP executive director Josette Sheeran, who commented that the program provided a ‘win-win’ situation.
Farmers – required to form collectives in order to participate – are expected to receive higher-than-normal prices by selling their crop surplus directly to the UN and avoiding middlemen. The usual UN requirements for growers to provide surety bonds, transport and packaging materials will be relaxed or waived.
The announcement was made at the UN general assembly, where world leaders are discussing the progress made towards achieving the millennium development goals, which include halving the 1990 poverty and hunger levels by 2015. Speaking at the launch, project sponsor Bill Gates said the new initiative ‘represents a major step toward sustainable change that could eventually benefit millions of poor rural households’.